Queen of the Sand

Jen Kessy is working out four days a week for 4 1/2 hours a day to reclaim her competition-level fitness. She puts in 2 1/2 hours in the early morning at the beach, doing volleyball drills and practice games. In the afternoon she spends another 2 hours at the gym, building strength and honing the explosive power needed to rocket her 5’11, 160-pound frame into the air to spike or block a ball. Between weight-training sets, she does cardio intervals on a stationary bike. 

Queen of the Sand

As a world-class athlete, Kessy thinks about food differently from the rest of us. She respects its critical importance as performance fuel. “I eat within the first 30 minutes after a workout,” she says. “You need that for recovery.”

But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t also appreciate a delicious meal or a glass of wine. Married to former fellow volleyball pro Andy Ces, Kessy enjoys preparing food to share with her husband and 2-year-old daughter, Aïla.

Kessy, 38, has been on an intensive competition circuit recently and hasn’t been home much lately, which makes those dinners together all the more treasured. In addition to training, she’s traveling worldwide to compete in Olympic qualifying events, including a recent two weeks in China.

“It’s really nice to have a home-cooked meal I’ve made myself after so many weeks on the road,” she says.

Jen Kessy

Gunning for Gold

An outstanding volleyball player in high school and at the University of Southern California, Kessy turned pro in 2000. She went on to win a silver medal in beach volleyball with then-partner April Ross in the 2012 London Olympics. As impressive as winning silver is, Kessy still yearns for the gold, which she lost in 2012 to fellow Americans Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor. She wants 2016 to be the year when she prevails.

Kessy struck a deal with her husband after taking the 2014 season off following the birth of their daughter. For the two years leading up to the Olympics, Ces would be Aïla’s primary caretaker and oversee their home in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., to allow Kessy to focus 100% on training and qualifying for the Olympics with new partner, Emily Day. “He has to do it all when I’m gone,” she says

Even with her intense exercise schedule, Kessy tries to hold her calorie intake to about 2,000 calories a day. She says a typical pre-workout breakfast is yogurt with berries and granola along with a latte, while lunch is an egg white and avocado sandwich. “I don’t necessarily stay away from bread and dairy,” she says. “But I don’t eat a lot at one sitting, and I don’t add a bag of chips or a big cookie.”

Around 4 p.m. on days when she trains, Kessy either has a protein shake or enjoys a “goûter” snack with her husband of three years, who is from France. Although the traditional British high tea may be better known, the French have their pre-dinner snack habit too with le goûter (literally “the taste”), which often involves chocolaty pastries or other sweet treats like meringues.

As for the future, Kessy hopes she and her husband will have another child. They’re even considering moving to France so Ces, who got a master’s degree in computer engineering while he was on the pro beach volleyball circuit, can pursue his career. “It’s going to be my husband’s turn,” Kessy says.

See more featured articles and recipes in the summer issue of our Chef'd Magazine!