Eight-time Paralympic medalist Oksana Masters doesn’t get a lot of time off—now more than ever. With the Tokyo Paralympic Games on the horizon, she’s getting ready to compete as a cyclist. But the minute she’s finished with the 2020 Games, she’ll turn her attention to Beijing 2022, where she’ll compete as a cross-country skier in the Winter Games.

The former rower and adaptive athlete is a double amputee who spent her early years in an orphanage in Ukraine before being adopted by an American college professor. Because of radiation from Chernobyl, Masters was born with one leg significantly shorter than the other—both legs missing weight-bearing bones—and with five fingers and no thumbs.

Still, she led an active life after her adoption, and after having one leg amputated at 9 years old and the other at 14 years old, her prosthetics allowed her to explore sports on a deeper level. Eventually, she found hand cycling, and now, she wants to get more women into the sport. But first, she has to pack for Tokyo as she finishes recovering from a recent surgery on her leg.

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How does the 32-year-old Oreo-loving paracyclist balance all of the training and travel? Nutrition plays a big role.

Here, Masters shares her favorite food hacks (three words: freeze dried borscht—seriously) and how she stays healthy even with a hectic schedule.

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Breakfast Staples

Breakfast depends how prepared I am the night before. A lot of times, I’ll make overnight oats because it’s something that’s so quick and easy. If I haven’t made them, I love Grape Nuts cereal. I warm it up in the microwave, because that way I won’t break a tooth eating them, and eat that with blueberries. After that first breakfast, I do the first workout of the day, and then do a rice bowl. I’d be lying if I said I cook my own food—I’m very thankful that my boyfriend, who is also a Paralympic athlete, is a great cook. He keeps me alive and going with food. He makes rice with the rice cooker, then we’ll do an over-easy egg, some turkey sausage, sautéed spinach, and kimchi. I believe in getting probiotic nutrition through food first, and then topping off on things that you need afterward. And of course, there’s coffee—I have a whole lot of coffee, probably more than I should ever admit to. I use a pour-over or our espresso machine and drink it black.

Keeping It Simple

After a workout, I’ll have a protein shake—with Klean Athlete’s whey isolate mixed with some orange juice for carbs—and have lunch. It sounds really boring, but we always do a big meal prep for a whole week. We do chicken breasts, black beans, and broccoli, and eat that every day. Especially on those huge volume weeks, it’s nice to have that ready to go. You’re more inclined to eat healthier and don’t just go for the Oreos while you’re trying to make something. Dinner is the same as lunch, or we’ll mix it up and do salmon. We use different seasonings to change things up—I love dill seasoning for salmon.

Olympic (Food) Prep

When I travel to races, I bring everything except the kitchen sink, including a lot of food. I bring coffee because at most races, they have coffee but it’s from an espresso machine that just has a button you push or it’s instant. For me, coffee is a ritual. I love the whole process of coffee, and when I’m just super antsy and nervous, making coffee is a familiar process. I hand grind my coffee beans and make my coffee in an AeroPress. I also bring a lot of my main foods—I’d rather be in control of my destiny and have the foods I want and end up not needing it.

With the Olympics in Tokyo, I’ve been staying motivated by adding Japanese seasonings to my food. I use a lot of Japanese sesame oil. So when I cook my eggs, I make sure to put sesame oil in. The same applies to chicken. Something that I learned the hard way with my first Paralympic Games was that you’re in a new country and your gut isn’t used to certain flavors and seasonings and oils. Now, I try to get my body used to things like the kimchi and other fermented foods and the oils that they will cook with. Otherwise, the food can be such a shock from American culture and food. It’s also helpful in staying motivated and excited.

The Key to a Good Borscht

I always bring freeze dried Nomad Nutrition borscht (which is beet soup) with me when I travel. I might be the only one who loves it because my heritage, being from Ukraine. At home, I’ll eat it with a dollop of sour cream, and I’ll make it myself too. The key is super fresh beets, and also the seasoning and marinating of them. I use dill seasoning in there, of course. I roast the beets in the oven first, making sure they’re cooked until they’re sweeter. Then I chop them up, cook them in the soup, and let them simmer for a long time.

Oreos Are Great, but Doughnuts Are the Best

I watch baking shows when I’m on the trainer inside. I love talking about Oreos and I do like eating them, but doughnuts are the best. There’s a place where I live called Pandemonium Donuts and they’re incredible—a doughnut there is the size of your face. I love cake and yeast doughnuts, but I think I like the fluffy yeast ones more. I also love a fruity doughnut with all the icing and toppings. If you’re going to have a doughnut, you commit, you go all the way, and you enjoy every moment of it.

The Importance of Listening to Your Body

Nutrition has been a learning process. Where I came from [growing up in the orphanage], I would go for such a long time without eating, so learning my hunger cues has taken a while. Now, I try to make sure I’m eating enough and not getting so caught up in the ‘how many carbs am I eating’ kind of things. My philosophy is just that if your body’s craving it, that means you need it for a reason. Can you be craving ten Oreos? Probably not. But maybe you’re craving one Oreo because you need some sugar.

I think the biggest thing that I really wasn’t doing was eating consistently throughout the day. I would have a big meal in the morning, then not eat until much later in the day. Now I really try to make sure there isn’t this huge teeter totter with my blood sugar and hunger levels during the day. For a while, I thought I had a health issue—I felt like I was dropping and spiking all day. But it was just because my blood sugar was dropping because I wasn’t eating for hours and hours.

Oksana Masters’s Pantry Staples
Oreo Sandwich Cookies
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Grape Nuts Breakfast Cereal
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Vanilla Whey Protein Isolate
Klean Athlete Vanilla Whey Protein Isolate
Ukrainian Borscht
Nomad Nutrition Ukrainian Borscht