20 February 2014 What Does it Take to be an Olympic Athlete and What’s the Reward?
With the 2014 Winter Olympics in full force, people all over the world take a moment to ponder what it really takes to be an Olympic athlete. These athletes (both Summer and Winter athletes) are at the peak of their athletic performance. But how do they get there, what lifestyle habits can the rest of us adopt, and what are some of the other perks of being in Olympic condition?
At the top of the list is certainly diet, followed closely by hydration. According to the American Council on Exercise, eating the right foods at the right times is the best way to boost energy and stay in shape. ACE suggests eating a breakfast of complex carbs and lean protein, then eating every three to four hours and within 90 minutes of working out.
For hydration, ACE says to drink half your bodyweight in fluid ounces of water, and if exercising intensely consume a beverage that will replenish electrolytes.
Next in line of importance is sleep. It is absolutely essentials, says ACE. Olympic athletes need 8-10 hours of sleep, go to bed before 11 p.m. and don’t use electronics or watch TV within 30 minutes of sleeping to avoid the effects of electromagnetic waves. They also make their sleeping environment as dark as possible.
Aside from all the exercise, Olympic athletes understand that a proper warm-up and time for recovery are as necessary as the weights and training. For warm-ups, spend about 10 minutes jogging lightly followed by another 10-15 minutes of dynamic stretching (like skipping and reverse lunges). Post-workout, incorporating recovery movements like foam roller massage and stretching reduces pain, stiffness and soreness.
Olympic athletes can’t do it alone. To reach peak performance they have coaches and trainers, and they often train with a partner or in a group. These people provide accountability and friendly competition. They also help establish or maintain intensity on those days when you might feel a little on the slow side.
So what’s at stake for these athletes, beyond the obvious goal of winning gold medals? According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, Olympic medalists live longer than the general population. The study looked at 15,174 male and female Olympic medalists who competed in Summer or Winter Games since 1896. Researchers compared their data with the birth and death statistics of an age-matched group of non-Olympians from the same nations as the athletes. From that study, researchers determined that Olympic medalists lived an average of 2.8 years longer than the non-Olympians. (Note: there was some variance depending on the sport. Contact sport athletes had shorter life spans, on average, compared to other Olympians)
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