Swimming always makes a splash at the Summer games, and Natalie Coughlin did just that in Beijing by becoming the first American woman to win six medals in one Olympics. A serious foodie as well as a gold medalist, Natalie took time out of her intense schedule to talk about her plans for London and how cooking calms her.
Natalie’s training day starts with a 4:30 a.m. wake-up, and she’s at the pool by 5 a.m. for a Pilates warmup, two hours in the pool, followed by an hour and a half of weight lifting. Impressed not only by the early morning start, I was also curious about her predawn power breakfast. She told me Bircher muesli is her go-to breakfast, explaining that it’s “a really delicious uncooked oat, soaked overnight in orange juice and orange zest with dried plums.” (Get Natalie’s muesli recipe here.)
But wait. There’s more. Natalie works out twice most days. Her second go-round involves a pool workout before heading off to the weight room for power circuits. The day sounds exhausting to me, and Natalie assured me that she certainly sleeps well and is not much of a napper; her head hits the pillow around 10 p.m. most nights, with an occasional early night when needed.
To unwind after a hard training day, Natalie cooks. “Because I work out so much, my way of decompressing after a long day is to get in the kitchen and cook up a storm. Also, to feed myself, because I’m starving after all of that training.” Her menus change seasonally, but she’s always cooking up some risotto. And Natalie even makes her own energizing snack bars, featuring dried plums — she’s such a fan of the dried fruit she’s been tapped as the spokesperson for the California Dried Plum Association.
Natalie is also a big fan of Pilates. “Thursdays I have out of the water, so I’ll do Pilates and walk my dog, but I won’t swim.” When asked, she can’t limit herself to one favorite Pilates exercise, but the Wunda Chair wins the prize for fave equipment — she even keeps one at home. “You can do so much on the Pilates chair. You can work out your arms, your legs, your core. And it doesn’t really take up much room.” Pilates mat work, along with stretching, are the cornerstones of her race warmup. I think her prerace strategy is something any competitor should consider: Natalie always does the same warmup routine before her practices and all her races “whether it’s the first meet of the year or the Olympic final.” This way she can focus on the mental aspects of her upcoming race and let her body go into autopilot.
Known as a backstroker — she won gold in the 100-meter backstroke in 2004 and 2008 — she trains in all strokes but doesn’t consider herself much of a breaststroker. As she competes her way toward the US Olympic trials in late June, she’ll keep competing in all four strokes as she figures out her game plan for London. I bet she’s gunning for another gold in the 100-meter backstroke in hopes of winning that event three games in a row.
The Olympics might seem months away, but I can feel the excitement beginning to build.