It's been decades since Gabby Reece first started setting records as a pro beach volleyball star and became Nike's first female spokesperson—as well as building a successful modeling career and landing top fitness and fashion covers along the way—but at 47, the fitness guru has barely lost a step. A recent afternoon at the Surf Lodge in Montauk found her somehow fresh after a day full of pool training and other workouts, eager to lead a crew she'd brought out east again the next morning at 8 a.m. for an even more rigorous day of land training.
She did take a break, of course, to host a beachside dinner at the hotel with Laird Hamilton, her big-wave surfer husband who also leads the action at their XPT retreats. (And who brought along his own branded superfood powder to the dinner table.) Before that, though, Reece still had the energy to explain how she has so much energy—only after she insisted on doing so standing up. She shares her secrets to high-fat diets, sticking to routines while on vacation, staying dedicated after all these years, and working with her husband—including running his Instagram account—here.
You got into modeling when you were younger, and you're now in several industries that are focused on youth. How has your self-confidence changed over the years?
Look, I’m not going to lie: When I was 12 and I was six feet tall, I wasn’t like, Oh, I’m all that. It was tough. And I was unusual-looking. It wasn’t like Oh you’re so pretty; it was like, Oh, you’re not everybody’s cup of tea. But when I was modeling when I was 18, I was already playing volleyball, and I think that really is what helped me, because I developed a different relationship with my body—I asked myself not just how it looked, but how it felt and what it did. That really was the big thing for me, because all the sudden the relationship was multi-layered, but yes, it is a process; I think for every young woman, it's something you really have to learn and work at, for sure. And then it’s constant, it changes, right? You start getting older, and then you have to start to spend time with that—and of course I'm a woman, so I can't even avoid that. But I still have that relationship where it's like, I’m healthy and I’m strong and I can do s--- and I can play a sport for a long time, and that's really helped me. So it’s just navigating those things honestly, but hopefully as healthfully in your mind as you can.
I suppose your husband Laird has been alongside you in his own way for much of that, too—he's still working out three to six hours a day, and of course working with you on these XPT fitness retreats.
Yeah, and for XPT, we also have an incredible group of people like really great trainers or even doctors that come to lecture. The whole reason that we can say why we can kind of keep grinding it out year after year is because we actually have a really incredible community that keeps you fired up, and that’s what you start to realize with everything in life—it’s hard to do it—and anything—alone.
How do you two usually agree on a routine? Do you typically work out together?
Oh my god, no, no! We’re married! There’s just no way. I'm such a numbers and minutes person, and I'd say he's more of an artist—like, Well, we’ll go till we die. But I think as you do this longer, you start to really consider science and anatomy and physiology and how you can do this for a long period of time. Parts of that are about performance, and other parts are about being smart and working hard—and helping yourself, not hurting yourself. I think we agree in those areas. And we both like the pool, because there’s no gravity. But Laird is certainly probably more hardcore than I am, truth be told.
So what’s a typical day like for you, starting with your morning routine?
Well I have three daughters—two at home, one in college—so I get them ready and dialed into their days. Then, if it’s a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, I do a land training circuit I change each time, because your body is really smart, so you have to change it up with a different series of exercises. It’s in a big group, so I have teammates, if you will, which makes you push yourself a little harder and definitely show up. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, we do stuff at the pool, because you can do all this really hardcore holistic training and work on your breathing and lung capacity, but you don’t hurt your joints because you’re working in an environment with no gravity or air. And then I’ve added in meditation about three months ago—I try to wake up 10 minutes earlier each day than I used to, since it’s hard for me to relax and I just need it.
Do you also stick to that level of routine when on vacation?
I tell people, for example if they know they’re going to be traveling, that’s when they have to be really diligent about their eating. If they know they won’t be able to exercise, that’s okay: Breathe a little, stretch a little in your hotel room or whatever, and just be really good about your eating. That’s how I try to manage it. I make dinner for the whole family at home every day—I always joke that by three o’clock, the universal question is what’s for dinner. But if there's work, I’m either traveling or at a meeting or a shoot or something, I just try to keep it as consistent as possible, because that’s where you get all the results. But there’s enough foundation and consistency that I can handle blow-up days or being on the road.
