Ever wonder what it's like to be a professional athlete? We asked two triathletes and Ironman Champs, as well as an Olympic track and field star, a few key questions about their lives as pros.
Living as a professional athlete is not for the faint of heart.
Pro athletes demonstrate unshakeable dedication and commitment to their game, spending years developing their skills by exercising, training, and maintaining their physical and emotional stamina.
We got the chance to ask three highly celebrated athletes, Sarah Piampiano (triathlete and Ironman Champion - and new mom!), Brenda Martinez (Olympic track & field athlete), and Ben Hoffman (triathlete and Ironman Champion) a few of our most burning questions about life as a pro.
How do you best stay motivated to work out every day, especially when you are feeling tired or generally not in the mood?
Sarah: Sometimes staying motivated can be really hard. Some days you are tired, it is getting late in the day, your friends are doing other things, or you just don't want to workout. One of the things I always think about is the idea that a good habit will never be formed if I give in on the days when getting out the door is tough, and the sense of accomplishment I feel when I actually get moving is always so great. Sometimes I make deals with myself to get going. I'll tell myself to start my workout for 5 minutes and if at the end of 5 minutes I still want to stop, then I can. And about 99.9% of the time, once I am out the door and moving, I am fine. It is just starting that is the hardest part. Another great motivator is to make regular workout dates with friends. It really helps me to not procrastinate getting my workout in each day, keeps me accountable, and allows me to socialize while doing something good for myself!
Ben: There are a couple things that I do when the training gets tough, I'm really tired, or generally just not in the right headspace to attack my training. First, I check in with all the reasons why I am doing the training: from race goals, to supporting my family, exploring my potential as an athlete, and inspiring others. There is something powerful about having the attitude that I "get to" do this incredible job that many people can only dream of, and remembering some of the core reasons why you do it. Another thing I like to do when I am struggling is to remember that it's almost always worth it to "just start." Getting out the door and just seeing how your body reacts once you begin the session is often enough to get things rolling, and I usually surprise myself. Not every workout has to be heroic, but consistency is king, so something is usually better than nothing. Remember that if you wanted to do something easy, you wouldn't have chosen this path, so the difficulty is actually a piece of what you are searching for. In my experience, the satisfaction of completing something challenging is almost always better than finishing an easy task.
What is the best time of day for you to work out and why?
Sarah: Everyone is different, but I love to work out first thing in the morning. I love the sense of accomplishment after having worked out right after I wake up and before breakfast, and I feel that it sets up my day really well. Getting a workout in early starts each day with intent, which is motivating. I find the later in the day I wait to work out, the more likely it is that I will skip my workout. I also find that if I work out in the evening, it can be disruptive to my sleep.
Brenda: For me, I like to work out in the early mornings around 7-8 AM because I have time to be productive the rest of the day and spend time on myself. I like to take afternoon naps and sticking to a routine has been crucial to my happiness.
Ben: I am definitely a morning person when it comes to training, and I think it mostly has to do with feeling rested and refreshed. I also think there is a component of Type-A behavior that plays a role, where I am inclined to get up and get my work done sooner as opposed to later. In fact, I often channel a mantra I read once that encourages people to do the hardest thing first in their day. Procrastination only makes it worse, so rip off the bandaid and get after it! I can definitely begin resting easier, especially mentally, once I know the work is banked and done for the day.
What are some external factors that affect the quality of your workout, and how do you manage them?
Sarah: We all have a lot going on in our lives - work, family, spouses or partners, friends, etc. They all command our time and energy. It is very easy to be distracted when you feel like you are being pulled in many different directions and sometimes things like working out or making time for ourselves and our health are the first things to go out the door. That is why I try to work out early in the morning - before the chaos and distractions of the day can steal my time away. It allows you to maintain the commitment to yourself to stay healthy, and also sets you up to be more present and available for the other areas of your life.
Brenda: An external factor that could potentially affect my training is stress. Stressful moments can affect my cortisol levels. The mind can’t distinguish physical from emotional stress. They are both the same and can have a negative impact in my overall well-being. I know it’s easier said than done but always try and focus on the task at hand and what you can control.
Ben: Sometimes I think that people might imagine that pro athletes are like cyborgs or robots that just do the work day in and day out without missing a beat. The truth is that we are just like everyone else, and we often find ourselves beset with problems and life stresses that carry over into our work. Relationship, financial, family stress, and even something as unpredictable as a global pandemic are all factors that can affect the quality and consistency of workouts. Instead of trying to ignore them, I've learned that taking the time to address these issues is far more beneficial than ignoring them and trying to push through and nail a workout, even if addressing them means missing a workout or modifying it. The only time I really perform at my peak is when the various elements of my life are in balance, so I am always striving to maintain that harmony. Build time into your day for proven stress relieving strategies, like meditation, exercise, time with family, friends and pets, and take a critical look at your diet to encourage positive changes.
What is the biggest nutrition mistake you see people make when they are starting a workout routine?
Ben: Probably one of the biggest nutrition mistakes I see people making while working out is underfueling. It depends a lot on the workout, but in general, people tend to eat fewer calories and consume less water and electrolyte than is necessary for keeping the body firing on all cylinders during their sessions. Additionally, as intensity increases, I encourage people to gravitate towards liquid sources for their calories, as it will be more easily digested. There are a lot of trendy diets and fads out there, but at the end of the day, the most proven strategy is to give your body enough calories and hydration to handle the load and recover better when it's over. As a very generic rule for a starting point, aim for 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per hour.