Not everyone can be a professional athlete, and that’s okay. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle instead of being the best possible athlete you can be! One of the main things that sets professional athletes apart is what they do the 20+ hours a day when they are not training. These hours are devoted to rest and recovery, proper nutrition, rehab, body maintenance, and planning. It may seem like a lot of work, but establishing a lifestyle of exercise and healthy habits can help anyone improve their health and ability level.
Rest and Recovery
Rest and recovery may be the hardest change to make in a busy lifestyle. But it can make a world of difference. Don’t have time to nap in the afternoon or sleep 10+ hours a night? Make the most of what you can do! For example, make sure your sleep at night is of better quality by creating a relaxing, wind-down routine before bed that keeps you away from screens and devices. Be sure to listen to your body when you feel more fatigued by slowing down when running or biking, and don’t be afraid to cut back in volume and intensity. The recovery part of exercise can be just as important as your hard days.
There is no perfect diet for everyone; healthy eating can be individualized based on your personal preferences and goals. However, there are some common points to remember: when you fuel is often as important or more important than what you eat. Be sure to consume a recovery snack within 30 minutes after exercising and a full meal within 2 hours. My favorite go-to recovery snack is Hazelnut Cocoa Elite Recovery Protein mixed with milk for some extra calories.
Another key point is to eat clean. Try to avoid packaged and processed foods, and switch to more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy fats and grains. Cut out foods full of added sugars and saturated fats. It’s amazing how much better your body can feel when it is full of healthy, nutrient-dense foods. You’ll be ready to tackle whatever the next day brings!
Rehab and Prehab
Rehab involves performing exercises to help strengthen areas of weakness and injuries. Prehab is essentially the same activities, but in this case you are preforming them proactively to prevent any injuries! These exercises can take any number of forms depending on the individual’s areas of weakness and may include things such as calf raises and balance exercises for ankle issues, dead-lifts and glute bridges for hamstring weakness, and clam-shells and “fire hydrants” for weak hips. A small routine of three to four key exercises performed consistently several times a week can dramatically reduce the risk of injury.
Body maintenance goes in hand with rehab: it involves preventative actions to help your body recover better and reduce the chances of injury. One method of body maintenance is foam rolling, which involves working out tight and sore areas on your body to help break up scar tissue; essentially, you’re giving your muscles a deep-tissue massage! Just five minutes a day of this can work wonders.
Stretching similarly can help release tight or sore muscles. Brandon Hudgins provides a great read on stretching and some of the best stretches to incorporate into your routine: https://cocoaelite.com/stretching-good-bad-brandon-hudgins/. Finally, icing sore or swollen areas can help reduce inflammation and speed up recovery.
All professional athletes have some degree of mapping out their training and competition plans. This gives them a clear goal to focus on and provides motivation for their training. Perhaps you don’t desire to compete or train for a particular event; in this case, choosing another type of goal is a great way to stay motivated and keep on track with your athlete lifestyle. For example, you may want to hit a weight goal, be able to run a certain distance, or consistently work out five days a week for an entire year. Whatever your goal may be, write it down. That way,
planning how to reach that goal is a huge step in achieving it.
You may be thinking, wow, that seems like a ton of work!
There’s no way I can make all those changes. In response, I would encourage you to start small and work on improving one thing every month. Start with the planning stage to figure out your goals, and then perhaps you’re going to decide to stretch and foam roll every time you exercise. You’ll likely find that you feel better following that body maintenance routine. The next step may be to switch out your afternoon salty snacks with some pre-cut apples or carrots. It takes time to make exercise and healthy habits a lifestyle, but not only can you do it, you’ll enjoy the improvements in your running/biking/swimming (etc.), and you’ll physically feel better!
Athletes don’t become professional overnight; they too take small, incremental steps to continually improve themselves. And that is a process anyone can achieve!
Amanda Eccleston is an elite mid-distance runner who competes in events ranging from the 800 meters to the 5000 meter races. She specializes in the mile/1500 and recently finished a close 4th in the 2016 US Olympic Trials 1500. Although Amanda missed making the Olympic team by a meer .03 seconds, we have complete confidence we will see her on the 2020 team.
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