Professional BMX rider Nigel Sylvester looks as though he could step off his bike and onto the turf at MetLife Stadium to play for the hometown Jets or Giants.
Hailing from the Jamaica section of Queens, in New York City, the 27-year-old Sylvester has all the attributes of a great running back: a compact frame, broad shoulders and biceps as thick as fire hoses.
You’d think that maintaining such a physique would require countless hours in the weight room—maxing out sets on the bench press or deadlifting to failure.
“Everyone thinks that I must go to the gym and work out, but that’s just not it,” Sylvester says while sitting in the athletes’ lounge last weekend at the Toyota City Championships in Brooklyn.
Yet, Sylvester offers no secret formula for his fitness—because there isn’t one. The answer is clear to anyone who has seen him traveling across the Williamsburg Bridge or around the Brooklyn banks.
He rides … a lot.
“Ever since I was five years old riding has been an addiction for me,” Sylvester says. “Since then it’s been my outlet. Anywhere I went, I rode my bike and it’s always been there for me … I feel the most comfortable when I’m on my bicycle.”
And he’s gone a long way—from riding circles on a plastic three-wheeler in his grandmother’s driveway—to turning pro at age 18. Now he’s an elite rider and innovator on the BMX street scene.
Keep reading to learn how Sylvester perfects his craft and his physique—all without stepping into a gym:
27 years old
Hours spent training per day: Anywhere from four to seven. “BMX is a lifestyle sport. I actually ride my bike for transportation and ride around town when I’m not doing tricks or practicing.”
Days spent training per week: Four or five. “But you got to give your body some rest too,” Sylvester admits. “You can’t beat it up and expect the highest results."
Go-to workout: Do you need to ask? “The bike riding is our actual workout. We ride miles and miles everyday and we’re lifting up that bike and lifting up ourselves every time you bunny hop or jump, so that keeps you fit.”
Number of hours in the gym: Zero. “It’s all bike riding and eating well.”
Go-to meal: Chicken salads or protein shakes. “One of the key things I learned from Gatorade when I signed with them six years ago is that you have to be very conscious about what you put in your body. And that was something I opened my mind up to, like, ‘Wow, maybe I’m not eating right. Maybe junk food every day isn’t the right thing to do.’”
Biggest physical challenge: Injuries. “Bike riding is really hard on your body. Especially street riding, because you’re always landing flat and there’s no transitions to absorb the impact. I broke my wrist on my 19th birthday, but I’ve been very, very fortunate.”
Celebration meal: “A nice steak with some greens on the side and potatoes”
Dietary vice: Anything sweet or salty. “I still love cookies and cupcakes. But now just not as much. I’ll still have a bag of chips every now and then but you have to manage it because I want to ride my bike at the highest level for as long as possible.”
Best recovery tip: Hydration and rest. After a long day of riding, Sylvester says he sticks to “Gatorade, water, a solid meal and rest, and rest and rest.”
First memory on a bike: “I was five or six years old. I was in my grandmother’s driveway. My cousin put me on a little three wheeler and I was riding that thing around drifting in between cones.”On growing up in New York as a BMX rider
On learning new tricks: “Every trick is different. Sometimes you get it after two or three tries. Others take a whole day or longer. That’s the best thing about BMX because it teaches you determination and dedication … you can apply the process of learning a trick to the rest of your life.”
Influences from other sports: Sylvester played basketball and football growing up and the still shakes defenders in a flag football league run by his sponsor Nike. Some of Sylvester’s favorite NFL players are Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, and Larry Fitzgerald. “Russell Wilson is great too,” he adds. “Especially being an unorthodox quarterback. I can relate to that because I am an unorthodox bike rider and my approach is different than a typical rider.”
On how he views his fitness: “On a scale of one to 10 my body is probably around a nine. Definitely not perfect but I work on it every day to get more in tune with it, between riding and resting properly and eating well.”