PART 2 – 6 Habits of an Olympic Champion

In the first part of this three-part article, we introduced you to Erin Cafaro and Sara Hendershot, two Olympic rowers who are looking to make it back to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. To read the first part of the article, CLICK HERE In part two, we will look at what these two athletes do off the field to make themselves some of the best in the world.


  1. Good Food


The elite in any sport train once or twice a day, and usually take one day totally off each week. One thing I have learned by working with elite athletes is that while training is important, it may not be as important as the actual fuel for training.

The older an athlete gets, the more they realize the importance of fuel and nutrition.

Sara Celbration In boat


Look at NASCAR: the cost of one of those fine-tuned machines with all the high-tech gear and expensive tires is about $150,000. The engine alone costs about $80,000. A lot of time and energy goes into making one of these machines. You wouldn’t go to the local shell station and fill ‘er up—these cars are hand-crafted and made to exact specifications. The fuel that Sonoco has formulated to put in these machines cost about $6.25 a gallon at the time of writing this article. That’s some good stuff!


Now, let’s pull this back to athletes and fuel. Olympic athletes are the NASCAR of the human race. They have put forth time, energy and effort to create and craft their bodies to the specifications that win gold medals in their sport. In this case, the sport we’ll be looking at is rowing.


I met with Sara and Erin over the course of three days, and found that they were very particular as to what they were putting in their bodies. They ate whole foods, things that were either grown from the ground or were at one time walking the earth or swimming in water. There was little to no processed foods in their diet.

erin gold medal knees


These ladies stick to a “high-fat, medium protein, low-carb” thought process when it comes to nutrition. Both stick to low-carb consumption throughout the day. Their goal is to take in whole foods at every meal, and to limit their starchy carbs consumption. They also pay close attention to the timing of their nutrition, basing their carbohydrate intake off of the workouts they have completed and are about to do. For example, if they have just finished with an intense CrossFit type workout, or an interval workout on the water, their carb intake will be higher that evening.


If they have a high-intensity workout the next morning, their carb intake will be higher in the evening before. Most of these carb sources are from whole foods. For example, Erin will eat sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and a recipe of coconut rice every now and then. This dish is just like regular white rice, but cooked in a can coconut milk instead of water. She loves it!


Another tip that might surprise people is that both of these athletes have a very high fat intake. Of the three macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates), fat takes up most of the calories in both of these athletes’ diets.


This keeps both the athletes with a feeling of satiety (a feeling of being full) for longer. The higher fat intake also keeps these athletes from “bonking” in the middle of a workout. Fat is a more readily available energy source, and a longer-lasting energy source than carbs.


There is one other off-field aspect of training that these ladies take very seriously: recovery.


  1. Recovery


People always believe that the training you do in the weight room, on the track or on the water is where you are made. That is a true statement. When you get into the “sock drawer” of the elite, one thing you realize the cameras and magazine articles don’t tell you is the amount of sleep and rest these elite athletes get. Erin is very strict about her sleep time; she makes sure to go to bed between 8:30 and 9:00pm every night, waking at 5:30 the next morning. This ensures she gets at least 8-8 ½ hours of sleep every night.


When athletes of this caliber go out to train, they are pushing the limits to what the human body can do. They fail, try again, fail again and keep trying until they reach their goal.


There are stories about Rich Froning, the four-time Fittest Man in the World, doing five to six workouts in a day. This is true; there have been numerous camera crews following Froning all day every day. The time when those guys leave and go back to the hotel is what Froning calls one of the most important aspects of his training: sleep!


Froning sleeps about 10 hours each night. He does not get up at 5:00am like Cafaro and Hendershot. Instead, he sleeps till 8am—and sometimes later. This gives Froning’s body time to recover from all the damage he does to it all day long.


If you are constantly tearing your body down with not enough rest or recovery, you will not reap the benefits of the intense training. You will also get to a point of total exhaustion and adrenal fatigue, where your body can no longer progress and strengthen the way it should. The body is a complex machine that can adapt to just about anything; you must treat it like the precious gift that it is, and let it rest and repair.


Elite athletes spend a lot of time training, but the time training is not the bulk of their time spent throughout the day. The time spent eating and resting may be just as important (or even more important) to the success of these future gold medalists.


Next week: In the final part of this series, we will look at two aspects of training that often get overlooked in the world of elite athletes.




QUESTION? Of the 2 areas above (Food and Recovery) which one do you struggle with the most and WHY?


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