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Lessons to Learn From Olympic Athletes

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As athletes are gearing up to participate in the 2012 London Olympic Games, they are working on getting their bodies and minds into peak condition. The healthy habits they adopt during training periods can also benefit us non-Olympians. While you probably aren't competing in the Olympic Games this summer, you can take basic pointers from these athletes to function the best you can and improve your health overall.

Food Is Fuel

What you put into your body is very important to how you look and feel. Just like athletes use food for peak performance in their Olympic category, what you put into your body can affect your day-to-day performance at work, socially, and of course, during your workouts. If you are not getting the nutrition you need and eating junk food instead, your energy levels and mood can suffer. Similarly, if you are under- or over-eating, you can negatively impact your metabolism and health. Whenever possible, try to eat out of physical hunger -- not out of boredom, stress, or other emotions. This is easier said than done. A good start to becoming more in tune with physical hunger cues is to rate your hunger on a scale from 0-10 (0 = starving, 10 = uncomfortably full). As a rule of thumb, try to only eat when you are at a 2 or 3 and stop at a 7 or 8 so that you get the fuel you need without going overboard.

Carbs Are Good

Athletes typically make half their diet complex carbohydrates from sources like whole grains and starchy vegetables. This helps keep their energy high throughout training and events because muscles need carbohydrate to function the best they can. Too often, people don't get enough or the right kind of carbohydrates, which leaves them fatigued, cranky, and more vulnerable to food cravings. About 50 percent of your calories should come from carbohydrate sources such as whole grain breads/cereals/pasta, potatoes and beans. Avoid simple carbohydrates such as candy and sodas, which cause a rapid increase and decrease in your blood sugar and, therefore, your energy levels.

Pay Attention to Your Body's Needs

Olympic athletes will eat more calories during training to make up for calories expended during exercise. Otherwise, like the above, they are not fueled properly for their activity. If you are exercising, make sure you increase your calories so that your body doesn't feel deprived and so you can power through your workout and your day. Even if you are trying to lose weight, you still might need to increase how much you are consuming to make sure you are fueling up in the correct way. To calculate how many calories you need, you can use Calorie Count's handy tool, which takes into account your weight goals as well.

Drinking It Up

Water can often be the most neglected dietary component, but it is probably the most important. Water helps cool down an athlete's body during strenuous workouts and replaces fluids lost in sweat. Not drinking enough can result in fatigue and being slow to the finish line. While you may or may not need eight cups per day, keeping a bottle on hand is a good idea to prevent dehydration. When we are dehydrated, we might confuse that feeling for hunger and end up overeating. How do you know if you are getting enough water? The best way is to check your urine (Hope this isn't TMI!) -- it should be light yellow or clear. If darker, drink up! Choose a serving of a sport drink for electrolytes as well if your workout is intense and 60 minutes or longer.

Get an All-Star Sleep

While this isn't exactly a diet tip, getting enough sleep can be just as important as a healthy day of eating. Athletes are meticulous about their sleep schedules to properly power down and recharge for the next day of training. When we don't get enough sleep, we feel tired and then we might not have the best judgment with food choices. Also, with lack of sleep, we are more likely to overeat since the hormone that tells us we are full, leptin, decreases and the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin increases. Make it a priority to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night by skipping caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime, sleeping in a cool room, and developing a set time when you go to bed and when you wake up whenever possible.

Too frequently we let life get in the way of making healthy decisions. But by making time for your well-being with these tips, you can prepare mentally and physically for whatever competition your day may bring!

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