Over this past year, I have compiled a list from various interviews I have read with elite endurance athletes, and from my own personal experiences, of what athletes do in their daily lives that enables them to train and race at the elite level. Yes, I’m sure there are many other bullet points that could be included, or some that some people may disagree with. The following list contains the best points that I have come across that I now include in my daily life.
1. They eat. A lot.
Enough said, right? How else do you fuel multi-hour endurance rides every day during the winter season training or long road races? Caffeine eventually wears off or makes your heart race, people.
2. They eat a lot of healthy foods.
No athlete wants to have digestive issues during a race from the questionable food they ate earlier. Also, healthy foods, such as plant-based foods, have scientifically been shown to decrease recovery time. A great review of the scientific literature titled “Could a vegetarian diet reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress? A review of the literature” can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20845212). Eating a whole, plant-based food diet ensures that you obtain the necessary micronutrients needed to allow your body to perform at its best potential.
3. Muscle is hard to gain, fat is easy to lose.
I learned that little saying a while ago when I was strength training for pole vault during my undergraduate career at the University of Tulsa. How is muscle built? In simple terms, the body needs rest and enough fuel from your intake of food to rebuild the muscles you have stressed during training. Athletes who become obsessed about their caloric intake and their caloric expenditure oftentimes end up selling themselves short when it comes to eating a sufficient amount. Stick to a whole foods, plant-based diet and you can eat as much as you want from nature’s bounty and won’t sell yourself short on calories. As my friends know, I eat a significant amount of plant foods so I ensure I have enough fuel and nutrients to rebuild damaged muscles after training with a bunch of guys, but I am by no means overweight. No one ever became fat from eating too much fruit, vegetables, legumes or grains, but it sure does help them with muscle recovery to be able to keep training and become stronger. Stop stressing about the calories, STOP IT! Just eat right.
4. Cross training for full body fitness.
Cycling isn’t only about leg strength, and it does include the use of all of your muscles at various times during the ride. There are many smaller stability muscles that need just as much attention and training as your legs. Core is always important, as it is where your stability and power come from. Consider this: when you are in your drops battling it out in a sprint to the finish line, your arms, back, core, and EVERY muscle is engaged. Train them all.
5. Fine-tuning the details.
Greatness is a lot of little things done well, day after day. This can include working on achieving a perfect pedal stroke, improving your cadence, or obtaining the correct sprint form to maximize your power output. Athletes can have all the fitness in the world, but if you can’t sprint properly, someone is going to outsprint you to the finish line. Trust me, I personally know that sad outcome. Combining fitness with proper cycling form can also decrease your overall fatigue during long road races. With that being said, it isn’t all about who can push the biggest gear all the time, but instead, athletes that pay attention to details can win in the long haul. If you’re a runner, it’s learning to keep your hips high, shoulders relaxed, arms driving with your stride, and most importantly, running light and fast.
6. It’s all about direction of thought.
It is incredibly beneficial to learn to train your mind away from discomfort. Chrissie Wellington, the world’s top female ironman triathlete who consistently beats the majority of the professional men, explains that “learning to place your attention on positive things makes enduring discomfort possible. When it’s hard, learn focus your attention on positive thoughts.” Encountering discomfort when training hard can create mental barriers for athletes. Your body is capable of much more than you think when you push aside the terrible thoughts that can occur when your body is hurting. Mental barriers are not physical barriers, and they should not overcome your thought process when training or racing hard. Push them aside and quit giving them your attention. When I’m training hard and burning my muscles up, I often think of my next big race and how each hard pedal stroke is getting me one step closer to standing on that podium –> Negative thoughts becoming positive thoughts. It truly does keep my spirits up on hard days.
7. It’s a sacrifice.
Living a structured life that includes work, training, and sleep means that at times, dedicated athletes sacrifice being involved in social events. Dedication for endurance sports tends to include early nights before early morning rides. As I like to tell myself: partying is temporary, but winning is forever. Adding to that, excuses to not train tend to fall off the radar. Raining? Cold weather? Tornado – Oklahoma winds? No reason seems to be a good reason to not get the training ride in. People may call you obsessed, but is training yourself to bring out your best potential such a horrible thing? No, and they won’t understand until they feel the adrenaline rush you get when your body responds to competition like never before and you land yourself on a podium.
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