I'm awake now. We're in a hard left turn and descending rapidly. Peeking between seats out the nearest window, all I can see is blue -- a lot of it. Just when I think we're about to go into the drink, I catch a glimpse of gray steel. The Greyhound powers up to full throttle just before being caught by one of the USS Ronald Reagan's three arresting wires and we're pulled to a stop in just a few hundred feet.

>> For exclusive video of M&F's visit to the Reagan, click here.

>> For more photos of M&F's visit to the Reagan, click here.

When we step onto the flight deck we're in the shadow of the island, the ship's main nerve center that reaches 20 stories above waterline. We're escorted below deck, past rows of 500-pound bombs, all of them headed to Afghanistan. As I look down to the water's surface through a metal-grated staircase, I realize just how fast the Reagan is cutting through the water. This majestic $4.5 billion ship, which stretches 1,092 feet from bow to stern, has a top speed of 30-plus knots.

It's not long before our escorts, Lt. Ron Flanders and Lt. j.g. Tim Hawkins, are getting us acquainted with the Reagan's fitness-minded crew and the numerous amenities on board for those looking to get or stay fit while at sea. The average sailor spends anywhere from a few weeks to several months on the Reagan without setting foot on land. The cramped quarters and narrow corridors are enough to make you positively batty, particularly when you might work 12-16 hours per day. Exercise helps take the edge off, but the crew of the Reagan is more resolute than most.

"We're trying to redefine the fitness culture of the ship," says Britt Callison, a civilian contractor and certified personal trainer with a master's degree in kinesiology. As the ship's "fit boss," he's tasked with making sure crewmembers have everything they need to maintain health and wellness and, in some cases, the resources to extend their strength and conditioning efforts to new heights while on the job.

To this end, Callison -- in concert with the ship's Morale Welfare and Recreation division -- has helped to institute and/or maintain the Reagan's various fitness programs. The list includes clubs for boxing, CrossFit and several other group exercise classes.

"Space is at a premium, obviously," he points out, ducking through another hatch as we walk and talk. "This is a warship. It wasn't designed for treadmills and benches."

Still, the sheer size of the Reagan has allowed for the construction of five on-board gyms with ongoing upgrades in equipment. The mezzanine gym -- the most heavily trafficked fitness center on the Reagan and one of the largest in the entire U.S. fleet -- measures 1,240 square feet and is outfitted with all the trappings of your local franchise gym (only fewer of them). A forward gym, mainly used for cardio, is about 360 square feet and an iron-heavy, M&F-friendly gym to the aft (rear) of the ship combined cover nearly 900 square feet. A smaller cardio room and the Admiral's private gym account for the other two. The hangar bay, with its open layout and fresh air, is another attractive destination for those looking to muscle up using little more than pull-up bars and kettlebells.


Ian and I follow Lt. j.g. Hawkins through the buffet line in the officer's mess for lunch. I scan each tray carefully: Salisbury steak, buttery mashed potatoes, sweet turkey gravy, some tasty-looking pasta concoction. Just beyond the line are a dessert bar, soft-drink fountain and even a soft-serve machine. This is the officer's mess, but the selections aren't much different for enlisted sailors. How does anyone -- let alone the body-conscious type -- manage to escape a deployment without putting on 20-30 pounds?

"It gets so busy that we really just try to make sure everyone gets the requisite three squares a day," says Callison, suggesting that being underfed is more of a concern for crewmembers. Chief Petty Officer Marcus Taylor, 38, a former powerlifter and amateur bodybuilder who works for the ship's chaplain, possesses a lean, 210-pound physique and is proof positive that good eating exists aboard the Reagan. "It's pretty easy, actually," he says.

"I just go high-protein and low-carb and eat lots of vegetables. I also stay away from junk food."

Within the officer's mess, there is a corner devoted to leaner nutrition. Skinless chicken breasts, hard-boiled eggs, fat-free yogurt, whole-grain cereals, skim milk and a decent salad bar -- everything you need, really. The enlisted have similar options and might also get their hands on protein powders, which are occasionally sold on-board depending on recent port stops. Other sailors have their favorite supps sent from home.

Petty Officer Tom Feasel, 34, helps the crew through the Fitness Enhancement Program, which is designed to help them achieve and maintain naval fitness standards. He admits that it's hard for him to keep up with a sound nutrition plan -- he's used to eating 6-8 meals per day at home -- but says he still manages to stay lean and strong through the ship's existing menu.