It certainly wasn’t how Danica Patrick wanted to finish out her NASCAR career. The veteran race car driver may have finished 35th last Sunday at the Daytona 500 following a crash, but the 35-year-old is undaunted. She’s looking ahead to the Indianapolis 500 in May, after which she will officially end her professional auto racing career.
“I hope they remember me as a great driver and that I was a woman and it was really cool to watch and be there for,” she told The Associated Press following her final NASCAR race. (One person who was there for her among family and friends was her boyfriend, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.)
Indeed, Patrick is leaving behind a vital and vibrant imprint on the sport of NASCAR and Indy racing. For decades to come, she’ll continue to inspire young women looking to a career in the male-dominated sport.
Patrick also has wisely parlayed her career into a brand reaching well beyond the racing world. Her latest offering is the fitness/health/cookbook, “Pretty Intense: The 90-Day Mind, Body and Food Plan That Will Absolutely Change Your Life.” In the book, Patrick, an elite athlete, explains that her workout routines once consisted of long, slow cardio sessions where burning calories was the battle cry. And once she got down to a “fit” 95 pounds, Patrick realized she did not look or feel very good. The muscle mass was almost non-existent.
She writes in the book of how she began to develop Pretty Intense in 2016, following IVF treatment to freeze her eggs (“My job doesn’t allow for time off”). The weight gain from the hormone treatment would not dissipate not matter how much she worked out. “I was eating the same way and took only two weeks off from exercising, [but] my body had changed.” She needed a new plan, “something different,” she writes. The result was Pretty Intense.
“It’s a new way of eating and working out that has given me my best body ever,” she says.
Pretty Intense is centered on seven workouts each week: upper body, lower body, abs, three interval cardio sessions and one long circuit. You need only 20 minutes for each workout (30 to 45 minutes for the long circuit). It’s not about bulking up, she writes, it’s about developing strong, lean muscle mass and reshaping your body to look the way you want it to look.
And it’s not just fitness and eating right. Patrick writes extensively about the importance of getting your mind as well as your body in shape. In fact, the book is divided into three parts: mind conditioning; her 12-week, high-intensity fitness training, and a real food-based eating plan, which includes 50 recipes, chapters devoted to fats and spices, and foods to avoid. She stresses that the three parts go hand-in-hand.
Here’s what Patrick had to say during a recent chat about making the health/fitness lifestyle changes she talks about in her book:
Q. There are countless health and fitness books out there. What is different about Pretty Intense?
A. I worked out for 20 years and it was a program that was effective for me. A lot of people can relate to trying different things whether it’s dietary or fitness. For me, this program is about changing the food you eat, working out less but working out differently. It’s not just the conventional “eat less, move more.” It’s cranking up the intensity of your workouts. It’s about changing to food you eat to food that’s high-intensity nutrition, sourced locally and sourced organically. I always tell people who start this program is to take a picture of yourself, head-to-toe. You don’t have to show anybody the photo. Just look at it as you progress. It’s a big motivator. I have my photo in the book.
Q. You write in the book that your only resolution is to not make resolutions. Why should people avoid the annual New Year’s pledge?
A. I’m not someone who has to verbalize the weight loss. But I get it. Some people need goals. If that works for you then definitely have a goal set. For me, I don’t make resolutions because it’s almost like dismissing a goal. It means, it’s an arbitrary start date. For me, if it’s not meaningful enough to start right now it’s just not going to be enough. But this program in my book is about making eating and fitness a lifestyle. It’s a new way of training, a new way of eating. You will look better because of what you are eating. It’s about eating food that was made in the sun, not in a factory.
Q. How do you gauge your ideal weight?
A. What you need to do is maybe look at your clothing. My gauge usually is throwing clothes on and seeing if it’s fitting me good or if it’s tight. Clothes are a great gauge. Think about it: “I think these clothes shrunk.” “This doesn’t fit like it normally does” Who hasn’t said that? What’s not a great gauge is the scale. That should be the last resort. First pay attention to the way you feel, the way the clothes fit and then the scale.
