I have a very special post to share with you all this week. I recently met Rebecca Soni (who I knew was an Olympic swimmer at the time but didn’t know she was an Olympic champion!) through the program we’re both enrolled in at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Rebecca is a two-time gold medalist (Beijing and London) in the 200m breaststroke and literally the fastest woman ever in that event, as she was the first ever to beat the 2 min 20 second mark. She won another gold in the London Olympics as part of the record-breaking 4x100m relay medley team, with Missy Franklin, Dana Vollmer, and Allison Schmitt. Rebecca isn’t a “vegan” but has recently transitioned to a plant-based diet while leading an incredibly active lifestyle, so I thought it would be a great idea for her to share some of her tips with you about her nutrition and fitness routine. Without further adieu, let’s get into the interview:
Hi Rebecca, thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions and share your advice with my readers. First question: What was your typical diet like when you were training for the Olympics, and what was your go-to pre-race meal?
Over the last few years, I’ve started cooking much more. My diet was very much centered around fresh fruits and vegetables, and a little bit of of the leaner animal meats (chicken, turkey, fish). My normal day of meals would usually be cereal with fruit in the morning before practice, afterwards: scramble with chopped up veggies and egg. Lunch would be a salad consisting of lots of left overs. I liked to play around with new things, so I tried (and liked) all these options instead of salad dressing: salsa, hummus, sauerkraut, and apple cider vinegar. Dinner would usually be a stir fry, or grilled veggies with some chicken, and rice or noodles with lots of veggies.
How has your diet changed recently and how do you feel?
My diet has changed a lot – the most notable change is that since I’m taking the year off from swimming, I am eating a lot less. But I also no longer use animal proteins at home. I still eat them occasionally when I go out, but at home I basically just cook with veggies. For breakfast I usually make a vegetable juice, salad for lunch (similar idea as before- making it a big hodge podge of all sorts of good stuff). For dinner I like to try new recipes — zucchini lasagna has been my biggest hit so far.
I feel great! I try to listen to my body, and occasionally when I do crave something outside of the usual, I make sure to get it (if its something like chicken).
I know you’re not swimming competitively right now, but you’re still exercising a whole lot. What are your favorite foods to fuel your workouts now?
The juice is a great fuel in the morning. It’s light but has so much energy! Apple or banana with almond butter is another favorite pre-workout snack.
What kind of juice do you typically make?
- apple, kale, beets, ginger, lemon
- carrot, ginger, lemon, apple (for an orange day)
- spinach, cucumber, kale, fennel, apple
Do you think you could have been plant-based while competing for the Olympics?
I definitely do! I wish I had tried it. But I was only starting to get into nutrition and I definitely would have wanted to try it out for a year or two before Olympic year. With the way my body feels, I know I could have fueled myself in full training with the foods I’m eating now.
What do you wish young aspiring Olympic athletes knew about nutrition?
We train so much that we tend to think we can eat anything and as much as we want of it. This is partially true – you can eat as much as you want! As long as its the right stuff. Even though you might burn through that hamburger and fries much faster than the typical person, the quality of the food you just ate is not very good. Be careful of that, search out nutrient rich foods! Fruits and vegetables are your best friend.
What other type of exercise did you incorporate into your training?
I did a lot! I focused on what worked for me and my body. I incorporated yoga, Pilates, body-weight core work, and spinning. Yoga was great to relax, and for flexibility. Pilates was wonderful at building up the smaller muscles that keep your body safe, and helped a lot with correcting my posture. The core work was instrumental to my swimming – every sport, and every person regardless of whether you’re an athlete or not, can benefit from some good core work. And spin, I just thought it was fun, great for building endurance – and I’ve even taught a class with the USC college swim team in the mornings for the past couple years! — Teaching makes it twice as hard 🙂
What are you up to now and what would you like to be doing in the future?
I’m getting into the health and nutrition world! As well as dabbling a little in psychology. Right now I’m doing some school work and exploring my options in these fields. I would love to work with athletes to help them optimize their training through maximizing all the unseen parts of training that occur outside of practice – mainly great nutrition, positive mental support. Through strategies that I’ve tried, and proven useful in my own training, as well as all the things I’m learning now, I know I can make training more enjoyable and successful!
How to follow Rebecca: