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How I Nurish: Ninja Warrior & Neuroscientist Natalie Duran Talks Gut Health, Never Giving Up, and Eating in Technicolor

Natalie Duran is one impressive and motivated human being. As if being a Ninja Warrior national finalist and holding the Guinness World Record for the Fastest Female 5m Rope Climb weren’t enough—Natalie is also a neuroscientist and licensed pilot who still manages to find time to ride motorcycles every day. She’s published papers on Stem Cell therapy for IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Diseases) and worked at the UCLA Center for IBD. Naturally, we were intrigued by the incredible physical and mental feats of this Renaissance woman. So, we asked Natalie to share her knowledge on gut health and nutrition, what keeps her motivated, and how nurish by Nature Made® fits into her already busy life. (Plus, her droolworthy go-to healthy snack recipe!)

1. NUTRITION AT A GLANCE

How does nutrition play a role in your everyday life?

ND: Nutrition is important not only for your physical health, but also for your mental wellness. It’s time to be mindful of both what goes into your body and your stress levels while eating.

How important is nutrition in nourishing our minds and bodies?

ND: Before I became a Ninja Warrior, I had a staff position at UCLA focusing on clinical research in the gut. In the recent decade, there has been a surge in research and attention with the gut microbiome. And most fascinating seeing that the gut impacts the way you feel. Reciprocally, the way you feel (emotionally) affects the way you digest food! It has been said that your gut is your second brain. It all comes down to being conscious about a balanced diet and being happy and not rushed while eating! Mindset is everything. Have you ever rushed eating a meal in the car and find that you become even more lethargic and irritable after eating? The neurotransmitter that is responsible for satiety (the feeling of fullness) is serotonin (5-HT). Where in the brain, serotonin is responsible for emotion and mood. So, what you eat and how you eat actually makes you happier or more upset!

How do you try to meet your recommended nutrient needs through diet? 

ND: I eat in technicolor. Whatever meal I have, I attempt to consume all colors of the rainbow. The more colorful, the better! I avoid large meals and prefer snacking throughout the day. This prevents the “hangry” monster from appearing in my life.

2. THE WHOLE YOU

What did you learn about yourself in taking the nurish quiz? Any specific fitness or wellness goals you shared

ND: It was so much fun taking the nurish quiz, because it asked me questions about my daily life, I don’t normally put awareness to. It made me reflect on where I need to pay attention to nutrient shortfalls in my diet. And also reflecting on the integrity and health of my bones and joints! I don’t drink milk from cows as often anymore, and the common aspect we were taught as kids is “strong bones come from drinking your milk!” So, taking the quiz reminded me there are other ways I can aid in supporting my bones and joints as an athlete, by taking vitamins and supplements daily.

What’s in your nurish by Nature Made® pack?

ND: This pack incudes the building blocks of life. My pack includes a Women’s Multi to fill gaps in my diet, Glucosamine Chondroitin to support healthy joints, and many other important supplements that help support my bones and muscles.

Was there anything that surprised you or was tailored to a specific need?

ND: I’ve had concerns about my eye health growing up. I was surprised to learn about how Lutein can be added to my pack to maintain healthy vision. It is a phytonutrient that supports a healthy brain and complements the fruits and veggies in your diet!

3. MORNING ROUTINE

Walk us through your morning routine, and how nurish fits into it?

ND: I wake up every day, ready to jump into action! My motivation every morning is to wake up feeling like a superhero, ready to take on all adventures of the day. For energy, I make a conscious decision to drink coffee or not. I try not to be too dependent on caffeine. As for food in the morning, I believe it is important to start off your day with a small or moderately sized meal. It all depends on the kind of physical workload I have scheduled. So, for me, my go-to morning meal includes avocado toast and oatmeal with honey and blueberries. My daily nurish pack fits into my life because it motivates me to be conscious about what I put into my body. Not to over-consume sugars, but also knowing I am making an effort to add supplements to my daily diet.

4. STAYING BALANCED WITH SELF-CARE

What types of activities are you doing to stay balanced?

ND: I actually don’t involve weights in my training. My training involves utilizing pure bodyweight to assist or strengthen all muscles throughout the body. As a rock climber and Ninja Warrior, everyone assumes I train upper body only. In reality, I believe that the core is the source of most movement energy and vitality. So, it’s a balance of upper-body strength, dynamic training of the core, and cardio with the lower-body.

