As Americans all over the country prepare to cheer on Team USA at the Rio Olympics, the athletes are in the midst of last-minute preparations to compete on the world stage. While most support and love the Olympic movement, many don’t have a full picture of what it takes to be an Olympic hopeful and what day-to-day life is like.
My name is Lauren Gibbs, and I’m a member of the USA Women’s National Bobsled Team. I am in the middle of my second off-season (which means I won’t be going to Rio because bobsled is a winter sport!). Right now, I am preparing for my chance to qualify for the next Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018.
I am excited to give you a glimpse into my daily routine, but before I get into that, a few facts you should know:
- The U.S. is one of two countries that does not receive government funding to support athletes in preparing for the Games.
- All funding comes from corporate sponsorships and donations from the public.
- 87 percent of Olympic athletes and hopefuls live below the poverty line while training and competing in their sport.
- There are three dedicated training centers in the United States: Chula Vista, Calif.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Lake Placid, N.Y.
- Many athletes can train at these centers but only the top 5 to 10 percent in each sport are granted residency there.
Pretty crazy, right? Anyway, as I mentioned before, I am a bobsledder. Since bobsled is not a sport you can practice or compete in year-round, the off-season is a time to get stronger, faster and healthier. Bobsledding requires pushing a heavy object quickly, and the ride is anything but smooth.
To give you a quick lesson on bobsled, men have two disciplines: four-man and two-man. Women, on the other hand, only compete in two-woman (don’t get me started on why). Our sleds weigh more than 365 pounds, we reach speeds up to 95 mph and get hit with up to 5 G-forces as we fly through the track.
It is quite the thrill ride!
The combination of pushing a large sled and getting rattled back and forth wreaks havoc on our bodies, so the off-season is a crucial time to recover and rebuild. I am currently spending part of my off-season living and training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Being in this environment, especially with Rio right around the corner, is inspirational and sometimes heartbreaking. You cheer for your friends who make the team and do your best to console those who don’t. That said, living here is an amazing and humbling experience; it affords me the opportunity to focus on my training, recovery and proper nutrition.
I hope you enjoy this quick glimpse into my world:
Today is Tuesday. Tuesdays are my favorite! They’re by far one of my longest training days of the week, which is why I love them. By the end, I am completely physically and mentally exhausted. While tiring, it means that feeling of sore is helping to improve and strengthen my muscles. I love that feeling!
7:30 AM: Breakfast
What some may not know about bobsled is that there is a maximum weight allowed for both the athletes and the sleds. Since I am on the heavier side of the team, watching my weight is an unfortunate necessity.
I walk around comfortably between 177 to 180 pounds, but in order to make weight and compete, I have to get down to 169 pounds. To get there, I am on a pretty strict diet that requires me to count my macros (I work with a nutritionist on-site at the training center as well as a company called Working Against Gravity—check them out). I start my day off with 8 ounces of oatmeal, Cream of Wheat or Malt-o-Meal (depending on what the cafeteria has that day), five hard-boiled egg whites, 8 ounces of water and a cup of green tea.
10 AM: Time to sweat
It’s always important to warm up your body before having a difficult workout. Here’s what I do:
- Foam roll (10 to 15 minutes)
- Bike (5 minutes)
- Torso activation (5 to 10 minutes)
- Dynamic mobility (5 to 10 minutes)
- Sprint drills (10 minutes)
My workouts are always a good mix of speed work, technique work and then moving something heavy quickly to build explosive strength. It takes about 2 1/2 hours to complete. Here’s what it might look like:
- Bike sprints
- Quick rehydrate/ refuel (water and some kind of carb: core power or Powerade) Carbs are also great to take in between cardio and weight lifting to replenish energy stores!
- Sled work
- Heavy lift
1 PM: Lunch
Lunch is when I take in a good percentage of my carbs for the day. The cafeteria also supplies me with low-calorie weight loss shakes made with fresh fruits and vegetables. These shakes serve as snack in between lunch and dinner and help avoid snacking on foods that don’t fit into my macros.
3 to 6 PM: Recovery time
I use the late afternoon for recovery, including sports medicine and sports psych appointments. Soreness (while I enjoy it) can be counterproductive. With the amount of heavy lifting and sprinting that I do, it is important to flush out the lactic acid form my legs to make sure I am fresh for the next day.
Here are some recovery tools I use:
- Foam roller
- Lacrosse ball
- Voodoo floss
- Cold tub/hot tub
- Compression boots
- Soft tissue work
- Dry needling
- Massage (not the relaxing kind, but the hot stone kind)
- Rehab (Pilates, stretching)
- Relaxation techniques
- Sleep study
6:30 PM: Dinner
How many macros I have left will depend on what I have but are always a good mix of protein, carbohydrates and fat. I have started eating a higher percentage of my fat macros in the evening. Fat satiates you. Eating more fat at night means I go to bed satisfied and ready to take on the next day.
11 PM: Good night!
I am not the best sleeper. With the help of sport psychology and an app called Sleep Rate (which utilizes a heart rate monitor), I closely track the hours of sleep I get to ensure that I am getting the quality and volume needed to be effective in my training.
I hope you enjoyed my story. To continue to follow my journey to the 2018 Olympic Games, you can find me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Now it’s time to join me in cheering on the Team USA athletes in Rio as they test the last four years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. Go, Team USA!