FitnessThe Real-Life Diet of Kai Lenny, Stand-Up Paddleboarder and Taco Bell Fiend
Professional athletes don’t get to the top by accident. It takes superhuman levels of time, dedication, and focus—and that includes paying attention to what they put in their bellies. In this series, GQ takes a look at what pro athletes in different sports eat on a daily basis to perform at their best. Here's what multidisciplinary surfer Kai Lenny eats in the rare moments he’s not on the water.
While most of the country is frantically trying to squeeze as many beach days as possible into the waning weeks of summer, Kai Lenny is just getting started. Well, he’s never not at the beach, but as the current stand-up paddleboard champion of the world, he’s got a title to defend in November.
Lenny is a surfer. He does big-wave surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, tow-in surfing, and stand-up paddleboard surfing and racing (two different sports; think BMX versus bike racing). The short, euphemistic thing to call him is a “water-sports enthusiast.”
“When you’re born and raised here on Maui, the conditions are good for all these different sports," he says. "So in a single day, I can train for multiple sports and multiple disciplines. And all of these sports are surf-based—windsurfing, kitesurfing, stand-up paddling. Everything is an offshoot from traditional surfing. So it’s a great cross-training sport because they all feed into each other.”
It also requires a lot of total body strength. Lenny focuses on endurance training in the winter and explosive exercise in the fall, but the stabilizing strength needed to surf well mostly comes from time spent on a board. And even that isn’t enough by itself: “To be a good surfer, you have to be a good weather forecaster and good at seeking out the right conditions. You’re only as good as the wave allows you to be, and if the conditions aren’t good, then you can’t get any better.”
In fact, despite Lenny’s many accolades, he still feels like he’s constantly learning basics over again. “These are sports you can do for the rest of your life and never master, even if you were the best in the world at one point,” he says.
“There’s every single type of body in these sports. I have really long arms, I’m 5’9”, I fluctuate between 154 and 146 pounds, so my diet really consists of a large intake of calories. The more I can get into my system the better, just because I’m burning so many throughout the day. I have to eat well, but I also have to eat a lot.”
He’s seriously not kidding about that. That 154 is usually his target weight, but he’s never able to stay at it very long, partly because he burns so many calories on the water and partly because he has the metabolism of a jackrabbit. On an island-to-island race from Molokai to Oahu, he started the four hours at 154 and got off of his board eight pounds lighter.
(Two goddamn pounds per hour. Even if it’s water weight, that’s frightening.)
His diet leans pretty heavily on fat and protein, and when he’s tried to have more conventionally “healthy” diets, he’s been fatigued and ravenous. So he eats a lot. Like, four eggs with cheese and two pieces of avocado toast every morning a lot, plus some brown rice. And five times a week, he has a Taco Bell burrito for lunch. “How can you mess it up?” he says. “It tastes good, it has a lot of fat, and I need to burn so many calories.” He doesn’t just swear by the sustained energy that he gets from food that other people eat super-high at five after midnight—apparently all of his biggest wins came after eating Taco Bell.
“It’s when I do exactly me best.”
Four eggs with cheese, two pieces of avocado toast, brown rice with ketchup and Tabasco
Taco Bell bean burrito
Mahi mahi, quinoa and lentils, salad with avocado