What are your go-to self-care rituals?

ND: Meditation is one of the most recent additions I’ve put importance to in my training schedule. Whenever I have a quiet moment at home or in a park, I take at least 5 minutes to myself to quiet my mind and my body. If I have more time, I try to stay in a focused state of mediation for 30 minutes or longer. You would be surprised to see how tense shoulders can be even when you are not doing anything! Even when reading this post, take a moment to relax your shoulders and take a deep breath… I even bet they dropped at least an inch!

5. NUTRITION THE NATALIE DURAN WAY

How did you get into extreme sports like rock climbing and stunt work? What would you tell someone who is just getting started?

ND: I just graduated high school and asked friends for advice on how to survive college. One person said to me, “Have you ever heard of the freshman 15?” Where the incoming freshman gain an average of 15lbs their first year of college. This was the one element that stressed me the most out. I honestly do not enjoy running and I threw out my back lifting weights once. So, I had to find an alternative way to stay healthy besides the most common ways of working out. This is how I found the sport of rock climbing, and it changed my life forever. Not only was it the most challenging physical activity I’ve ever done, but it is also a mental exercise.

If you want to try out rock climbing or ninja warrior, my advice is: GO DO IT. Do it with friends & family and make it fun! If it’s not fun, don’t do it. If the show Ninja Warrior has shown me anything, it doesn’t matter what physical shape you are currently in… you CAN start somewhere. It’s all in the baby steps, and if you can climb a ladder, you can rock climb!

You participated in MTV’s The Challenge and NBC’s American Ninja Warrior. How do you stay mentally tough during these competitions?

ND: There is something within me that will NEVER give up. No matter how painful it is, or how much I am losing... I need to see the finish line to the end. Every moment of struggle and pain makes me stronger. And every moment of failure is just an opportunity exposing weaknesses to work on in the next training session! You don’t get stronger working on what your good at—you improve exponentially by working on weaknesses. Push past the uncomfortable; your superpowers lie just beyond it.

What’s the most thrilling challenge you’ve done to date?

ND: The most exciting challenge I’ve done did not involve any physical feat. It involved sleeping in a pit of 100+ snakes in Thailand for 12+ hours. Not a lot of sleeping occurred during those hours!

Not only are you incredibly fit, but you have a degree in neuroscience and done medical research! What interested you in the field?

ND: I am a first generation Filipino Asian American. My mom and sister are a nurse, and the majority of my extended family work in healthcare. As a kid, there was a lot of pressure and expectation to go into healthcare. Even with the pressure, I thoroughly enjoyed studying the body. My studies moved its focus to the mind, and it made me so excited to study every single day. Obtaining my degree in neuroscience allowed me to see the world differently and gain a certain level of understanding of myself and my interactions with others. And more than everything, acknowledging that the balance of the body and mind should be 50/50 focus.

How are you staying fit/taking care of yourself during this unprecedented time?

ND: This has been the most difficult time to stay motivated. I feed off the motivational energy around me, and I do enjoy training in the gym and climbing outdoors. However, this time makes me focus on myself, and find new ways to maintain my strength from within. My goals have shifted, it’s not about getting better and better. I just want to maintain my physical level. There is something powerful about being realistic.

NINJA NATALIE’S POWER PACKED AVOCADO TOAST

Ingredients:

  • Dave's Killer Bread Thin-Sliced 21 Whole Grains and Seeds Organic Bread (toasted)
  • 1 Ripe Avocado Sliced
  • Micro-greens or Arugula
  • 1 Sunny-Side-Up Egg cooked with Coconut Oil
  • Whole Grain Mustard
  • Hot Sesame Chili Oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

 

Natalie Duran

@ninja_natalie

“Ninja” Natalie Duran is a 29-year-old Ninja Warrior and rock climber based in Los Angeles, CA. Throughout her life, she’s obtained a degree in neuroscience and a pilot’s license, all while riding motorcycles daily. She’s published papers on Stem Cell therapy for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases and worked at the UCLA Center for IBD. She currently holds the Guinness World Record for fastest female 5m rope climb. Natalie is a National Finalist for the NBC’s American Ninja Warrior and Team Ninja Warrior. She is also the last woman standing and finalist for the MTV show The Challenge.

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This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.


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