Go for the Gold with Olympian Health Habits

August 8, 2016 Michael Stouder, MD

olympian-health-habitsIf you're like most people, watching athletes from around the world go "faster, higher, stronger" in pursuit of a medal is awe-inspiring and inspirational. While Olympians compete at a level most people can't imagine, they do have some winning strategies anyone can emulate when it comes to health and wellness. Michael Stouder, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at Mission Heritage Medical Group, recommends these suggestions and gold medal tips:

Set a goal--and stay focused on it: Most of us have a dream we want to achieve--but how many of us have the determination to stick to it when obstacles are put in our path? Usain Bolt's Olympics debut in 2004 was inauspicious--he didn't make it out of the first round of the 200-meter event because of an injury. But at the next Olympics in 2008, he set world records in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4x100-meter relay races. At the most recent Olympics in 2012, he won gold in those three events again--and hopes to achieve that "triple triple" feat in Rio as well. He overcame that initial injury and once he achieved his goal, he set new ones and focused on them. That's something that can be helpful in many areas of life, which includes setting goals to improve your health, such as lowering your cholesterol or eating better.

GOLD MEDAL TIP: "Many Olympic athletes say a positive attitude helps them over the humps of training," Dr. Stouder says. "Set some affirmations you can reflect on in times of struggle, and visualize yourself achieving your goal. It also helps if you build a support network of people who will cheer you on."

Food is fuel: Top athletes know that they are what they eat--and if their diet is poor, so is their athletic performance. Fresh, colorful produce, lean proteins and healthy carbs ensure a balanced diet that helps the body during activity, and rest and recovery. And don't forget the water--staying hydrated is a must for everyone, athlete or not.

GOLD MEDAL TIP: "Athletes' diets are strictly regimented, so carefully plan out your meals," Dr. Stouder says. "Know what you are eating for each meal of the week and make sure you have healthy snacks on hand--especially carb-and-protein combos, such as almond butter and whole-grain bread or a protein shake, for post-workout recovery. That will curb impulse eating and potential poor food choices."

Practice stress management: In the world of elite, Olympic-caliber athletes, the desire to excel in competition can mean high stakes and high pressure. It's important to cultivate an outlet to deal with that stress. Leon Taylor, a silver medalist in diving from Great Britain, stressed the importance of staying calm and collected in competition--for him, that meant practicing deep breathing and taking a moment to compose himself before executing a dive.

GOLD MEDAL TIP: "Find a few moments each day when you have time to yourself and spend it getting centered with prayer, meditation, deep breathing or whole-body relaxation techniques," Dr. Stouder says.

Set a routine--and stick with it: Training for the Olympics requires immense dedication and self-discipline. U.S. marathoner Meb Keflezighi won a silver medal in his sport thanks in part to working out 12 times a week--running every day, plus cross training or a second run five times a week. While many of us have trouble finding time to go to the gym, carving out regular time for exercise is important to our overall health and shouldn't be ignored.

GOLD MEDAL TIP: "Wake up early and do a home workout or find a class at the gym and build that time into your schedule. (Many Olympians say starting their morning with exercise motivates them for the day ahead)," Dr. Stouder says. "If you haven't been exercising regularly, start small--say, a 10-minute walk--and work your way up to increasing your workout." 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.


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