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Olympic Beach Volleyball Player Kerri Walsh Jennings' Body Confidence Tips

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When you think of beach volleyball, you probably immediately think of Kerri Walsh Jennings and her longtime partner Misty May-Treanor, with whom she won three straight Olympic gold medals and 21 consecutive Olympic matches over 11 years together. Since May-Treanor made the decision to retire after the 2012 Olympics (might as well leave on top, right?), Jennings has partnered with her former nemesis on the sand, April Ross, to train for the upcoming Rio 2016 Olympics. Shape caught up with Jennings between training and taking care of her three kids with husband and fellow beach volleyball player Casey Jennings to chat food, body confidence, and staying mentally sharp. (Need more body confidence tips? Hear 10 Celebs on Body Image and Aging Beautifully.)

Shape: How do you think your eating habits have changed since when you were younger and now, being an athlete and having to really focus on nutrition?
Kerri Walsh Jennings (KWJ): One of the biggest blessings of my job is that I have to be fit and healthy, and within that I’ve had to do my research. For so long, I sat back and followed the trends and trusted the marketplace, but that can sometimes lead you astray if you just focus on the buzzwords (like these Health Food Buzzwords that Don't Mean Much). When I do my research, I really look for what is going to fuel my body as an athlete. I grew up on whole milk, and meat and potatoes and starches, and I’ve made a complete 180-degree change in my diet. I’m not necessarily gluten-free or dairy-free, but I’m more mindful of what I put in my body, and I feel better because of it.

Shape: What are some of your go-to snacks for in between workouts?
KWJ: I like stuff that works on the go. I eat a lot of oatmeal and drink a lot of shakes—anything I can put in a cup and take with me! In my family, we start every day with a yummy shake. We use protein, Unsweetened Original Almond Breeze, fruits and berries, and spinach or kale. I also love avocado toast. I’ll make paleo bread from this cookbook I love, Against All Grain, and top it with mashed avocado, sea salt, and pepper. It’s heaven! [Ed note: When we met Kerri, she was in the midst of ogling over a new recipe she discovered on Pinterest for Banana Nut Quinoa Muffins made using Almond Breeze!]

Shape: A big part of your job is done in a bikini. What do you do to combat self-consciousness and boost your confidence?
KWJ: Positive self-talk is really important. Pre-season is always a scary time—I’m a little bigger than normal and really pale! When you have a tan, everything seems a little tighter, so I’m a big fan of organic spray tans, like Chocolate Sun. If I’m looking for something negative, I’ll find it, so I always try to focus on the positives. Yes, my uniform is a bikini, but I find that empowering. I have to be strong and fit to play in my sport and compete at the highest level, and I’m proud of that. And when my husband tells me I look beautiful, I just accept it, no matter how much I want to say, “But…” One of my challenges to overcome is accepting compliments.

Shape: Outside of volleyball-specific training, what are you doing to prepare for the upcoming season?
KWJ: I do Pilates three times a week—twice in the studio and once on the beach, I lift weights twice a week, I do physical therapy, and I do brain training and meet with my sports psychiatrist, so I’m really taken care of from head to toe. When I first started brain training with SenseLabs, I would go in and put this device on with electrodes attached to my head, playing video games on a screen. Now there's a mobile option called Versus, so I can do it wherever I am. You do this game, trying to make it work with the power of your brain. The device tests your brainwaves, and if you’re too tense or too relaxed, the game actually shuts off. You’re training your brain is if it were a muscle, working on neuro-agility, focus, and endurance. The mental side is really important in such a high level of sports. Mobile apps like Lumosity are really great for mental training too.

Shape: How has mental training affected your athletic performance?
KWJ: It gives me more awareness that I’m really in control. Just like body confidence, I’m in control! There is something so simple about owning your thoughts and being aware of the fact that my mind is racing, let me bring it back to center—that is a big deal. It's helped me a lot on my focus and endurance. If I’m in a stressful situation, I now know how to bring myself back down and find balance, instead of staying on this high all day. You can’t be at 120 percent all day long. One simple trick I’ll do sometimes to relieve my anxiety before I serve a ball is spell a word. If you give your brain a task to do, it can’t focus on that anxiety, just at the task on hand. (Find out The Surprising Way Low Confidence Affects Your Workout Performance.)

ShapeWe've heard that despite being a beach volleyball player, you're actually not a fan of the ocean. Is that true?
KWJ: I'm not afraid of the ocean, I'm afraid of sharks...and they're very much in the ocean! I grew up in Santa Cruz, where the water is murky and cold and there are great white sharks. My goal is to get out there and do stand-up paddleboarding. I tried it once, but I was so nervous I didn't even stand up! I need to want it bad enough first. If you want anything bad enough in life you're going to make it happen.

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