One smart way of treating fitness regimens is to see them as collections of certain habits. Here are some of the healthiest habits all athletes have
By Catherine Orda | Lead photo from Instagram
The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang is well into its last days, and though this has also meant seeing our country’s two representatives leave their respective games, there is still so much to be inspired by in the kind of sportsmanship and sheer athletic skills these athletes showed. After all, it does take a very rare combination of natural skill, genes, training, dieting, discipline, and motivation to compete in the Olympics.
For us to truly understand the gravity of what it takes to become a professional athlete, we may have to experience the mental and physical strain they endure. But that’s obviously not going to happen, partly because as regular fitness enthusiasts, our bodily capacities are relatively limited, our goals more modest.
Yet this doesn’t mean that we can’t learn a thing or two from these athletes’ fitness routines. To do this, we have to look at these routines as collections of healthy habits. What Olympians have done is to successfully cultivate certain healthy habits, which, through time, have become effortless to consistently observe. Here are just a few of those habits we can try building ourselves:
Eating Like an Olympian
The main takeaway here is that your diet should be one that gives you energy to do what you need to do. Athletes stick to specific diets and eat the way they do exactly because of what they do for a living. More particularly, their diets are tailored to their chosen sport. For instance, the figure skater Michael Martinez cuts back on protein so he won’t build too much muscle and thus become lighter, which is key in being able to perform quad jumps. On the other hand, sports that require a lot of endurance like football focus on muscle-building, therefore football players load up on protein-rich foods like lean ground beef and eggs.
Another diet-related habit is all about breakfasts. The Fil-Am swimmer and 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin lives by the principle that the food you eat in the morning is a major predictor of what the rest of your day will be like. She tells SheKnows: “If you start your day with a donut, you kind of trash that day.” She goes on to say that eating a healthy breakfast will lead you to make more healthy decisions the rest of the day. There isn’t a single perfect diet fit for every athlete. If anything, athletic diets usually change, and perhaps the only consistent thing about them is that they should give them energy.
Recovering Like an Olympian
We’ve previously talked about the role of recovery in one’s journey towards fitness and good health. It’s significance is often understated, so it may just as well be said that it’s probably as important as the actual exercises we do. Among professional athletes, however, rest and recovery are top priorities. This couldn’t be truer about the American slalom skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who’s one of the top performers in the Winter Olympics so far. Shiffrin sleeps an average of nine hours every night and takes an hour-long nap in the afternoon. She even sleeps when she’s already on the snow, waiting for her race to begin.
Given that Shiffrin is perhaps the most celebrated slalom skier today, isn’t it tempting to take after her sleeping habits? After all, getting sufficient sleep (and probably more) is definitely one of the best ways to recover as it is the only time your muscles self-repair and become stronger. It’s also the only time your brain gets to convert all the skills you’ve learned from short-term memory to long-term memory (which can eventually become instincts). Athletes physically exert themselves probably more than anyone—but they also know the invaluable, long-term rewards of getting a good night’s sleep.
Training Like an Olympian
The specifics of a training routine, like in dieting, vary per sport. But the one thing all these routines have in common is the high levels of discomfort they entail. This brings us to a habit all professional athletes have: being comfortable with discomfort. Though it’s definitely related to a person’s given physical capacities, being able to endure great doses of pain and discomfort is actually something we can slowly develop. Athletes are of course at a different level in this respect, but it’s not a lost cause to try to reach higher levels of endurance. As the researcher Samuele Marcora says, endurance is “the struggle to continue against a mounting desire to stop.”
Another training-specific habit athletes have is that they cross-train. This is closely tied to the idea of simultaneously letting the overworked parts of the body rest and repair themselves, and giving some attention to those that need it. Martinez believes in this, and so his daily training routine includes four hours on the skating rink, two hours off the rink, and one hour of running with his dog.