Balancing the demands of modern life can frankly be a pain in the butt. Many of us are pulled every which way. It can feel like there’s always something else to do, something that we want to do, don’t want to do, or need to do. As a professional swimmer, food enthusiast, and entrepreneur, my life seems like a constant race. What makes it even harder is that I can’t use poor nutrition as an answer. In everything I do, I strive to be the best. I always try to achieve optimum performance, which requires premium fuel.
Some of you might say, “I’m not a professional athlete. I don’t need premium fuel.” Indeed, you may not be a professional athlete; maybe you’re a doctor, writer, teacher, trainer, mom, dad, astronaut, or office clerk. The truth is it doesn’t matter what you do; we all want to be proficient and perform at a high level and, if you’re not putting in the right nutrients, you’re not going to be your best.
Don’t kid yourself into thinking you’re too good for better nutrition and that you can perform at your peak by eating whatever you want. You can’t. As a member of the U.S.A. Swimming National Team for eight years and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, as well as an American and World record holder, I have been around many of the world’s best athletes. I’ve never met an athlete who wouldn’t admit that refining nutrition took his or her performance to an even higher level. And if, perhaps, you are able to fake it for a while (which some can do) poor nutrition will eventually catch up to you.
So how do we take a step to the next level through only the food we eat? Well, you’re in luck, because I’m going to outline some simple concepts that can help you take nutrition to the next level. The best part is, it’s not even hard to do!
Now don’t get the wrong impression. I’m not some crazy health nut who only eats the most pure of things, 24/7. I became interested in diet through an unusual circumstance that forced me to take control of what I ate in order to continue pursuing my childhood dream. During my junior year at the University of Texas (fall, 2005), I was diagnosed with dangerously high blood pressure. I was swimming for the Texas collegiate team and had been told on several occasions that my blood pressure was so high (210/113) that I was not permitted to go work out. This all came as a huge shock; I was 19 and thought I was an invincible young athlete. How could this be?
Just a year earlier, I missed making the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team in the 100 freestyle by one place. I was devastated and promised myself I’d never feel that sort of disappointment again. As I sat there in the fall of 2005, I soon came to the conclusion that my swimming career could come to an abrupt end, crushing my hopes and dreams of experiencing the magic of the Olympics, if I didn’t make some changes.
My game face turned on. I had to figure out what to do. Being scrutinized by three different drug-testing organizations meant that I didn’t want to take medication unless I absolutely had to. The doctors suggested I refine my diet. I was off!
At that point in my life, I thought food, cooking, and nutrition were all mysteries. I had no idea how to cook anything but some instant macaroni or scramble a few eggs. My first step was to see a nutritionist and assess my specific needs.
At this point in my journey, I realized what is perhaps the most important life lesson in regard to healthy eating: It’s all about the little things. I don’t care who tries to convince you otherwise—having a healthy diet is about doing a lot of little things right, which all add up to making a big difference in how we feel.
What I began to notice is that making small changes didn’t seem daunting. Not only was changing from enriched white flour pasta to whole wheat pasta not a difficult concept to grasp but, after doing it, my brain said, “Why didn’t I do this long ago?” I was blown away by how simple it was.
It’s the New Year and now is the perfect opportunity for you to revamp and refocus. Get all you can out of your mind and body. Better nutrition is the first step to improving your game!
The excess sodium in my body was making me retain too much liquid volume in my system, causing my organs to work harder. This caused my blood pressure to rise even further.
My nutritionist impressed upon me that, especially as an athlete, I needed to be fueling my body at least five to six times per day with a constant stream of wholesome, nourishing foods. Plus, he said, this would help to keep my metabolism up.
Most people go through their days dehydrated. Proper hydration helps get rid of lactic acid and other toxins.
The nutritionist suggested completely cutting junk food out of my diet for a month and then assessing how I felt. I’d never been a big junk food eater to begin with, but he wanted to see how this would immediately affect my blood pressure as well. Within a couple of days, I already felt better. If a month is too long for you to start with, try a week, or even two.