A Look at the Life of the Olympian


Photo Courtesy of Madison Perry ’17

As 1930s track and field legend Jesse Owens portrayed, the essence of being an Olympian is a “lifetime of training for ten seconds.” For many Olympians, the commitment to athletics began at a very young age. Keeping up with a workout schedule and adhering to a strict diet are just the beginnings of the demands of competing as an Olympic athlete.

The average Olympian trains two to three times per day, using different methods and engaging in different types of activity. In the example of decathlete Ashton Eaton, he works to compete in and master ten different track and field disciplines. On a typical day of training, Eaton begins with sprinting and agility drills, coupled with a focus on one or two decathlon events. He also completes an additional running workout, balancing sprinting and distance to improve his performance in both the 100 and 1500 meter races. In the weight room, Eaton takes a circuit training approach with a heavy emphasis on plyometric work and explosive movements. Volleyball player April Ross applies a similar plyometric focus to prepare herself for the diving and jumping of the volleyball sand. She trains twice daily, with a two-hour session on the sand and a two-hour session in the weight room. Her coach dictates a grueling workout that improves both her cardiovascular fitness and strength. The vast majority of Olympic athletes get into the weight room on multiple occasions during the week. To energize their bodies throughout days with two or three training sessions to complete, athletes take extreme precaution to allow their bodies the proper fuel and nutrition.

Olympians most usually eat anywhere from 1,200 to 10,000 calories per day. A wrestler trying to maintain weight may fall on the lower side of the spectrum while a swimmer with long interval workouts may fall on the higher side. Most athletes do not constantly count calories but rather focus on the nutrients and energy provided by their diets. Olympic athletes also snack throughout the day to prevent feelings of fatigue or hunger. Simone Biles commonly enjoys a banana with peanut butter for a dose of potassium while diver David Boudia crunches on carrots with hummus for the fiber and antioxidants. Smoothies are also a convenient and effective way to consume more fruits and vegetables. Boudia usually blends a breakfast smoothie of blueberries, strawberries, spinach, oats, and peanut butter powder. A popular smoothie recipe to prevent soreness consists of pomegranate juice, coconut milk, flax seed, frozen berries, and spinach. Michael Phelps, the swimmer formally known as the 12,000 calorie dieter in 2008, has since reduced his daily intake to an amount he feels he really needs. He has increased his protein intake while lowering his consumption of carbohydrates. He used to devour an entire pizza every night. Generally, most Olympians eat to feel full and energized. They choose lean proteins like chicken, fish, and beans and pass on simple carbohydrates and sugary beverages. Katie Ledecky usually has a lunch of salad with a double serving of chicken. Olympians also consume lots of whole grains like oats, quinoa, or brown rice as well as a wealth of fruits and vegetables. Triathlete and Rio gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen has a bowl of steel-cut oats with eggs every morning. Hydration is the center of every athlete’s daily routine. Proper hydration prevents injury and aids in muscle recovery. Most swimmers hydrate extensively to keep from cramping in the hardest moments of competition.

Olympians must have an unyielding mentality to reach their highest athletic potential. Many athletes have spoken about their method of finding drive and motivation. Katie Ledecky spurs herself on with simple positive reinforcement. April Ross drives ninety minutes every morning to get to the beach where she trains. She uses this time to find her proper mindset, listening to some old school rap on her trip. Runner Allyson Felix gets motivated to Beyonce during her warm-ups while swimmer Conor Dwyer likes to enjoys some country tunes as he lifts weights. Carli Lloyd, central midfielder for the US National team, finds her best mind space by visualizing the field, her teammates, and the demands of the game. The key to her mentality is starting the game completely prepared, knowing exactly what a successful individual and cohesive result will entail. She believes her success correlates directly with her positivity and faith in her own abilities.

The most common theme throughout the lives of Olympic athletes is the principle of balance. While finding balance athletically and in their workouts and diets, Olympians also balance their families and other responsibilities. Gold medalist swimmer Simone Manuel gets a pool workout early in the morning before her classes at Stanford start at 8:30. Every Saturday is night is Ryan Lochte’s cheat dinner, a Dominoe’s pizza and a box of Buffaloe wings. The journey of Olympic athletes consists of many varying elements. Their simple decisions regarding diet, sleep, and recovery make enormous changes in their end product. Michael Phelps gathers that “If you want to be the best, you have to do things others aren’t willing to do.” He lives by this motto every single day.