What’s your diet typically like nowadays—and how has it changed compared to when you were younger?
I ate a lot more when I was younger, and I also ate a lot more carbohydrates and animal protein. I used to eat pasta and stuff like that as a normal part of my diet, and now it’s a treat. What I’ve learned is we don’t really need that much food, so if I’m working harder, I eat more calories, because you need them to recover. Food is your friend, for sure. I also eat a lot of high-quality, water-soluble fats, like coconut and butter in my coffee in the morning, and avocado. I’m not afraid of fat, but the only secret with that craze now is you have to combine it with low carbohydrates. It’s a good thing if you’re not eating a high-carbohydrate diet; it’s not the best for you if you’re combining them. You know, a sweet potato is high carb, though, too, so it’s just real food, basically. Overall, now, I eat when I hungry, and I eat till I’m full, and I also notice that when I’m using food for something other than when I’m hungry—if I’m bored or stressed—I go, Okay, I see what you’re doing, and nod and try to do something else.
Do your kids typically like the meals you plan out?
You know, yes. My youngest and oldest’s palettes are really healthy; my youngest is weird, she’s like, Oh, do you have more salad? But all I try to do is say to them is, Hey, listen, eat whatever you want, because you can’t make anything taboo. The only real kicker is sugary drinks; I always try to watch those and not have them in the house. If you get a kid really early hooked on sugary drinks or soda, that’s their definition of sweet for their palette, whereas if you can push it off long enough, they actually maybe won’t like it. But who doesn’t like cake and candy? Who doesn’t? We do.
What have you in the past considered taboo, and what’s your go-to snack these days?
I’ve always been a chocolate girl. I don’t sacrifice my chocolate for anything. I really enjoy kombucha, which there’s a little bit of sugar in. But you know I take even the moderation of everything in moderation, so I try not to be obsessive about anything. What happens I think when you live long enough eating pretty healthy is that it feels good, so now I don’t get to enjoy the other stuff as much, because I don’t feel as good, and really that’s kind of the bummer, because it’s like oh that tasted good but I don’t feel good, I feel tired. But like any regular girl, chocolate, always.
Do you still play volleyball at all these days?
Occasionally—I had my knee fully replaced last year so I took a break for a while. And another thing that's really helped me is surrounding yourself with people who all this is not their chatter. My friends talk about a lot of things—not just how they look, or that they’re old. I hang out with women that are smart and strong, and they talk about that, and it keeps me in that lane.
You have such a great Instagram. Do you follow any fitness accounts you’d recommend on there? It can be kind of an insular, and at times harmful, world.
There’s a girl, Kaisa, whose body moves in a way that mine doesn’t, and it’s really cool to watch and inspires me, but mostly I’m following people like Tim Ferriss to get more information. But as far as influencers that are just fitness people, I think there’s a limitation with that, because they’re not talking about the whole thing, about what fit really means—which maybe gone through and expanded because I’m an older person. Yes, hopefully the side product is that you’re lean and have low body fat and whatever, but I’m trying to be fit so I can deal really well with my real life. At one point, fitness was about performance for me, and it still is, but it’s also about using it to be a more sound human being.
Are you and your husband competitive on Instagram at all?
Well, we do Laird’s, because he doesn’t do Instagram; we run his account. [Laughs.] I mean, we sometimes ask him, but he’s just not that person. My younger daughter doesn’t have it yet, and my older one got off it, but I do look at and check my middle daughter’s.
Last thing: How do you have such amazing hair, even when you work out?
Listen, less is more, unless I have something to do. And I have to say that the reason I even keep my hair this long still—and I just had it cut—is because it’s easy to put up and down in a pony tail, quite frankly. And when I got tortured as a kid for having straight hair, now I’m glad, because I don’t have to style it. I color my hair, so it also gets away with an extra day or two of getting dirty. For products, I use Kérastase, and I always tell people, if you’re going to be in the pool, fill your hair with water and conditioner first and then wear a cap, because it fills the follicles so they don’t turn green or get beat up.
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