Olympic Gold Medalist Natalie Coughlin

With the Rio Olympics around the corner, we couldn’t help but chat with one of its most viable contenders – twelve-time Olympic swimming medalist and twenty-time World Championship swimming medalist Natalie Coughlin. P.S., Coughlin is just one medal shy of becoming the most decorated American female Olympic athlete in history…suffice to say we were itching for a sit-down. Besides the fact that she’s currently training for her fourth Olympic Games, she’s also made appearances as a judge on Chopped and Iron Chef. We caught up with Coughlin on her workout routines, the best and worst foods for skin and her road to the 2016 summer Olympics…

From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day? 

Pre-practice (early morning, 4:15am or so)I’ll make a big batch of really good steel-cut oatmeal [on Sunday, for the week] with ground flax seeds, sliced almonds, maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla and coconut oil (for fat).

Post-practice: An omelette with fresh herbs, left over veggies from the night before, whole wheat toast, and coffee!

Early Afternoon (pre 12:30 lift): Not a big lunch – a green smoothie with kale, parsley, banana, avocado, celery, lime juice, lemon juice, and pineapple, a Luvo entree (frozen healthy food, great option for on-the-road), a current favorite vegetable bibimbap, or fried rice with vegetables and kimchi (top with fried eggs for extra protein)

Post-Practice: Smoothie with almond milk, almond butter, chia seeds, dark frozen cherries (antioxidants/anti-inflammatories), half a banana, and sometimes non-fat Greek yogurt.

Dinner: Quality protein, lots of vegetables, really big salad with farro. I’ll make a big batch of farro to keep in the fridge and add to a salad to make it more filling.

Snacks: Whole almonds, herbal teas, and dark chocolate

What are your favorite workouts?

Lifting weights, yoga and running

How do you practice beauty from the inside out?

Beauty, especially your skin and hair, is a reflection of your diet. If your diet is lacking in nutrients, your skin is often the first to show this. Working out is important in being healthy, but maintaining a healthy weight is done in the kitchen.

What do you eat before you train? What do you eat afterwards? 

For post-workout, I love to drink my favorite almond cherry recovery smoothie made with almond milk, chia seeds, banana, dark cherries and almond butter.

The best and worst foods for athletic success…

As an athlete, quality protein is extremely important. I can’t say what the worst food is, but anything that can lead to inflammation: sugar, trans-fats, etc.

How do you always start your day? 

I drink 20oz of water as soon as I get up. I get so dehydrated when I sleep!

Are there any special diets you do? Or things you cut out? What are they?

I focus on plant-based foods, quality protein, and whole grains. I don’t cut anything out, but I look at food as fuel. I want to take pleasure in eating while eating healthfully.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Challenges are an important part of the process.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? The worst? 

Pressure is a privilege. Pressure can be overwhelming, but you often are deserving of that pressure and can handle it if you have faith in yourself. I can’t remember the worst advice; I discard bad ideas immediately and move on.

The person who’s been the most influential in your career and why…

My coaches, Teri McKeever and Dave Durden. Teri coached me for twelve years and nurtured me from an injured teenager to an Olympic Champion. Dave has been my coach for the past three years and has helped me to change my approach to racing and training. He puts an incredible amount of thought into my training and I have complete faith in his program.

What are your newest Netflix obsessions? 

I recently finished Man in the High Castle and absolutely loved it!

What’s been the biggest struggle in your career thus far?

Injury

Your favorite workout songs…

Ninetie’s hip hop and rock

Your personal mantra…

Focus on your journey, not your destination.

Could you give us three quick arm workouts to do at home? Three quick leg workouts? 

Arms: Pull-ups, push-ups and TRX rows

Legs: Squats, lunges and tuck jumps

What does the forty-eight hours of eating and drinking before an Olympic race look like for you?

Lots of water, protein throughout the day (not just at dinner), healthy snacking (such as almonds), and whole grains.

What are you most excited for in terms of the upcoming olympic games? What are you most worried about?

I’m not really worried about anything. I can only control my preparation for the games, which includes my training, rest, taking care of my body and my diet. I’m excited to race in front of the Brazilian crowd. I’ve raced in Brazil before and the atmosphere is electrifying.

What are your favorite NYC restaurants? What do you order in each?

Prune for the bone marrow. It’s indulgent and amazing. Babbo for the black spaghetti. Perfectly done pasta makes me incredibly happy.

In the same vein as ‘what is the new black’ in fashion, what’s ‘the new potato’ right now? 

Rice or grain bowls seem to be in fashion right now. Bowls with some sort of grain, protein, greens, sauce and toppings. I like it. Less clean-up!

Read this interview with snowboarder and olympic gold and bronze medalist Kelly Clark. Learn how champion skier Lindsey Vonn stays fit and healthy.

*Natalie Coughlin, photographed at The Standard Grill in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann.