Olympic fever has taken over the world, and billions are tuning in to NBC to watch the coverage. Not only do the Olympic Games provide great entertainment, but they also get people in the mood to be more active and healthy.
Though achieving Olympic greatness isn’t possible for everyone, here are five fast tips that can significantly improve the everyday efforts of those with their hearts set on athletic greatness.
1. Get Quality Sleep
Sleep is an incredibly important function for the body, but it often lacks the attention it deserves. In fact, the average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Sleep is vital for processes like muscle recovery and repair, among other essential functions. There are many things that can interrupt a good night’s sleep, like snoring, eating late night snacks, and bad habits. Unfortunately, people who don’t sleep well at night can’t be at their best when playing sports.
World renowned tennis player and Olympic athlete Serena Williams says that sleep is one of the most important factors in good performance. She admits that a lack of sleep caused her to perform very poorly in the Australian Open.
“When I don’t get enough sleep, I just can’t get a good workout,” she told the Huffington Post. “It’s low-quality and I don’t have enough rejuvenation in my cells to use the muscles that I need to use.”
Olympians also swear by the healing powers of naps – they’re vital for recovery. Beach volleyball gold medalist Phil Dalhausser is a firm believer in naps.
“When I sleep well my mind is sharp and it’s easy to focus. On a bad night’s sleep my brain feels foggy and I have a tough time focusing. Sleep is very important for muscle recovery. I find that if I’m not sleeping well I tend to be a little more sore the next day. I’ll take a nap if I didn’t sleep well the night before.”
2. Alter Your Diet
Olympians are also very, very careful about what they eat. They don’t deny themselves the occasional cheat day, but their meals are carefully planned out to avoid excess fats, sugars, and processed chemicals that could drain energy levels and clog the digestive system. For athletes, their diets are mainly composed of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. This gives them enough energy to excel in their sport without eating foods that will drag them down.
Aside from eating more wholesome foods, athletes also consume more food in general. Michael Phelps says he eats 10,000 calories a day in order to maintain the energy necessary for hours spent in the pool. Most athletes follow Ryan Lochte’s advice: “If I’m not eating, then something is wrong.” It takes a lot of good, healthy food to stay strong for training.
It’s important to note that you should aim to consume the same amount of calories as you burn. If you begin eating 10,000 calories per day, but don’t exercise for hours in order to make up the difference, you’ll gain a lot of weight and hinder your performance.
3. Let Your Body Adjust
Olympic athletes never hit the track or jump in the pool without first prepping their bodies. Likewise, they never leave a workout without a proper cool down. The body needs to approach exercise in stages in order to get strong quickly and recover without difficulty.
Steve Irwin, National PT Manager for Snap Fitness Australia, says that the Olympians he trains undergo exercises that contain five key elements: mobility, stretching, flexibility, cool down, and recovery. “We call these exercises ‘zone training’ and this relates to the mind, body and wellness of a person.”
He adds, “You need to encompass some strength training and also some heart rate or cardiovascular training.” These elements make it easier for the body to adjust to strenuous exercises.
4. Have Fun on Cheat Days
The great thing about being an Olympian is that you can afford the occasional cheat day. When you’re training for hours on end with a strict diet, treat days can be a lifeline. Miguel Ortiz-Canavate, an Olympic swimmer from Spain told Thrillist that cheat days give him something to look forward to.
“Sometimes you need to eat what you want — in my case it’s McDonald’s. I believe it’s good for your mental health.” He admits that most days during training are all about proteins, healthy fats, and good carbs, but that the occasional vacation from his strict diet helps keep him sane.
5. Set Your Priorities
There’s a lot of natural talent that goes into being an Olympic athlete, but the majority of their success comes from sheer dedication to the sport. It’s a full-time job that takes precedent over anything else. Training becomes your life, and if your priorities aren’t right, then it’s not worth taking the journey.
As Jesse Owens, famous American track and field athlete and four-time gold medalist, once said, “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self discipline, and effort.”