Push hard, eat for energy, and get in the zone with these world-class strategies from Rio hopefuls

By Rozalynn S. Frazier
July 04, 2016
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Credit: Getty Images

Olympians are just like us...OK, not even close. But simply because they are stronger and faster and can pull off a hat trick when the pressure is on (we’re talking about you, Carli Lloyd!) doesn’t mean their confidence never wavers. Heck, they even stumble along the way. Yet somehow they still rise up, which is why their advice is so welcome. Here, 19 elite athletes—many of whom have already qualified for the Rio Olympics—share their winning game plans for success in their sports and in everyday life.

1. Learn from losses

“People always think that failures are closed doors, but for me, failures have always been a big inspiration to keep pushing to have another breakthrough.” —Lolo Jones, 33, hurdler and three-time Olympian

“While it pisses me off to lose, it’s also so motivating. It exposes my weaknesses and the areas where I need work. Ultimately, it’s like a ‘Thank you, but that’s not going to happen again’ type of thing.” —Kerri Walsh Jennings, 37, volleyball player and three-time Olympic medalist

“You have to constantly remind yourself to live in the moment. What happened the day, week or month before has no impact on what will happen next unless you allow it to.” —Sue Bird, 35, basketball player and three-time Olympic medalist

2. Handle big-day nerves

“I have this huge butterfly in my tummy—and sometimes I have a million of them—and I named her Victory. It’s part of me, and it’s part of competing, and you’re always going to have those nerves. I’m competing and I want to be the best, and with that comes Victory, so it is what it is.” —Kerri Walsh Jennings

3. Be unstoppable

“I learned early on that sometimes you might not have the skill, but if you can fight and grind your way through a situation, you can often succeed. I am what you would call a ‘push’—my style of winning would often be ugly and take many hours, but I just fight my way through.” —Evelyn Stevens, 33, cyclist and 2012 Olympian

“You have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations—not just as a player but as a person. Take risks and don’t be afraid to fail. That’s where we learn to better ourselves. It’s the only way to grow.” —Ali Krieger, 32, soccer player competing in Rio as part of the U.S. Women’s National Team

“Pushing yourself through the rough patches shows what you are made of and how much you really want to succeed. Be courageous and refuse to let fatigue win the battle!” —Gabby Douglas, 20, gymnast and two-time Olympic medalist

4. Reset after a stressful day

“I lather that Living Proof Restore Mask on my hair and put this Revision Skincare Black Mask on. Then I light some candles and take a bath. I add salts to relax my muscles. It makes me feel calm. All my friends make fun of me. They say I’m like a grandma because, on Saturday night, I’m the only 22-year-old you’ll ever meet who’s fine taking a bath at 7:30, being in bed by 8 and having a face mask on.” —Aly Raisman, 22, gymnast and three-time Olympic medalist

5. Stop trashing your body

“I feel my body is built beautifully. To people who hate on athletic bodies, I would tell them, ‘God blessed athletic women to be different; we are stronger than the average woman. I like that I am athletic.’” —Claressa Shields, 21, boxer and 2012 Olympic medalist

“When I was younger, I was struggling with how tall I was or how big my feet were. But if my body wasn’t exactly the way it was, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish all the things I’ve been able to accomplish in the pool.” —Missy Franklin, 21, swimmer and five-time Olympic medalist

“I’m a female; I get self-conscious just like everyone else. That’s crazy, because I’m a three-time Olympian, but I have those moments where I’m like, ‘Oh, this needs to be toned, this needs to be fit.’ My body is like this for a reason—I don’t have the Kim Kardashian butt. If I did, I’d knock over every hurdle.” —Lolo Jones

6. Find your power snack

“I’m obsessed with apple, almond butter, and granola sandwiches. They’re super easy: Slice an apple in two rounds and put almond butter on one side. Sprinkle with granola and put the other side of the apple on top, and it becomes this little sandwich. It gives me good fruit and carbs before a workout, good healthy fats from almond butter and good whole grains from granola.” —Missy Franklin

“I’m a big fan of smoothies. You can pack so much nutrition into them. Post-workout, I’ll do a cherry-almond one with almond milk, almond butter for protein, chia seeds for extra fiber and protein, frozen cherries to help with muscle inflammation and a banana to round it out and give it more body.” —Natalie Coughlin

