Gabrielle Reece realizes that volleyball can, to a spectator, appear to be a festive activity fit for a social gathering, but the former professional can attest to the grueling nature of the sport.
“I think what’s funny is volleyball seems like a party, especially beach volleyball: you’re in a bikini, it’s sweaty, there’s always music playing,” Reece tells PEOPLE. “But it’s a pretty rigorous game.”
Today, Reece says her fitness regimen remains mostly identical to the workouts she came to expect during her career in the 1990s, minus one notable element — she doesn’t so much as touch a volleyball anymore.
Reece, who will celebrate her 50th birthday in January, says that these days she’s incorporated more water training in order to lessen the strain on her body.
“I’m older and so I’m more beat up, in the way of wear and tear on joints,” athlete says, describing underwater weight training. “I can still be dynamic, because it’s like how do I put tension on my system and be ballistic without, you know, feeling like I can’t move for three days after.”
The mom of three is all about maximizing her fitness potential — she continued competing professionally in 2007 while five months pregnant — and she rounds out her diet with foods she knows will supply her with the energy she needs.
“I keep it really simple and I try to eat food as close to its real source as possible,” she says, listing a normal meal on her at-home menu as wild salmon with broccoli or asparagus and a side of quinoa or sweet potato. “I find that I eat a lot less than I used to because I listen more to my body and realize that if I’m eating the right things, I actually need to eat less.”
Even leading a particularly athletic family — her husband Laird Hamilton is a decorated big-wave surfer — Reece says she, like any parent, isn’t able to force a lifestyle on her daughters, Reece, 16, and Brody, 11 (Hamilton has a daughter Izabella, 24, from a previous marriage).
Instead, she leads by example, hoping to influence their habits from a young age.
“My husband and I are parents like everyone else, so our kids don’t listen to us and they think we’re probably weird,” she jokes. “What I always say is, they’re not listening to you, they’re watching you.”
She adds: “So, we cook meals at home and we have family dinner — these are the foods that they’re learning that’s becoming part of their lifestyle.”
To boost her energy and maintain her stamina while juggling her many career outlets — training, writing, podcasting, and raising a family — Reece says she takes Tru Niagen, a supplement of NAD, a molecule used on the cellular level to carry out various bodily functions.
“What I noticed for me personally was it just felt like I had a more sustained level of energy,” she says of Tru Niagen, also calling herself a “guinea pig” for trying the product before endorsing it.
Now she takes the pills morning and night, observing a significant change in her performance, but not banking on it as a shortcut to her ultimate fitness goals.
“I’m using it almost like as a hack or an extra support, but I’m still trying to do the basics well,” she says. “I’m trying to get to bed and get eight hours sleep, I’m trying to stay hydrated, I’m trying to manage stress, I’m trying to eat real food.”
Even with the added energy in her life, Reece says she has no desire to pick up volleyball again for fun.
“Playing at a lower level where your brain knows what to do and your body is like, ‘Yo, we haven’t been doing that,’ ” she says, “There’s only so many hours in the day and doing it ‘only-sorta’ is not so fun for me.”