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Abby Wambach: Why Nutrition Is So Important

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Abby Wambach #20 of USA during an international friendly with New Zealand at FC Dallas Stadium on February 11, 2012 in Frisco, Texas.
Abby Wambach #20 of USA during an international friendly with New Zealand at FC Dallas Stadium on February 11, 2012 in Frisco, Texas.

Welcome to our "Like An Olympian" series. As the 2012 London Olympics nears, HuffPost Healthy Living will take a look at lifestyle and fitness lessons from competitors, coaches and former Olympians alike. We recently had the opportunity to speak with soccer player Abby Wambach, who will join the U.S. Women's National Team in London this summer.

On any given day, any team can get beaten. But I don't care about what other teams think. I know that our team is still the best in the world.

For the most part, our team relishes moments of intense competition and appreciates them, rather than squanders them, which in my opinion is what happened in the World Cup. We had a chance and just let it slip through our fingers.

But I'm here, and I'm capable of telling you that's not going to happen again. I'm confident in my team and my skill. I know that other teams are getting better. Some countries get better, some kind of fade away. Take Marta playing for Brazil: When Marta retires, Brazil's probably not going to be as good. The national team for the U.S. has had consistent personality players that have been able to carry the team throughout the last two decades.

Globally speaking, it's amazing what has happened with womens sports in general and soccer in particular; it's something that I'm very proud to be a part of in terms of growing the game. We're putting women's soccer back on the map. People are excited about it again, and we want to keep that momentum going. If we do bring home gold from London I think things are gonna get a little crazy -- in a good way.

As professional soccer players, we take our bodies to the extreme. We're the people at the gym that look like we're breaking the machines. Pushing our bodies to the limits is what makes us so strong and capable and Olympians. It's not an easy thing to consistently do over and over again to your body.

That's why nutrition is so important. There are more times during the off-season when I'll indulge in things I won't eat when I'm in traiing, but the truth of the matter is it's a lifestyle choice. At the most elite level, your nutrition becomes a lifestyle, it's not something you have to do when you're preparing for Olympic games or World Cup games, you just do it. You're more inclined to eat healthier because it's better for your muscles.

It's important that I get the right kinds of carbohydrates, the right kind of grains. Soccer players generally burn through all of their carbohydrate stores by halftime, so how are you going to replace those? That's what we do at halftime. That's what you do after the game, so that the next time you come out to perform –whether it's on the soccer pitch or it's playing pickup basketball at the gym with your buddies -- if you want to be good the next time you go out you have to replace the carbohydrates that you just lost.

For me, there's a protein shake with a little bit of carbohydrate at halftime, then I'll go back to the hotel and have a sandwich -- sometimes it does get a little repetitive, but you're putting the things in your system that you need to get the benefit. We feel a little bit like machines; we expend energy and then need to replace it. It's my job to exercise and then eat.

We train with heart rate monitors so our strength and conditioning coach can look at our data and see where we've made gains or may need to push ourselves more. With soccer being such a cardiovascular-driven sport, we need to make sure we're all fit, especially when we're training away from the team.

We do a lot of interval training when we're away from the team because we don't have the opportunity to be on the field with each other. For me, that means getting on an elliptical machine and getting my heartrate into the 90 percent or above range. I do that for three or four minutes, then drop down the intensity for a minute or two and repeat. Basically, you're sprinting and resting in a two to one ratio. People look at me like, "What?!" -- and then they're like, "Oh, that's that soccer player!"

As told to Sarah Klein. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.

For more from our "Like An Olympian" series, click here.

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