Train Like An Athlete
February 4th, 2022 marks the first day of the Winter 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China. While watching Olympic athletes win medals for their countries, one has to wonder how Olympians train to become peak performers in their chosen sport. More importantly, what nutrition plan do they follow to perfectly supplement their training? And can non-athletes apply these skills to their own routines in order to simply improve their health and fitness? As it turns out, training like an Olympian is all about balance and individualization.
Training is individualized to the sport and individual
Just like an accountant would not train for their job the same way a barista would, Olympic athletes must train for their sports in an individualized fashion. Each sport focuses on different skills. Without going into a plethora of details, let’s skim the surface. Olympic runners take on a whole-body approach to their training. Olympic weightlifters focus more on dedicating time to building up the lower body as well as building foundational strength, muscle size, and fixing any muscle imbalances. Gymnastics focuses on core strength, while fencing focuses a lot of energy on reaction time. The outcome is a training plan individualized to each sport and to each individual within that sport.
For Olympic athletes, cross-training is just as important as training for their specific sport. Cross-training can help improve strength, endurance, agility, and speed, all while decreasing the risk of overuse injuries and sprains. Furthermore, cross-training helps work muscles that might otherwise be neglected by the Olympian’s sport. Incorporating cross-training into your weekly routine can help you become a more well-rounded athlete as well. For example, if you often lift weights, it might be beneficial to hop on a stationary bike or do a yoga class a couple times a week.
Active recovery at least once a week
Recovery is important for any Olympic athlete or anyone who enjoys exercising regularly. Olympic athletes often take at least 1 day of active recovery per week. Active recovery is choosing a type of exercise that is not too strenuous to perform during your rest day. This might include taking a walk, swimming, hiking, or yoga.
Recovery after each training session
Olympians make sure to take active recovery days at least once per week, but what about recovery for the rest of the week? Just like training is individualized, recovery methods are also. Some recovery techniques include: stretching, soft tissue massages, chiropractic treatments, thermal or cryotherapy, foam rollings, sports massages, and/or hot or ice baths. While you might not have access to these daily, after your workouts, find a recovery method that is best for you and makes you feel the best in order to recover faster and prevent injury.
Most of the body’s recovery happens during sleep. Sleep helps repair and regenerate muscle tissue. Sleep also affects how an athlete can perform mentally. Sleep deprivation can alter reaction time and lead to poor judgements, which increases injury risk. To sleep like an Olympian, make sure to clock at least 8 hours of sleep per night.
It would be easy to think that Olympic athletes have a super specialized diet that helps them reach peak athleticism. However, it’s more about balance and sticking to simple, whole foods. Olympians simply eat a well-balanced diet of proteins, fats, fruits, veggies, and grains just like you. They understand the importance of proper hydration and make sure to drink the necessary amount of water and electrolytes. Pre- and post-workout nutrition also should not be neglected. Before a workout, it is important to fuel with carbohydrates for shorter workouts, or fats, proteins, and carbohydrates for longer workouts. After a workout, it is important to refuel with carbs, protein, liquid, and electrolytes. Finally, most Olympians simply try to eat intuitively and make informed food choices in order to make sure that they are properly fueling their bodies.