Chapul ambassador Lexi Burkholder finds life in the oval office. Read her story on training for speed skating and maintaining a healthy diet full of cricket protein.
What first comes to mind when you think of speed skaters? I bet it has something to do with huge legs, skin-tight racing suits, and perhaps Apolo Ohno. Maybe you know a LOT about the sport and you are aware of the two disciplines: short and long track. If you know more than that you are ahead of the curve! Most people’s awareness of the sport only exists for two weeks, every four years. For skaters, however, reaching our potential takes daily practice for years. I’ve been skating and competing for eleven years, since I was ten years old. I won’t try to generalize the “speed skater experience”, but I can tell you what my life is like as I try to make it to the world’s biggest stage.
I started skating in my hometown of Pittsburgh. I moved away when I was sixteen to skate in Washington DC, then Milwaukee, and then Salt Lake City, my current residence. Presently I train with the U.S National short track team, and their training schedule has the hours of a full time job! On a regular day, I wake up at six to prepare. This is actually pretty nice because I have skated either before school or at otherwise ungodly hours since I was a little kid, so being able to sleep in until six is quite spoiling. My breakfast always consists of oatmeal mixed with baking cocoa and some healthy fats like peanut or almond butter, flax, chia, etc, and black coffee. It’s kind of like Reese’s flavored oatmeal, for someone who never eats Reese’s. Once I’m sufficiently caffeinated, I head to the rink at around 7:30.
I always foam roll first thing upon arrival. This usually takes about 15 minutes. Since first learning about foam rolling, it’s almost as if I can’t move without it. For me, it’s super good for those awkward spots like IT bands and quads. I’ll also use a lacrosse ball on my feet, which is equally addicting. Once I’m rolled out, I do a 10-20 minute jog to get the blood flowing, and also some dynamic stretching. After that I usually feel like I can crunch myself into skating position; I’ll do some dryland exercises to activate those specific skating muscles. Altogether, my warm-up takes around an hour, and I am ready for ice at 9 AM.
Ice practice varies by season. In the summer we tend to do lots of laps and volume, while in-season there is more of a speed focus. Our longest race is around two and a half minutes, but we do a lot more time and laps than that in varying intensities to improve our fitness. A unique aspect of short track is that we race ALL DAY in multiple rounds. At times I’ve raced 8-11 times in one day! The all-day nature of our training schedule, plus doing multiple high-intensity sets throughout a two-hour practice, prepares us for those long and intense race days.
Ice is over by eleven, and it’s time for round 1.5. Usually that means a half hour to an hour of dryland training. Dryland is always very technical, where we slow down what we do on the ice, focus on minute details, and build strength. Between ice and dryland I’ll try to consume some sugar, whether that’s a gel, goo, or hopefully something a little more natural like a banana or yogurt! I find it difficult to eat mid-session but know I need to, lest I bonk. (Y’all know bonking, right? It is way easier to prevent a bonk that get yourself out of it!) After dryland, as I spin out on the stationary bikes for cooldown, I’ll hit the Chapul as a recovery snack. Right after a workout is the best time to get some protein in, so I can recover for round two.
We get a midday break from approximately noon to two or three, depending on the day. I use this time to do some homework, run errands—or nap! Nap days are the best days. I also try to eat my lunch as soon as possible so I can digest. It’s tough to eat sufficiently with only a couple hours before the next workout, so I choose some easily digestible carbs like white rice and/or sweet potato, some foliage like kale or spinach, and some eggs or fish. That’s my go-to at least. Recently I also have been really into smoothies with frozen fruit, spinach, and Chapul protein powder.
Now it’s back to the rink! A lot of times I just pack my lunch and hang out there since it’s not worth the time to go home. Our second practice varies by day. I always start with another roll-out and warm-up. We do weight training twice a week, which consists of a couple main lifts like squats, power cleans, and deadlifts, and then some accessory exercises. If I had to choose one training exercise that I DIDN’T like, it is pull-ups and pushups, which you might have suspected from a speed skater. So I have the pleasure of doing those exercises during weights. If it’s not a weights day, we might have another ice session. And then finally, if it’s not ice or weights, we could be doing an outdoor bike ride, indoor bike intervals, or circuit training. After the second session, plus an extensive cool down where I spin out, stretch, and do some core work, this puts me out of the rink at around five or six.
In the evening, I either do some more homework or go to work. I also eat a LOT during the evening since I don’t need to worry about upsetting my stomach during the second practice! Again my meal will usually have a carbohydrate like farro, rice, quinoa, or potatoes, plus some foliage like kale or spinach and a mix of other seasonal veggies, some beans, and often a couple eggs. I also ALWAYS have a whole avocado with dinner. I don’t know if I could sleep soundly without my avocado. Lastly, before bed, I try to have a little bit more protein and fat with nut butters, eggs/egg whites, etc. I also am trying to work it into my routine to foam roll every day before bed because it is so good for recovery, but that only happens about 50% of the time right now.
I hope this gave you some insight on the daily life of a speed skater! This routine goes on for years and years for those of us who want to pursue our highest potential in the sport. I often hear non-skaters refer to the discipline and sacrifice we make with such an intense schedule, but I can’t say that’s how I’d describe it. Maybe 10% of the time I have to really use discipline to “git er done,” since the sport and all of its workings are so enjoyable to me, and so far the sacrifices have been (surprisingly) worth it. Really I’m just super lucky to be able to pursue my passion for speed skating and the lifestyle that goes with it.