Brooke Ence looks like a real-life super hero, which is why it’s no surprise that the CrossFit star has transitioned to playing a badass on the big screen—first appearing in this summer’s Wonder Woman and now in the upcoming Justice League.
Still, when you look that good there are going to be haters. And Ence —who withdraw from the CrossFit Open this year due to neck surgery — spoke candidly with Athlete Daily earlier this year about dealing with Internet trolls and failing to qualify for the 2016 CrossFit Games.
But let’s be honest: what everyone really wants to know what the heck does she eat to stay so lean? What kind of nutrition plan has Ence looking that insanely chiseled all the time?
With Justice League set to hit theaters this Friday, Ence —who plays an Amazon warrior —talks all things nutrition, macros and body image.
Athlete Daily: You were a dancer growing up, right? Does that carry with it some weird relationship with food and body image?
Ence: “When I was very, very young I got teased for having muscle. I danced my whole life. I was always very muscular. I had biceps and I never lifted weights until I was in college. Those things kind of stuck with me. I developed this view of myself based on bullying I dealt with when I was really young. It was like the way I looked was wrong.
Then I found figure [competitions] and through doing that and being so meticulous about my food, I was learning how to work really hard at something.
But that world, everyone judging you based on what you looked like paired with my issues, made me even more crazy about my self image. I was more insecure. After I did my first show, my mom told me I couldn’t do anymore until I learned to love myself. So, I took a year off and found CrossFit when auditioning for a Cirque de Soleil show in Vegas [in 2010].”
With CrossFit I was able to grow up and work really, really hard at something and be successful at it, I couldn’t be more grateful for myself and my body and what I can do. They don’t go away fully, but you grow up and realize you are a lot more powerful than your insecurities.”
Athlete Daily: What was your diet like when you first got into CrossFit? Did you get on the Paleo train?
Ence: “Oh, of course! It was the fad. Carbs were the enemy. I didn’t realize how much fat I was eating [on Paleo]. I had like no carbs. I didn’t indulge in sweets or anything. I was training a lot. Athletes typically perform better on carbs and I don’t understand why a lot of people want to do keto (ketogenic diet) and want to function on fat.
I get so judged by the way that I look, I do. By calling me a man or [saying] I’m on steroids. It took a long time to get over that stuff. It’s something I’ll work on the rest of my life.
What I’ve realized and learned through working with someone is my performance and my body worked better fueling it with carbs and not fat. When I did cut down on fat I realized, ‘Oh my God, there’s fat in everything!’ my body composition changed. I only lost a few pounds but my body composition totally changed.
I was fueling myself better. I wasn’t fat ever, I’ve never been fat, but I felt fluffy, more soft. I was muscular, but I wasn’t cut. I was more inflamed and I think it was mostly due to my diet.”
Athlete Daily: You mentioned working with a nutrition coach starting last year. How has that helped you?
Ence: “I’ve been eating more than I used to! I work with one of my close friends, Adee, she owns Working Against Gravity (which is based on weighing and tracking macronutrients). I’ve stressed a lot about my body composition and weight and my numbers and she takes that stress off of me.
Before that, I never really ate a lot of food. My macros in 2015, I would do a high carbohydrate day once or twice a week when my volume was high. But my macros were probably 150 grams of carbs.
A lot of my friends thought that I wasn’t eating enough. Adee also felt like I wasn’t eating enough.
I agreed to do what she said, so we upped my food. She kept adding more and more food until we got my bodyweight trending up. And it was tough at first. I was able to be OK being 155-lb instead of 150-lb and it was OK. It was nice to think about being able to give my body more fuel to perform better and watch it lean out. Now, I don’t want to gain or lose weight, I just want to maintain.
It took me a few years to re-wire my body to use food as fuel and I’m finally at a point where I can maintain the same body all the time with minor changes. But it did take me a long time to get my body to do that. I’m OK with the way I look all the time now.”
Athlete Daily: I would be, too. [Laughs.] Seriously, I think most people would look at you and wonder how did she ever NOT feel OK about how she looked?
