NEW ORLEANS NATIVE JENNIFER HALE CARRIES HER OWN PLAYBOOK WHEN COVERING THE NFL AND NBA FOR FOX SPORTS
For FOX Sports sideline reporter and New Orleans native Jennifer Hale, living out of a suitcase 175 days a year requires she pack one main essential – a health and fitness playbook. Hale covers the NFL on FOX and the NBA for FOX Sports Southwest, following the New Orleans Pelicans for the entire season.
Hale, who was named Miss LSU and Homecoming Queen at Louisiana State University, says health and fitness rank near the top of her daily priority list, whether on the road or home in her French Quarter condo.
“God, family and work will always be my top-three priorities, but health and fitness are next because I don’t function at my best without simultaneously focusing on that,” Hale said. Physical activity is an integral part of my life – I feel cranky and out of sorts without it. When I skip it because life gets too busy, I actually get less done and am more negative.”
That philosophy has guided the former college cheerleader throughout her life, beginning as a young child and continuing today.
“I’ve been an athlete my whole life in some form or fashion,” explained Hale, who joined the NFL on FOX in 2011. “I grew up playing softball, running track and competing in gymnastics. I cheered at a competitive level during both my undergraduate and graduate programs at LSU and Northwestern University in Chicago. Now I Cross Fit and cycle.”
Her fitness programs, though, vary from day to day and city to city, depending on where NFL and NBA matchups take her. Hale, who serves as the Women's Health spokesperson for Thibodaux Regional Hospital in Thibodaux, makes a point to strive for at least 15 minutes of exercise daily, even on her craziest days.
“The toughest time for me is when the NFL and NBA cross” Hale explained. “In November and December, it’s all work. I’ll finish an NBA game at 10:30 p.m. and hop on a 5:30 a.m. flight to make practice for my NFL game that weekend. On Sunday, I’ll catch a red eye after my NFL game to make my Monday night NBA game. Basically, all I do is work those two months. I love it, but squeezing in any personal time is tough -- even exercise. I make sure to at least get in a stretching regiment, planking and sit ups when I wake up or before I go to bed. Then come May, June and July, I have three months to do anything I want before NFL pre-season coverage begins. That’s when I’ll cycle 25 miles a day in New Orleans or surf sun-up to sundown when in L.A. My ‘me’ time.”
A schedule that hectic and regimented calls for a fitness plan much more fluid and imaginative.
“My fitness choices are all over the place, depending on the season and where we are for a game,” detailed Hale, who previously served as an anchor at WVUE-TV in New Orleans. “I love to run or rent a bike and get outside when the weather is nice. I also love trying out boutique gyms that specialize in cycling, Cross Fit, boxing, Pilates and so forth. It’s a good way to mix it up. Thankfully, most of our hotels have a weight room, so if all else fails, I can get it done there.”
As for the meal prep phenomenon sweeping the country the last few years, Hale has all but mastered the art, whether noshing at home, in a hotel restaurant or during a post-game flight in the wee hours of the morning.
“Plotting out what I’m going to eat is a constant struggle,” she said. “You can’t out-train your diet, and eating out on the road is a challenge. I stick with salads and fresh items that hopefully don’t have much sodium or fat. I also travel with fruit, nuts and protein bars in case I can’t find anything healthy – or in those instances where you don’t have time for anything but ‘fast food.’ I carry my own fast food so I’m not at the mercy of my cravings and late-night, jet-lagged weaknesses.”
During the NBA season, Hale flies to and from each game with the Pelicans, making for several post-midnight flights with a planeload of men ready to refuel after burning hundreds of calories on the court.
“The food options on the flight home really got me the first season,” Hale recalled. “I’d never eat that late normally, but when you’re in the air at 11 p.m., smelling all that food, you’re suddenly so hungry! It’s mind over matter. If I eat that late, it’s lean protein only.”
However, health-conscious options do abound away from home. It’s just incumbent on her to do the legwork to find them.
“I look for smoothie shops or any place that advertises seasonal or local produce and fresh protein,” Hale listed. “I’m a spoiled New Orleans girl in that our fish is caught and served within hours. I can taste the difference in frozen fish. I also try to avoid farm raised. I prefer wild-caught.”
As disciplined as Hale strives to be with regard to her diet and exercise, she says she has mellowed dramatically from her younger days, now allowing herself a cheat day, during which she often opts for lasagna, pizza or the region’s world-famous beignets.
“I absolutely allow myself a cheat day,” Hale admitted. “When I was cheering at LSU, I was maniacal about food and exercise. That was no way to live. Now I try to take a balanced approach. If my TV crew is going out for Italian, I’ll enjoy it. I just make sure to exercise and eat well the next few days. An occasional slice of pizza really does make the world a better place.”
Like most women, the 38-year-old does fall into the trap of feeling a little jealous of her 20-year-old self, but she keeps it all in perspective.
“My body definitely has changed since my 20s, and it’s harder to look like I did back then,” she said. “I’d love to have that metabolism back, even for a week. At the same time, if you establish a healthy lifestyle, it’s not a question of forcing yourself to make exercise a priority. You budget it into your schedule, just like you would taking a shower or brushing your teeth.”
As much as it pains her mentally and physically, Hale squeezes in exercises that she detests due to their multiple benefits.
“I hate burpees, but I do them because they work,” she explained. “I skip or modify some of the standard Cross Fit Olympic lifts at maximum weight because of my personal goals. I’m not training to compete in the Cross Fit games or lift more weight. I’m working out to maintain a healthy body, tone my existing muscles and keep that positive attitude exercise produces.”
Hale, who holds a Master’s degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, insists that the positive attitude generated by exercise isn’t all in her head.
“Exercise keeps me upbeat, motivated and relaxed,” she explained. “The relaxed portion may sound strange, but when I’m exercising, it’s often the only time of the day I’m not working, researching or responding to messages and voicemails. That mental break is imperative to staying fresh and ready.”
By the same token, proper nutrition keeps her body firing on all cylinders.
“One ‘bad’ meal won’t adversely affect me, but if I eat poorly for several days, I feel sluggish and distracted,” said Hale, who has won multiple Emmy, Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press Awards for her sports and news coverage. “Just like some cars run better on premium gas, I’m a firm believer in the theory that our bodies need ‘good gas,’ as well. I’m not gluten free or carb free, but I certainly limit those types of food and try to maximize greens and fresh proteins. I love kale and baby spinach.”
When she’s not on the NFL or NBA sidelines, Hale tries to impart those health and fitness philosophies to the next generation -- a group of young girls with whom she volunteers. Hale recently founded All Access Sideline Pass, an organization that focuses on educating and empowering young women in the New Orleans community through outreaches and seminars. Upcoming events include a Junior Journalism Day at the NBA All-Star Game and a prom dress shopping trip for the foster girls that Sideline Pass mentors.
“We talk a great deal about developing healthy lifestyles and thinking about choices, food and exercise, as well as smoking and drugs,” she stated. “It’s not about being super-skinny or really muscular. It’s about developing good habits you can maintain and finding the right exercise avenue for you. Maybe you’re a team-sport person, such as kickball or softball. Or maybe you should try running, cycling or aerobics. There is something out there for everyone. You just have to find it, and I really enjoy helping our young girls do that.”
Sound advice for little and big girls alike.