How Olympians Can Inspire Your Health Goals

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • No one loves dieting.  Sure, if you're successful and drop pounds, and change the shape of your body, you feel amazing.  But let’s face it: Even on the best diets that offer a wide range of foods, you are still measuring portions, and trying to figure out just how many grain servings you can have, and those treats you love need to be savored and enjoyed occasionally to keep the weight off.  Instead of feeling deprived, or sorry for yourself, you need to channel the attitude of an Olympian. 


    These athletes follow relatively strict dietary rules in order to maintain their weight, have adequate levels of energy, and especially to minimize blood sugar lapses.  They also work out for hours.  Let’s also remember that though these athletes are incredibly talented and successful, they experience failure.  With all the hours dedicated to exercising and perfecting their performance, counting calories, denying themselves time off (from their diet and their grueling practice schedule), they may ultimately not medal at the Olympics.  In a given day, at a given moment, they may not be able to perform to their peak ability.  Mental stress, illness, fatigue, pressure, high altitude or “just being off that day,” can limit their ability and cause them to fail.  Then they pick themselves up and start all over again.  Let’s take a lesson from that playbook.

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    You create an eating and exercise program to be the best you can be.  The goal is often weight loss, improving a health condition or a health-risk profile, improving mental or physical energy levels, and improving your self-esteem.  There will be days when you just don’t feel like exercising or following your diet.  Or maybe your mood or a celebration caused you to fully abandon any semblance of a healthy diet and exercise program. 


    The key is to make those days singular moments--little blips along the road.  Don’t let one bad day derail your journey.  A true Olympic competitor embraces the failure, learns from the experience, and forges on to the next competition or the next goal.  It does take enormous mental fortitude to move on when you are an elite athlete who blew a once-in-four-years competition.  So when you blow off your work out, or abandon your diet, you need to invoke inner fortitude to get right back on track.  Find the Olympian within yourself.


    Another lesson from the Olympic playbook is that despite what you think, many of the athletes do not carbo-load.  These days, they actually follow diets rich in plant-based protein, consume loads of fruits and veggies, and, yes, they do turn to peanut butter and other nut butters for energy.  But the notion that they are eating platefuls of pasta is old history. 


    Nutritionists now help them to be smarter with their calorie choices and with food variety.  Gone also is the daily fast food habit of sodas (for sugar) and hamburgers.  In fact, wrestlers only eat about 1,200 calories per day for several days prior to competing, in order to “make weight” on the day of competition.  Ski jumpers tend to be lean, and they, like figure skaters, consume about 1,800 to 2,500 calories daily.  Those calories need to come from smart choices, in order to provide adequate fuel for their training hours and for competition moments. 


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    The athletes who tend to consume higher calorie levels typically engage in longer competitions, like hockey players, long distance alpine skiers, speed skaters and snowboarders.  They may consume between 2,800 and 4,000 calories daily, depending on gender and size.  It’s the rare athlete consuming 12,000 calories per day like swimmer Michael Phelps.  These athletes aren’t eating as much as you think, and they are following healthy guidelines.


    So let’s embrace the notion of being a bit like Olympians, and use the goals of healthy weight and overall health, to motivate a commitment to a balanced diet and exercise program.  And when we hit a bump in the road, let's ride over it and get on with it!!


    Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience.  Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts.  Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her shows Food Rescue and What's for Lunch?  Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at


Published On: February 18, 2014