Ence: “I was a little bit crazy. I used to weigh myself every morning and every night because I needed to make sure that number stayed close to the same. I knew it was me but I was very obsessive and couldn’t stop. My husband told me he’d throw the scale away or hide it from me. This was years ago.
Someone said to me, ‘Would you be upset at your weight if you won the CrossFit Games? Would you be OK being X amount heavier if all the things you were working toward you were achieving them? I was like ‘No, I’d be fine.’
Over the past year and a half, I’ve used my weight and my numbers and my measurements as data and it does not define me. People don’t just look up to me because of the way that I look.
And I realized that part because I don’t look up to certain people because of the way that they look. The reason I look up to people has nothing to do with their weight or measurements. If I’m inspired by someone its because of who they are. Realizing that was very powerful.
I don’t really care about the scale- it’s data. My goal is to be healthy and fit. And I’d love to win the CrossFit Games, but right now I just want to be training hard and PR’ing my lifts and all of that stuff. All that data, it has helped me achieve those other goals.
I get so judged by the way that I look, I do. By calling me a man or [saying] I’m on steroids. It took a long time to get over that stuff. It’s something I’ll work on the rest of my life. I’m in a different place than I was in 2014 training for the ’15 Regionals and when I got my very first sponsorship.
I’ve been able to come face-to-face with my insecurities and figure them out. I’ve been able to see how great of a person I am and that I’m worth a lot more than my body.”
Athlete Daily: Earlier this year, you were sidelined for a while after undergoing neck surgery at the end of March. How tough was that and how did that alter your nutrition?
Ence: “We dropped my protein by 10 grams and dropped carbs about 30 grams. (Before she was cleared for any activity post-operation, Ence was eating about 150 g protein, 175 g carbs and 55 g fat.)
What helped me a lot through my recovery is Trifecta, my food sponsor. The food they have is clean, pre-portioned and really good. It’s plain, which allows me to use it in different recipes at home. It’s made my nutrition a lot easier.
I’ve been able to come face-to-face with my insecurities and figure them out. I’ve been able to see how great of a person I am and that I’m worth a lot more than my body.
I will go out to eat for breakfast and get the same exact thing which makes it easy for me. I get four egg whites scrambled with turkey, mushrooms, peppers and zucchini, three pieces of bacon and three corn tortillas with black coffee. They’re really good breakfast tacos. Going out to lunch and dinner is trickier because you aren’t ever sure what’s in things.
My stomach has been temperamental for years. I have a hard time digesting fibrous foods- and gluten is also in there as well. I don’t totally cut all these things out, it would be a very limited diet. It’s not realistic because there’s things on that diet I do like, so I deal with the consequences of having a stomachache.
I will stay away from gluten if it’s an option. I don’t eat a ton of dairy and I don’t eat a lot of very fibrous veggies because they make me sick. And I found that out the hard way. I was trying to up my veggies and started eating a ton at every meal —I was roasting carrots and leeks and squash and brussels sprouts. I started to be so sick. Now, I eat them in very small doses.”
Athlete Daily: You have to have some guilty indulgences though, right?
Ence: “I won’t buy something if I shouldn’t eat it. People are like you need self control. No, my self control is I just don’t buy it because I’m aware I’m going to want it. Like with peanut butter. I have a hard time with peanut butter, I love it. I just won’t buy it all the time.
I’d rather buy some cookies with friends, we all have one and the package is gone. What I won’t do is buy a package of cookies and put it in my cupboard. Even if I eat that food and make it fit in my diet, it’s still not good for me to indulge in that too often. If I don’t buy it, it’s not in my house and [I don’t] have this internal struggle.
Or me and my best friend, we tend to ruin food. If we have something in the house —some of our friends have gotten very mad at us. if there’s something in the house we keep nibbling on, we’ll just throw it in the trash and get rid of it completely.
We’ll dunk it in the toilet and then throw it in the trash. I’ll do a similar thing out to eat. If there’s food on my plate, I’ll still pick at it even though I’m full or done. Sometimes we’ll pour salt all over it or cover it in hot sauce to ruin it so we can stop.”
All other images courtesy of Brooke Ence.