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Not Just Genes: A day in the hardworking life of Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper has tremendous physical gifts, but they are not the sole source of his success.

Athletes have never been more aware of what their bodies need in order to reach peak performance. Fuel Illustrated is a collaboration between Gatorade and the SI Overtime branded content studio exploring how the best athletes in the world manage their daily clock—training, diet, competition and recovery—as they strive for excellence in their chosen sports.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, the 2015 National League MVP, has not ascended on physical gifts alone. At 23 he’s disciplined beyond his years, and attuned to what makes his body tick. “I work on my hips, my glutes, my tiny muscle groups,” he says. “And I put as much good food and water into my system as possible.” Above all, Harper, an imposing 6'3" and 215 pounds, is a man of routines. Here’s a look at a typical day, from the end of one night game at Nationals Park to the start of another.

10:15 p.m. — Recovery and preparation for the next night’s game begins when Harper steps off the field. “I change, talk to the media, take my aminos and glutamine,” he says. “Then I eat dinner.” That means a protein, carbohydrate and veggie. Harper eats steak or chicken four nights a week, and a fish like tilapia or salmon the other nights.

11 p.m. — In the training room, Harper gets a massage focused on his legs and feet. “That’s my stable base,” he says. “It all starts with the feet.” He does a mild run to flush lactic acid from his legs, and then he alternates between five minutes in the cold tub and eight minutes in the hot tub. He switches three times. Matt Eiden, the Nationals strength and conditioning coach, says the process helps get inflammation and other byproducts of exertion out of Harper’s system, speeding recovery.

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1 a.m. — Harper tries to fall asleep between 1 and 2—“Depends on my adrenaline”—and he aims to sleep 10-plus hours a night. “Everyone talks about eight, but I prefer 10 during the season. It’s the best for your body.”

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Noonish — Harper eats a “huge” breakfast, wanting to quickly get a fat into his system, usually avocado. A typical breakfast is three sweet potato pancakes with chocolate chips, turkey sausage, turkey bacon, two whole eggs mixed with two egg whites, plus avocado on gluten-free bread.  He has been gluten-free for two years, and also limits his dairy, though he has a weakness for ice cream. “Mint chocolate chip or anything with caramel,” he says. “I go into the freezer and I’m like, ‘Ah, all right! Just a spoonful isn’t bad.’”

2 p.m. — Harper gets to the park and runs through a quick-pace workout. Three days a week, Eiden leads Harper in full-body lifting. (“Weights, med balls, plyometrics,” says Eiden.) Other days they focus on core, flexibility and balance. “I’m trying to get a sweat going, and keep my muscles toned.” says Harper of his training philosophy. “And my core is where everything comes from for my swing.” After the workout, it’s back into the hot and cold tubs.

3 p.m. — Harper begins a 25-minute session in the batting cage, which he finishes about an hour before on-field batting practice. Then, it’s lunch: another protein, carb and veggie combination. Harper eats clean during the season, but he cops to having cravings for cereal and Oreos—like any 23-year-old dude.

4:30 p.m. — Along with taking his cuts during team batting practice, Harper stretches, runs to loosen up, works on his outfield throws and shags fly balls.

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5:15 p.m. — Video games in the clubhouse—“Mario Kart on the Wii,” Harper cites as a favorite—and then a light pregame snack: fruit, or a grilled chicken salad. It’s the last thing he’ll eat until post-game dinner. “I don’t like gum or sunflower seeds,” he says, “If I need something during the game, I might have a Gatorade Fuel Bar to give a burst to my system.” He also drinks water—a lot of water. “It’s ridiculous how hard it is to put a gallon and a half of water in your system every day,” he says. “A lot of times you’re bored and you want to eat. That’s usually because you’re dehydrated.” Harper chugs water before bed to ensure he wakes feeling hydrated.

6:15 p.m. — Harper gets stretched, puts on his uniform and, well, hits the sauna! The 10-minute sauna time is a throwback to Harper’s high school days in sweltering Las Vegas, where you can soak through your jersey before you even take the field. Harper feels most relaxed when he is completely loose and his body is warm.

6:45 p.m. — As first pitch nears, Harper runs sprints on the field and then spends some quiet time getting mentally prepared. Another game, and another day in the life of the National League’s best player, is about the begin