signs of the Olympic body, carefully sculpted for power, speed, and
But what does it take to get that Olympic body? And could the average Joe
(or Joelle) ever hope to look like an Olympic athlete?
"Sure," says Sam Callan, an exercise physiologist and the coaching
education manager for USA Cycling. "If you're willing to spend the
Of course, few people have the kind of time that Olympic athletes devote to
their training. But even if your best "event" revolves around the
remote, not all is lost. After all, when it comes to the competition for a
healthy body, it's often enough to join the game.
So if you're ready to shape up, here are some cues from the pros to get you
1. Know your body type.
Some of us are built for speed, some for endurance, says Callan. Figuring
out what feels natural -- and what you're best at -- will help you determine
which type of exercise will work for you.
Do you like to jump? Sprint? Spend time on the treadmill? Everyone has a
unique body composition, and which composition of muscle fiber type you have
will determine whether you will have more endurance or speed and power.
"We're all born somewhere on that continuum, but all the training in the
world can only move you a little bit," he explains. That's why Arnold
Schwarzenegger probably couldn't have been a long-distance runner, he says.
2. Determine your goals.
You're bound to be better at some kinds of physical events than others, so
choose one or two that feel natural and that you enjoy. You'll be much more
likely to stick with it -- and see success.
Do you want to slim down? Focus on nutrition and a routine of steady
cardiovascular endurance exercise, with short bursts of speed called interval
training. Do you want to build up your cardiovascular endurance? Try swimming,
running, or cycling. If it's speed you're after, try adding sprints to your
routine. And if you only have a short time to work out, try circuit
training, which consists of a series of resistance training exercises performed
one after the other, with minimal rest.
But if you have weak areas, says Callan, don't hesitate to address them with
3. Eat healthfully.
Brooke Bennett, three-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1996 and 2000
Olympics -- and the current world record holder for the 800-meter freestyle
swim -- says that diet should be the first focus for anyone hoping to improve
"Nutrition is key in anybody's life, whether we're professional athletes
or working at a desk," says Bennett, now a certified personal trainer and
nutritionist and a consultant to USA Swimming. "It's about 80% of our
The former Olympic athlete believes that content, not calories, should be
the focus of any "Olympic body" regimen. Besides the obvious -- fruit,
vegetables, lean proteins, and slow carbohydrates like brown rice and sweet
potatoes -- Callan also recommends watching the sugar content of the foods you
"People stress about [the calorie content of protein], but they should
be stressing about sugar," Bennett says." Sugar has a high-calorie
count but it's metabolized quickly. And if you're not burning the sugars while
working out, you're going to put on weight."
4. Eat frequently, with a mixture of protein and carbohydrates at every meal.
Your body needs a steady supply of fuel if it's going to function at maximum
efficiency. Eating frequently also increases your body's metabolism, which
means it will burn more calories.
Olympic athletes eat five to six meals a day, with protein at each, to
increase lean muscle mass and maintain maximum efficiency. So plan to eat
smaller meals, ideally two and one-half to three hours between each.
"You want to keep your body running so efficiently that evrything
you're using is converted to energy and your body doesn't store anything,"
Star shot-putter and two-time Olympic silver medalist Adam Nelson, who is
competing in Beijing, follows this advice religiously. In order to maintain his
muscled physique, Nelson eats protein every three hours -- a total of 300 grams
A typical day for him begins at 6:30 a.m. with six to eight eggs, a cup or
two of berries, and coffee. At 9:30 a.m., he'll have an apple and protein
shake. For lunch, he'll eat a turkey sandwich packed with spinach and green and
red peppers, along with a glass of milk.
For his afternoon snack, Nelson will grab leftovers from the night before.
Then, for dinner, he often consumes up to 2 pounds of salmon, along with
grilled vegetables and a cup of rice. Just before bed, he downs yet another
Of course, unless you are a world-class athlete in training, you should not
follow Nelson's diet. But the idea of eating every few hours -- with a mixture
of protein and carbs at every meal -- is an important one.
5. Watch the mirror, not the scale.
Bennett says that even if your goal is weight loss, the healthiest of
regimens focus on decreasing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass, not a
particular number on the scale.
When she swam her record-setting race in Sydney, the 5-foot-6-inch swimmer
weighed between 120 and 125 pounds, with 18% body fat. Now, she weighs between
135 and 138 pounds, but her body fat is down to 12%.
"If your clothes fit great and you like the way you look in the mirror,
does it matter what the scale says?" she asks. "It's like age. You
could be 45 but feel 30. Age and weight are just numbers that we get obsessed
with, but they don't mean we're healthy."
Instead of weighing, Bennett recommends having someone measure you every two
weeks and check your body fat once a month, which will provide a yardstick for
how much fat you're actually losing.
6. Drink plenty of water.
The body is made up of 60% water, which means it needs a regular supply to
survive. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), a fluid
loss of even 2% body weight will affect circulatory functions and decrease
The amount of water each person needs will vary depending on many factors
such as underlying medical condition, physical activity level, and environment.
The Institute of Medicine generally recommends about 91 ounces of total water
(from drinks and food) on average per day for women and 125 ounces for men.
Most water that we consume comes from beverages, but about 20% comes from food.
Too much water can be harmful.
7. Ease into new exercises.
If you are going from cyclist to runner or runner to cyclist, you may be
pretty fit, but your muscles or skeletal system might not be ready for the new
sport. Think of Lance Armstrong's painful New York City Marathon debut last
So take it easy at first, and don't overdo it.
8. Vary your activity, but include the weight room.
Olympic athletes spend a lot of time on their primary activity (a cyclist
will ride, a runner will run), but for most folks, varying the activity reduces
boredom and uses a variety of muscles which may otherwise not get worked.
Also, says Callan, strength and power -- which come from resistance training
-- are important components of any sport. Working out with weights will also
reduce the loss of muscle mass that often occurs with aging. Even men in their
70s and 80s have put on lean mass in a relatively basic strength-training
Also, the NASM says that studies have shown no difference between those who
do resistance training three times a week vs. those who train five times a
week. So you really don't have to train like an Olympian in the weight room. A
little goes a ong way.
9. Train regularly and consistently.
"The more intense the training is, the more you're going to reach your
potential," Callan says. "You will not find an Olympic athlete who is
not highly, highly trained. They don't roll out of bed and win the 100-meter
sprint or the 50 freestyle. They spend hours and hours of training of all
Of course, people also respond at different rates and in different ways,
which means that Callan is hesitant to say just how much training someone needs
to really get into shape. Another factor is how a program is designed. If
you really want to get in shape, it's safe to say that three workouts a day
will go a long way. But anything is better than working out with that
10. Consider hiring a personal trainer.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), personal
training jumped from the seventh most important trend in 2007 to the third most
important in 2008.
There's a reason for that, says Bennett. In addition to an individually
tailored program, personal trainers provide accountability.
"People are hesitant at the beginning to spend the money with a personal
trainer, but after a month, when they're tightening their waistband and their
shorts are loose, they really see the results," she says. "After
awhile, you adjust to the expense and it becomes part of your
If you can't afford a trainer, seek out someone who is as dedicated as you
are to getting healthy, and train together. "Even personal trainers need
workout partners for accountability," she says. "It helps to have
someone there to push you."
Above all, say the experts, enjoy the journey. And don't forget to indulge.
After all, even Olympic athlete Nelson enjoys the occasional trip to Dairy
Queen. His favorite? The Oreo Blizzard.
By Annabelle Robertson
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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