Behind the Body: Six-Time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson
Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson didn’t always look so lean. When he began his victory spree in 2006, Johnson was thicker through the waist, heavier in the arms, and a bit fleshier around the face when he posed for victory photos with his gleaming Tiffany & Co. trophy. Today, though, that extra bulk is all but gone for 38-year-old driver, who lost nearly 15 pounds while putting on muscle over the past few years, thanks to a challenging regimen of triathlon training and clean nutrition.
Certainly, Johnson’s female fans have noticed, but he’s more amused by the reaction of some guys in the garage. “My wife and other ladies, I’ve heard things that have made me smile for sure,” Johnson says. “But the guys are the fun part. Random dudes will tell me when I walk by to go eat a sandwich. That just cracks me up! Like for some random guy to say that? As if I’m an anorexic or something.” No eating disorder for number 48, but Johnson may suffer from a compulsion for long-distance swimming, biking, and running, which he started doing three years ago after catching “the bug,” he says. Last Saturday, he won the 35- to 39-year-old age group (placing 11th overall out of 119 male entrants) at the Over the Mountain Triathlon in Kings Mountain, N.C. — just hours before finishing sixth in the NASCAR All-Star race in Charlotte.
38 years old
Training grounds: Charlotte, N.C.
Hours spent training per day: Up to three. “The shorter days are two hours, but it’s much more intensity and strength involved. And when I need to get some mileage and volume in, then it’s a three-hour day.”
Days spent training per week: Six
Go-to workout: Swimming. “We’re stuck in such a collapsed position in a racecar that getting in the water and stretching the body, and working on the lower body, the upper back, and the core are really good things to have in the car.”
Secret workout: Distance. “All the drivers in the garage have some type of training regimen in their life. The weakest link is the driver, not the car anymore. Getting ready for a half-marathon, I’ll do 20-mile runs. I don’t see anyone in my world doing that. I think that’s the one thing that shocks most people.”
Biggest physical challenge: Nutrition and hydration. “I’m in that vehicle at least three days a weak dealing with hydration issues. And there’s six days of training, as well. So making sure I’m getting enough calories and staying hydrated is tough.”
Best recovery tip: “Take a hot bath, get on a [foam] roller, pull my compression leggings on, and go to sleep. That’s my regimen after a tough day.”
Calories consumed per day: 3,500. “That’s the goal. But it just depends on how much I’m training.”
Favorite pre-race meal: Brown rice with chicken. “I’m focusing a bit more on carbs before a race, but balance is key. And just trying to get some good, bland carbohydrates in.”
Favorite post-race meal: Pizza and beer. “There’s nothing better than pizza and ice-cold beer on the way home.”
Celebration meal: See above. “You may increase the beers, but that’s the only changing factor—the beer count might go up [laughs].”
Attitude on alcohol: “If my wife is having wine, I’m not going to leave her hanging—I’ll order a glass. But from a training standpoint, beer seems to be the easiest thing to have and not get in trouble. Beer, you can nurse and fake-drink a bit, and it doesn’t pack such a punch. Fake drinking is key, especially if you have to train the next day.”
Typical dinner: Rice, beans, avocado, and hot sauce. “We’ve been trying a plant-based diet of late. It’s challenging, it’s different, but I’ve felt some changes in energy throughout the course of the day. I grew up in Southern California, so rice, beans, avocado, and hot sauce—that’s a staple for me.”
Biggest dietary vice: Ice cream. “I’m terrible with sweets. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and stick a spoon in ice cream to get a quick fix. The flavor doesn’t matter.”
On racing motorbikes at age five: “Those races are still pretty common today, and it’s not an intense race by any means. They shorten the track, but the tykes go out there, and the parents stand on the side in case somebody falls off. It’s actually pretty sane and safe because all the kids are pointed in the right direction and parents are at every turn. “
On meeting President Obama: Interesting. “I’ve had a chance to meet a few presidents now—Bill Clinton, George W. and George Bush. Jimmy Carter. It’s so mind boggling to meet the presidents. Very, very amazing.”