Q. In the book you cover a lot of ground about mindset. Why is that so critical to getting in shape?
A. Amazing things happen when you have a connection between mind and body. We’re all guilty of saying negative things about ourselves: “She’s prettier.” “I’m not thin enough.” What happens is that those subconscious conversations we have start to manifest into reality. They create negative patterns in your life. So what if you instead create positive patterns? Start saying, “I’m beautiful, strong, capable and smart and I’m willing and brave.” Those are the things you need to tell yourself instead of creating self-doubt. It’s very important to have positive self-talks. I do that through coping mechanisms such as mantras or going to my woman cave or heading outdoors and being amid nature. Whatever makes you feel connected to yourself, the earth and everybody else. It’s important to have a positive mental approach.
Q. The recipes in the book are so easy to follow, with minimal ingredients and steps. Thanks making them so!
A. I literally wrote out every recipe and every ingredient and how to do everything! The recipes are very fluid; it’s either one or two steps. Hopefully you have a few of the items already in your pantry or refrigerator and the spices should be very attainable. The recipes are how I cook. … There is no nutritional information because I wouldn’t even know where to start with that. I don’t want people to worry about that being the main factor. With food calories in versus food calories out, the latter will always win. But this book is about a lifestyle change and not about starving yourself or being hungry all the time. The food I write about is not calorie-free, it’s free of junk. Our bodies are good at processing things that are real versus things made from a box.
Q. When it comes to eating right, even you must have times when you cheat. What are some of your indulgences?
A. [Laughs] There are a few things that I love that I can sometimes overindulge in. One of them is trail mix. It’s got a lot of calories in it: pecans, almonds, walnuts. I do take out the cranberries because that just adds too much sugar. I love wine sometimes and I can drink a little to much of it once in a while. I’m a dessert person. I love chocolate. But you don’t have to overindulge to enjoy dessert. I love those raw key lime tarts (the recipe is in the book). I can eat one of those for dessert and I’m fine. I have trained myself to eat very little of something sweet, and be satisfied. I also take smaller bites, so I’m tricking the eye, tricking the mind. But I don’t ever call it cheating. You’re gonna have days when you’re not eating perfect, especially if you’re traveling a lot. I just eat as healthy as I can as often as I can.
Q. When you get a craving, what’s a go-to snack you enjoy?
A. It’s important you don’t get hungry during the course of your day because when you’re hungry you make bad decisions about food, and I’m totally guilty of that. Force yourself to eat real food. Make your own trail mix with goji berries, almonds, pumpkin seeds, stuff high in protein. Pack a small cooler with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Q. The workout regimen in the book is truly pretty intense, even though it’s spread out over 12 weeks.
A. There are seven workouts in the book that you do over five days (there are two rest days each week). So it’s three cardio workouts, 20 to 25 minutes long. Three strength workouts for 20 minutes. And one long circuit for 45 minutes. Try working out 20 minutes in the morning or 20 minutes in the evening. It’s 20 minutes! It’s easy to fit into your day. Its two and a half to three hours a week. So it’s not a huge commitment to spend a few hours a week to look the way you want to look and feel the way you want to feel. Do things that boost your confidence and make you feel good mentally and physically. Remember you have to work out in some manner to change how you look. You can’t change the shape of your body with food alone. There has to be some kind of exercise in the mix. It’s the only way to get the angles, the thighs, the abs you want.
Q. Are there any exercises you hate to do, but you still do them?
A. Jumping lunges are the devil! I’m good at ab workouts. I should have the 12-pack but I don’t. I settle for the 6-pack when I can. I have to have a strong upper body for my job. So I’ll admit my lower body is the weakest part of me. Driving a car at Indy when there’s no power steering, that’s where you need a lot of grip strength to hold on to that wheel. I’m actually curious to see what my workouts will be after racing is over for me.
Here is one of Danica Patrick’s recipes from “Pretty Intense: The 90-Day Mind, Body and Food Plan That Will Absolutely Change Your Life.”
Summer Chicken Salad
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into ½-inch-thick slices
1 head butter lettuce
Classic Balsamic Vinaigrette (see below)
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat or heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Sear the pineapple for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Make sure you leave the chicken on long enough before you flip so it doesn’t stick. Once the chicken is all done, divide the lettuce leaves among four plates and top each with the pineapple, chicken, vinaigrette, and salt and pepper.
Classic Balsamic Vinaigrette
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic glaze
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic glaze, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a bowl, or combine in a mason jar, seal, and shake. Will keep in the fridge for months.