7. Think, "Baby Steps"

“You should pick smaller, attainable goals that lead to an overall bigger goal. Achieving small goals will show the progress and should keep you motivated toward the bigger one.” —Lexi Thompson, 21, golfer vying for a spot in the 2016 Olympics

“I try to give myself little goals throughout the race to accomplish and feel good about. You’re at 20 miles and you know there’s a long way to go, so it’s ‘OK, get to the next water station. Look up and try to pass that girl hanging out in front of me.’ It’s about little things you know you can achieve, then you set the next goal. This way, it’s a positive feeling with each one you accomplish.” —Desi Linden, 33, marathoner and 2012 Olympian

“The biggest mistake people make is setting too-lofty goals. It’s about seeing what your body can handle, taking it one day at a time, setting new goals every single day and setting realistic goals you can meet, because that encourages you to keep going.” —Sanya Richards-Ross, 31, track-and-field runner and five-time Olympic medalist

8. Don't ignore your core

“I do a lot of core and leg exercises, such as crunches and leg lifts. This is essential for balancing and maintaining proper form. Since I use my own body weight as resistance, I don’t really use a lot of weights.” —Gabby Douglas

“As miserable and simple as it seems, the best head-to-toe exercise is probably a plank. I also do a lot of planks with dynamic movements: if you are in a flat plank, keeping your core really tight and really still and holding one leg up for 30 seconds, and then switching and holding the other leg up for 30 seconds.” —Emma Coburn

“To be a good runner, I feel like you have to have a strong core. It is one of the most vital ingredients in training. V-ups, which get the hips, too, are probably one of the moves I hate the most, but it’s so important for me to incorporate them every day.” —Sanya Richards-Ross

“For my obliques, I do a side plank with a raise. Obliques are important for stability and having a strong core, which is important for balance. You can either hold or you can pulse. I usually hold for 30 to 45 seconds or pulse for 15. I usually do two sets of these.” —Nzingha Prescod, 23, fencer and 2012 Olympian

9. Clean up your meals

“I’m big into salmon, broccoli, and brown rice—really simple but balanced.” —Allyson Felix, 30, track-and-field runner and six-time Olympic medalist

“I have never considered myself to be on a diet. I’ve always called it a life plan. I don’t eat a lot of fried food; I mostly eat grilled chicken, fish like Tilapia, turkey burgers, pasta, rice, and vegetables. My eating is pretty repetitive.” —Claressa Shields

“My favorite food is sushi. It’s really refreshing, and you get the protein with the fish, and the rice is carbs. It’s funny—everyone thinks carbs are the enemy. But I think I eat more carbs now than I did in 2012, and my training is better because I have more energy. Fueling your body is 100 percent important.” —Aly Raisman

10. Don't fear the weight room

“The power clean is really important because it’s key to explosiveness. It’s a lift we do, sometimes from the floor or sometimes from our knees, bringing the bar up. I really feel like it’s mimicking the first move out of the blocks, which is really important.” —Sanya Richards-Ross

“I do a lot of Olympic lifts, so power cleans and things like that. One of the best things we do, though, are weighted pull-ups. Your catch in swimming is where you get all your power, so it’s important to have a strong upper body.” —Natalie Coughlin

“If you do the same workout over and over again, it becomes repetitive and uninspiring to go to the gym. Every year, I try something new. I’m also working on a lot of glute and hip stuff, so things like one-leg hip thrusts with a bar, as well as regular and single-leg Romanian deadlifts.” —Lolo Jones

“In gymnastics, your body takes so much pounding. Three out of the four events are leg events, so I do a lot of jumping up and down—box jumps.” —Aly Raisman

11. Win your head games

“It’s not going to happen if you don’t believe it’s going to happen. And trust me: I understand that it’s not always easy to make yourself believe you can do something—it doesn’t happen overnight. It is something you have to work at. A lot of times, it’s just you that’s in the way.” —Nzingha Prescod

“Mental resilience is arguably the most important thing. You could have all the athletic ability in the world, but if you cannot handle high-pressure situations or adversity along the way, then you won’t become your best self. It separates good from great.” —Melinda Withrow, 31, pole vaulter vying for a spot in the 2016 Olympics

To learn more about all Olympic hopefuls, visit team teamusa.org. The Rio Olympics begin on August 5 on NBC.​