There were no growing pains for Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike in her first season with the WNBA. In fact, the Stanford alum averaged 14 points and 7.5 rebounds, helping her team contend for the 2012 league title. But what earned Ogwumike (pronounced og-WOO-ME-kay) the coveted Rookie of the Year award? Greatist’s fitness editor caught up with the 22-year-old, who's currently playing overseas in Poland, to talk hard work, fitness apps, and the occasional burrito bowl from Chipotle. Bonus: Don’t miss her go-to sprint workout at the end of this article. (Spoiler alert: It’s no cakewalk!)
Looking back on your first season, what was the biggest challenge for you playing on the professional level?
The biggest challenge for me was getting used to doing a lot of things on your own. So much of what you do at the university level is team-oriented and part of what the coaches expect everyone to do. But when you get to the professional level it’s not the same. You really have to be on top of your game, whether that’s eating healthy, doing your extra workouts, getting up extra shots, making sure you’re resting — all of that stuff that really adds up.
What’s a typical in-season training day like for you?
Typically we have a two-hour practice every morning, and then lift for an hour after that. I might get some shots up after lifting, or even before practice. Then I go home and do my own supplemental workout — usually focusing on cardio and strength. And then for the rest of the day I just kind of chill. I’m not a huge adventurer. I’m kind of a homebody. So I’m really fine just relaxing at home and enjoying the time I have to rest.
What do those supplemental home workouts entail?
I do all different types of workouts. Being overseas I’ve perfected my regimen a little more. I’ll spend two to three hours each day doing lots of extra cardio and then a lot of bodyweight exercises, sometimes with medicine balls and lighter dumbbells. And now I’ve gotten into Nike Training Club, which is an amazing application I use almost every day. It’s so wonderful. I love it. I also have Hip Hop Abs and Insanity. So if I’m feeling like I really need to mix things up then I’ll do some of that.
Which Nike Training program is your favorite?
Oh, “Get Lean.” I love "Get Lean."
How important is your diet in-season? What are the foods you can’t live without?
Eggs are definitely something I love to cook, so I make a lot of omelets with plenty of vegetables. I love sweet potatoes, too. And for protein, definitely chicken and shrimp. Being overseas, I’ve learned to cook a lot of different things, so I’ll make sautéed shrimp with vegetables and stuff like that. But I definitely stay away from fried foods, and I avoid bread.
So playing abroad in Poland now, are you trying the local cuisine or just sticking with what you know?
When I go out to eat with my teammates from time to time I’ll try it, but it’s not something that I eat every day. It’s pretty heavy!
Do you keep track of calories, protein intake, or anything else as far as your nutrition goes?
I don’t monitor my calories but I do keep a mental log of what I’ve consumed, and adjust accordingly as the day goes on. I know some people like to count their calories, but I think of it more as, “OK, what did I have for breakfast? What about for lunch?” and kind of make adjustments from there.
And when it’s time to indulge a little, what’s your go-to cheat meal?
Number one is Chipotle. And I can’t say that Chipotle is really that bad, but… a burrito bowl has a lot of calories no matter what you put in it, unless you have a salad bowl. But when I’m really craving Chipotle I go all out. The chicken burrito bowl I get every single time.
What about desserts?
We didn’t really grow up eating dessert, but — I do love doughnuts. No Dunkin’ Donuts though. Southern Made is my favorite, which is a popular brand in the South.
So, maybe not on a stomach full of those, but I hear you can do back flips from your gymnastics days. Any other hidden talents or game day rituals?
Ha, it’s true. I don’t really have any serious game day rituals. But before I put my jersey on, I always have to take a shower.
Wait — so a shower right before and after games?
[Laughs] Yup, it’s just one of those things. I like feeling clean when I’m in my jersey!
Respect the jersey. Got it.
Winning or losing, what do you love most about the game of basketball?
The intangibles. My story is very different from a lot of people’s. I didn’t grow up watching a whole lot of WNBA or keeping up with the famous players and the history of the game — I kind of just fell into the sport and started understanding the game and loving it. But the intangibles are really the reason that I play: The moments you share with your teammates on the court, and all of the hard work that you do to get there; the mental toughness that you develop throughout the season once the post season comes. It’s all of those things that people don’t really consider.
At Greatist we call anyone who incorporates healthy choices into their lives a “greatist.” What makes you a greatist?
My positive outlook on life makes me a greatist. I try my best to incorporate a positive attitude into everything I do, and I like for that to be infectious. Win. (We’re smiling, too!)
Ready to train like a pro with WNBA Rookie of the Year Nneka Ogwumike? Test your speed and endurance with her favorite football field sprint workout, shared exclusively with Greatist (below). Be sure to warm up with an easy 5-10 minute jog and some dynamic stretching before giving this challenging workout a go!
Keep up with Nneka by following her on Facebook, Twitter, WNBA.com, and through the 2013 NBA Fit Team, where she’s an advocate for helping kids and parents live healthier lives. Tried the workout? Let us know what you think in the comments below, or by tweeting the author at @jshakeshaft.