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NASCAR Legend Jimmie Johnson on Staying Fit, Focused—and Alive

The Daytona 500 champion tells MF about his passion for driving and competing in triathlons.

 

Under Yon’s guidance, Johnson trains six days a week across all three disciplines while also incorporating strength training and flexibility work to maintain and build upon his already-solid base. The goal is to increase power and speed first and then add endurance after that.

“When most people get into triathlons, they think, ‘Oh, it’s an endurance sport, I’ve got to do all this mileage, all this distance,’ and what ends up happening is they can do the distance, but they don’t go very fast,” Yon explains. “With Jimmie, it’s about covering the distance as fast as possible. The first thing is power and speed, and that comes from anaerobic work, resistance training, and speed work. We’ve been running stairs a lot, which is one of the best ways to build power for running and cycling. If you want to com- pare it with NASCAR, we’re trying to build his engine as a V8 versus a little four cylinder that can go all day long.”

Just like a driver who transitions from one category of vehicle to another, Johnson has realized that his new lifestyle requires a different kind of fuel. “For a long time I was just focused on protein and very little carbs,” he says. “As I got into the endurance training I just didn’t have the energy to do all the work.” This is where Yon comes into the picture again, serving as Johnson’s nutritionist based on a wealth of personal experience that comprises more than 100 races, including 16 Ironmans and no fewer than 20 marathons.

“The nutrition agenda for Jimmie depends on the part of the season he’s in,” Yon says. “In the pre-triathlon season we do a little lower carb, a little more protein, and quality fats. And then, as triathlon season gets close, or if he has a key race, we switch out the percentages a little bit and add more carbs, lower the fat, and he’ll have a little less protein.”

Johnson is clearly placing a lot of trust in Yon to get things right. But, at the end of the day, this is just a side project. He already has a job. “I have a bad habit of taking things too seriously,” Johnson concedes. “But I’m really trying to have fun with this. I’m putting in the time to train right and try to put up a good time, but it’s really fun. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m having a good time doing it.”

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