The Beijing Olympics are off to a fiery start. High expectations abound, the least of which is the monster one placed on China to clear the air. At that level of competition, everything has to be absolutely perfect—you can’t get sick or injured, and you definitely can’t be tired. So you know there’s no late-night partying going on before an event. These athletes may be superhuman, but even the elite set limits.
Most Olympians endure years of training, keeping up with the top information about how to nourish and care for their precious bodies that are charged to win. Sure, they have access to the best of the best. The best trainers, equipment, coaches, physical therapists, nutritionists, and sports psychologists. Even the much-adored Dara Torres who, at 41, is being watched like a hawk to see if she can take home a medal in swimming, admits that she drops $100 grand a year on hiring these bests (this includes a stretching coach and a masseuse; where’s mine?).
Clearly, these Olympians probably know a thing or two about being in tip-top shape. Everything about them is elite. And I bet secrets to diet and exercise aren’t their only concerns. They know how to recover, rest, and listen to their bodies when it cries for a time-out. They understand the value of sleep for repairing worn tissues, restoring their muscles for the next workout, and re-charging their brains to think clearly, calculatingly.
For many of these elites, life is simply about training, eating, and sleeping. That’s it. And when the training gets tough, they cycle through several workout-eat-sleep periods throughout the day. Sleep, in fact, even when it arrives in pulses of naps, is a training tool on par with any other asset they need to win.
In September’s issue of Runner's World, the magazine highlights some of these “secrets,” and a few guilty pleasures the athletes keep. Of course, since the magazine is geared for running enthusiasts, the marathoners and “athletic” athletes (“athletics” is traditional Olympic speak for track-and-field) get the spotlight. Some fun tidbits:
- Deena Kastor, our hopeful for the women’s marathon, hits the pillow at 8:30 p.m. (granted, she probably does get up early, but she sleeps over 8 hours a night and naps when she needs to).
- Dathan Ritzenhein, our hopeful for the men’s marathon, calls it a day at 9:00 p.m.
- Brian Sell (another US marathoner), Magdalena Lewy Boulet (another US marathoner), and Matt Tegenkamp (our 5000-meter dasher) all hit the hay at 9:30 p.m.
- Midnighters: Shannon Rowbury (1500 meter-dasher), and Erin Donohue (1500 meters). It appears the endurance athletes need more sleep than the sprinters. Do long sleepers correlate with long distance? I’ll have to think about that…
Deena Kastor is a firm believer that you’re more likely to under-rest than over-train, and I think this advice can relate to everyone. When you’re over-worked and over-tired—even if your version of “work” is far from a race track and closer to the confines of an office or house—the secret to feeling at your best lies in resting up. To wit: get to bed earlier and see sleep as much of an asset to your health and fitness as anything else in life. These Olympians don’t take it for granted. Why should you?
Oh, and if you’re looking for some guilty pleasures Olympic-style, I suggest you do amp up your workout routines to keep up with the likes of Ryan Hall, who loves to put down a whole loaf of fresh-baked bread; or Brian Sell who eats an Egg McMuffin at least three times a week; or Nick Symmonds (800 meter-dasher), who admits to burgers on Tuesdays, and pizza and beer on the weekends.
Another secret they probably know: sleep helps keep weight in check. Which is why my Gold Medal goes to…a good night’s sleep.