A few years ago, I read an article on http://www.atoboldon.com. He talked about how he’d occasionally ‘let himself go’ in the off-season. Essentially, he took the time off to do NOTHING. He talked about the motivation of knowing that you have to go from sub-zero to 100 in a short period of time. It was a strange carrot (yummm.. carrot cake) to dangle in front of someone, and although I don’t remember all the details of his reasoning, at the time it made sense to me. So much sense that I tried it. That year, I took the time off to discover all kinds of food. If I’ve never had it, I tried it. I lost weight. Clearly it wasn’t for me. Fast forward a few years, and it’s what would otherwise be pre-season 2012-2013. But I’ve retired, so it’s just Fall. Sadly, the damned Ato Boldon workout plan kicked in just a bit late. Just about two months in, I was already 9 pounds heavier.
Shortly after my fourth and final Olympic run, a friend and fellow retiree said to me ‘you not only say good-bye to that (jet-setter) life when you quit track, you’re saying good-bye to some of your friends. They stop calling or coming to see you because they don’t want you to see that they’ve put on weight’. We had a good laugh, some mixed drinks and desserts. On which side of that joke will we be on in one year?
I suppose at some point, we all have to to retire from our beloved sport. If you ran in high school but won’t in college. Or maybe you did run in college, but won’t after. No matter what level we’ve reached, sooner or later you’d be doing less of it, if not stopping all-together. For the past thirteen years, I’ve competed at international competitions in every corner of the world. I ate, slept and breathed Track & Field. I lived a regimented life, trying to fit in my eating, sleeping and practicing to maximize my competition results. I no longer have to do that, and it’s a large gap of time to fill. It doesn’t seem like a lot, you just do something else at whatever time you’re supposed to practice. But it’s not that simple. Your practice determines what and when you eat. When you sleep. You also have to take into account your recovery routine – time you spend getting treatments etc. You’re changing your entire life, and that has to be taken into account.
How do you transition from such an overly-active lifestyle to..well anything less than that, without rapidly gaining weight? I’ve talked to several professional athletes, retired, injured and active, and put together a list of our top six do’s (because as I overheard a coach once say, “I’ don’t do don’ts!”) for the newly retired athlete – professional or otherwise.
1 – DO pre-season. If you’re like most of us, you took some time to celebrate or relax more than when you’re in season. With no competition looming, it will be easy to set into a rut. Do your usual pre-season workouts. It’ll be a huge mistake to try to adjust to your new lifestyle cold turkey. It’s much easier to stay in shape than it is to get in shape/lose weight. Keep practicing the good habits you were ‘forced’ to develop to be successful at your sport. You’ll need them to stay healthy.
2 – DO eat lean. Protein is a track athlete’s best friend. You’re no longer burning calories like you used to. Eat accordingly.
3 – DO find one or two workout buddies.
4 – DO ensure that you set a specific time to workout. If you’re working out at 3 P.M. on Mondays, then that’s what you do. When it’s a routine, you feel it when you miss a 3 P.M. Monday workout.
5 – DO play other sports. On a given week, I’d average upwards of 30 hours per week just working out. Going from that to an hour three times a week is a huge difference and that may show quickly. Playing a game of basketball or tennis is still exercise, but it’s fun. If you’re a sprinter, you’re not used to long or solitary runs, so this may fit that mindset better.
6 – DO have someone create a workout plan for you. Some of us did well to document all of our workouts and can adjust that to suit your new needs. If not, have your coach put together something. Nothing makes you lose your way faster than just going to the gym and doing random exercises without purpose.
What I’ve learned is that there’s a psyche-physio-pseudo threshold, and once you get used to the new life and weight, it becomes harder later on. It’s like that Pingles chips adage: “once you pop, you can’t stop”. Speaking of which, I could really use a snack!