Lifestyle

Could you train like an Olympian?

In 2016, 3.6 billion viewers tuned in to watch the Rio Olympics. There were more than 10,000 athletes, representing 207 nations. And the events included everything from archery to baseball, fencing to table tennis, shooting and more.

But what is it really like to train like an Olympian?

Having placed 4th in his first Olympics in Rio 2016, swimmer Max Litchfield is hoping for a podium position in Tokyo 2020.

An incredible athlete, we managed to grab some time with him to find out what it takes to become one of the world’s best.

Eat like an Olympian

Eating right is imperative to any competitive success. And the diet of an Olympian is one that’s meticulously thought out. It’s really important to have the correct amounts of carbohydrates for energy, as well as protein for effective recovery in-between races.

An average day for Max will see him consuming over 3,000 calories across seven meals. This includes brunch favourites such as scrambled egg and avocado on toast (470 calories) and porridge with mixed berries, peanut butter, honey and chia seeds (570 calories).

“Depending on the time of year I also frequently use Beetroot Shots in training and racing as well as Healthspan Performance Greens,” says Max. “These are often very useful when you go away from home and you are not sure how good the quality of food will be.”

But competing on an international scale can come with a few hurdles. And it’s not always as easy as it sounds to stick to the same foods – especially when travelling.

“If I am away and in a village environment, I would make sure to search around in the days before I race to find the best alternative,” he says.

“For instance, recently in South Korea, I ended up having two small bowls of cereal; one oats and one bran flakes along with a medium banana. Sometimes you have got to make do with what you are provided.”

For lunch, Max chooses something like couscous with tuna and salad or sweetcorn. And for dinner, he sticks to high protein with a “hefty portion of carbs”.

“Something like seafood (usually prawns) risotto with asparagus and mushrooms. Again, this is something that is really easy and simple to make so takes the stress off you if you have more races to come later in the week,” he says.

Train like an Olympian

On average Max swims around 20+ hours a week at the Loughborough National Centre. This is split into 10, two-hour sessions with three 1.5 hour gym sessions on top.

A typical session in the pool will see Max swimming between 6000-8000m. To put this in context, Max is swimming just short of the height of Mount Everest during an average session.

In the gym, Max will perform a wide range of strengthening exercises, focusing on how he can improve his performance in the pool.

And in addition to doing gruelling exercises such as dumbbell pistol squats and sled work, he has also had to work hard on his rehabilitation exercises. This is due to a hip injury he sustained in Spring 2018 which caused him to miss the Commonwealth Games.

The injury didn’t hold him back for long however as he bounced back claiming silver and bronze in Glasgow that same year for the 400m and 200m respectively.

Live like an Olympian

So, you think you can get your way through 3,000 calories and swim the length of Mount Everest all in one day? Find out what it really takes to become an Olympic swimmer.

Measuring skinfolds

When was the last time you measured your skinfold? Well, if you want to become a top-class athlete, this bizarre practice will become a normal part of training.

In the run-up to a major meet such as The Olympics, Max says he would have a very hard period of training, followed by a 3 week taper period, where training reduces in intensity and duration. This allows his body to fully rest up and be ready to swim at his best.

It’s during this taper period that Max keeps a close eye on his diet.

“I would measure skinfolds and weight quite meticulously during this period to ensure I am stabilising at my race weight and composition,” he says.

Definitely not something you would find many people spending their spare time doing, but this is just one of the things Max does to make sure he stays on track.

Train until you (almost) pass out

Getting your breathing right is a large part of being an Olympic swimmer. The timing can make all the difference between getting bronze and winning gold.

So, it makes sense that the top athletes need to train to make sure they get their breathing exactly right.

Hypoxic training is all about getting your body to adapt to a reduced level of oxygen. And for swimmers, this helps them take more strokes without breathing.

“When we do hypoxic sessions, I often feel I could be on the brink of passing out,” says Max.

Definitely not one to try at home! But it’s something some Olympic swimmers work on with their coaches to help them stay underwater.

Going green

You can’t be a competitive swimmer without a good portion of fruit and vegetables in your diet. For Max, this comes in powder form.

“I use a powder blend of green vegetables and fruits, sounds strange but I really love using them,” he says.

Performance Greens contain a natural blend of 14 fruit and vegetables, providing a convenient way of safeguarding your five – or even seven – a day.

Rituals

Lots of athletes have their own rituals before competing and Max is no exception.

“Before I race, I will always go through the same sequence standing behind the blocks. I will go through my arm swings on each stroke, and then I always fold my suit flaps down at the last moment, place one foot on the block and stare straight down the pool,” he says.

Don't jump the gun

Have you ever thought about winning a gold medal? Being on a world stage? Or maybe you’ve practised your Oscar acceptance speech in the bathroom mirror?

Strangely for Max, however, he says he’s never thought about how he would celebrate if he was to take home a medal.

“I can’t say I have ever thought about it. Everything I do is aiming towards that goal but to me, it seems crazy to think further than that. I have to focus on me now and preparing to make the Olympic team and perform to my greatest potential,” he says.

Finally, we asked Max what the most difficult thing is about being an Olympian:

“I don’t think there is anything difficult about it really. I get to travel the world competing for GB in the sport I love. There is nothing difficult about that at all really!”

We’d like to say a massive thank you to Max for taking time out of his training schedule to speak with us. You can follow him on Instagram @litchfield.max and don’t forget to wish him good luck for the Tokyo 2020 qualifiers!

Max Litchfield images credit: Laurent Lairys/Agence Locevaphotos/Alamy