Amanda Newhall, 31, knew she wanted to be a firefighter when she was 12 years old, the year that two planes crashed into the World Trade Center buildings. “I was in middle school at the time and remember following the news coverage in the days that followed, and something just sort of clicked for me,” she says.
It was an ambition that stuck with her throughout school and now into adulthood. “I joined Explorers, which is essentially junior firefighting through the Boy Scouts of America. You make uniforms to wear and go on ride-alongs with local firefighters,” she says. When she was 19, she got hired as a volunteer firefighter in Healdsburg, California, where she now works full-time.
Being a firefighter is always an intense job, but this year’s wildfires ravaging much of the West—including Sonoma County, where she works—have proved to be additionally challenging. “It’s affecting our whole city; we really can’t get a break,” Newhall says. “The summers are always very hectic because of the wildfires and the wildfire season seems to last later and later every year. Mother Nature hasn’t told us when it will end this year yet.”
In addition to being a firefighter, Newhall is also a fitness instructor with FireFlex Yoga, a wellness program for first responders. “A lot of the moves [in yoga] mimic what you actually have to do as a firefighter, like deep squats on and off the firetruck,” she says. She adds that it’s also recovery-based, which helps soothe first responders’ muscles from the wear and tear they inevitably put their bodies through just by doing their jobs. Fire stations buy into the FireFlex program and then an instructor comes to the station and leads the team through a workout on a regular basis. Newhall hasn’t been able to go to other stations to teach thanks to COVID-19, but she’s enjoying teaching her own team.
Being both a firefighter and fitness instructor means Newhall has to fuel her body properly, and she says it’s especially important for her to pay attention to what she eats because she has a rare metabolic disorder called phenylketonuria [PKU]. It’s a rare DNA defect that affects her body’s ability to break down the amino acid phenylalanine. “I have a pretty mild case of it, but it affects the way I eat because I have to limit my protein intake. Otherwise [amino acids from the protein] will just float around in my bloodstream.”
Thus, while many people are focused on high-protein everything, Newhall has to be particularly mindful of her intake. Each day, she eats 25 grams of protein from a supplemental formula designed for people who have PKU, and gets an additional 35 grams of protein through food. (The average person as active as Newhall should get a recommended 75 grams a day.)
Here, Newhall shares what an average day of eating looks like for her, including what she makes at the fire station to feed a whole team of first responders.
“Typically for breakfast, I have my protein formula and some cashew nut yogurt,” Newhall says. She loves that it’s portable enough to take to work or on a hike—which is one of her favorite day-off activities. “I like having a breakfast that won’t slow me down,” she says.
Watch the video below to see what a registered dietitian thinks of plant-based yogurt:
For lunch, Newhall likes either having a big salad or soup—depending on what she’s in the mood for that day. “Whole grains are a big part of my diet, so that’s typically incorporated in some way,” she says. But she adds that during the day she tends to eat pretty light because her body absorbs carbohydrates at a slower rate than the average person and she doesn’t want it to slow her down.
If she gets hungry between lunch and dinner, Newhall says she likes to snack on dried mango—especially on days when she’s out hiking. Like cashew nut yogurt, it’s also really portable, so she can put some in a resealable bag, throw it in her backpack, and munch on it whenever hunger strikes.
Newhall says evening meals are a big deal at the firehouse. It’s the part of the day where everyone comes together to sit around the table and share a meal. (Unless they get called to an emergency, of course.) Everyone takes turns cooking and Newhall says it can get pretty complicated because there are so many different types of eaters at her station. “A lot of the guys I work with are big meat eaters and want to go full-on carnivore, but then someone else may be doing Whole30 or another specific type of eating plan,” she says.
When it’s her turn to cook, Newhall says she likes to incorporate Chinese, Japanese, and Thai flavors into her cooking. “I like making soba noodles with a creamy cashew nut sauce or a stir-fry with cauliflower rice and veggies,” she says.
Newhall says she usually skips dessert because she doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth—with one exception. “There are these glazed doughnuts with a unicorn made out of frosting on them and I just love them,” she says. “My boyfriend will surprise me with one about once a week and it’s always a nice surprise.”
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