Athletes in the Olympic and Paralympic Games share their top tips so you can fuel your body and rock your workouts Like an Olympian.
Watching Paralympic swimmer Mallory Weggemann speed across the length of a pool is to watch someone who's entirely in her element. The two-time Paralympian and 15-time world champion makes swimming — breaststroke and butterfly in particular — look so smooth and simple that it's easy to forget her skill and success is thanks to a lot of hard work and deliberate planning in all aspects of her life, from how she trains to what she eats.
Weggemann started swimming when she was 7. In January 2008, at 18, she received an epidural injection for back pain that led to complications causing her to lose all movement in her lower body.
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"It was a challenging point in my life," she tells LIVESTRONG.com. "When I got back into the water after my paralysis, swimming was a place that welcomed me home."
After watching the April 2008 Beijing Paralympic swim trials, Weggemann decided to get back into the pool, determined to make the 2012 London Paralympics. She did — and nabbed a gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle and bronze in the 4x100-meter medley, per Team USA.
But during a March 2014 media tour in New York City, she fell on her left arm when the bench in the accessible shower collapsed from the wall. This injury put her future in the sport on an indefinite pause.
"It completely changed my body ... and immediately after, we didn't know it was permanent yet," she says. "When you have a spinal cord injury, you use your arms for everything, so this completely rocked my world."
But Weggemann, ever the elite athlete, just kept swimming. She made the Paralympic team again and competed in Rio in 2016, but experienced complications in her arm after one race and didn't come home with any medals. Still, she kept her focus on future Games. Now, she'll compete in the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
As a soon-to-be three-time Paralympian, longevity in the sport is key for Weggemann. Each part of her training and nutrition routine is deliberate. But with so many hours in the pool, she likes to keep her post-workout snack surprisingly simple.
How Weggemann Fuels Her Laps
Swimming is a demanding sport, which is why Weggemann likes an easy-to-pack, healthy, post-workout drink — but her go-to isn't a mix of powders or supplements.
"If it's around training, honestly, I love chocolate milk," she says. "Chocolate milk is my thing. I love having a big glass after training."
Like many other athletes, Weggemann prioritizes a diet that balances all three macronutrients (more on that below). And with about 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat and 30 grams of carbs, per the USDA, a glass of chocolate milk provides just that.
"For the most part, I try to keep [my macros] pretty even and I notice a big shift in my energy and performance in training when I'm able to fuel myself in a more well-rounded way," she says. "That's something I'm really mindful of. Whether you're an athlete or not, we forget how much what we eat has a direct impact on how we feel."
This drink may spark some grade-school nostalgia, but for Weggemann, it's a tried-and-true post-workout refreshment. And as a world champion, who can argue with that?
Why Chocolate Milk Is a Great Post-Workout Drink
Not only is Weggemann's post-workout beverage easy to find in stores, it also provides some solid nutritional benefits.
Milk (chocolate or plain) packs the three macros your body needs and craves after a workout, according to dietitian and trainer Jim White, RDN, ACSM Ex-P, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios.
Plus, milk is hydrating. When you exercise, your body loses minerals, such as sodium and potassium, through sweat. Rehydrating with milk can help replenish your body's fluids and those lost electrolytes.
"Dairy foods provide a number of nutrients, including protein and carbohydrates, but also many B vitamins, potassium, calcium and more needed for overall health as well as muscle and bone health," White says.
Recover Like a World-Class Athlete After Your Next Workout
Everyone should prioritize recovery after a workout — nutrition included. And considering chocolate milk is an easy-to-find and affordable option, White suggests giving it a try after your next training session. Just keep these tips in mind:
- Don't drink it before exercising: Although it's smart after a tough workout, White advises against drinking chocolate milk before you sweat because it might cause some digestion issues.
- Opt for low-fat: Full-fat milk is calorie-dense, so if one of your current goals involves weight loss, you may want to opt for a low-fat bottle. It will provide the same nutrients while cutting down on the total calorie count.
Try These Chocolate Milk Brands
With that said, everyone's stomach responds to dairy differently: Some people may love a tall glass of milk, while others might feel iffy after a few sips. If your stomach feels unsettled, skip the dairy and opt for another balanced post-workout snack, like a banana protein smoothie or scrambled eggs with whole-grain toast.
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. The Tokyo Paralympics begin August 24 on NBC.