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What does it take to be an Olympic athlete?

Health Tips brought to you by U.S. HealthWorks Medical Group. Our experienced medical experts provide information here that we hope will broaden your health care knowledge.

Today we talk to Dr. A.K. Misra, medical director for U.S. HealthWorks in South San Francisco, about his interactions with Olympic-caliber athletes. Dr. Misra is double board certified in Sports Medicine and Internal Medicine.

Q: As a Sports Medicine physician who periodically cared for athletes last year at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, what insight can you provide on these highly trained athletes?

A: As mentioned in prior blogs – Behind the scenes at Olympic training center and When passion for sports meets passion for medicine – probably the most remarkable aspect is how every athlete’s actions (active rest, balanced eating, rigorous exercise) are centered on the goal of reaching peak performance.

Considerable planning takes place in regard to training and preparation. Often athletes on this elite level have their own specialized coaches, nutritionists and physicians.

However, it is important to remember they generally do not start with this infrastructure. Many athletes come from rather humble beginnings and obviously they are guaranteed nothing at the onset of their Olympic endeavor. They often put in many years of unseen and unknown efforts, away from the public eye, to achieve that one perfect moment while competing.

The pressures to perform on the Olympic stage can be enormous. For both amateurs and professionals, it’s common for athletes to seek mental health services and to see a sports psychologist.

Q: Can you point out good habits that are common among Olympic athletes? Are any of their routines useful to the general population?

A: There are a myriad of habits and actions that come to mind.

Establishing a routine with discipline is common among all Olympians. However, none of those routines are the same. A weightlifter would have a remarkably different routine than a golfer or swimmer. Nonetheless, some common themes are consistent – like proper hydration, sufficient sleep, optimal nutrition and stress management.

As both a Sports Medicine and Internal Medicine physician, I can safely say that “the cookie-cutter approach” is better than no approach. However, for both the average person and the highly specialized athlete, I recommend individualizing one’s routine as much as possible because we all have different stations in life, varying body types and diverse health goals.

Q: Can you provide examples of your work with Olympians, or aspiring Olympians, and how they live?

A: I am currently working with an aspiring Olympian here in the San Francisco Bay Area who contacted me to help work through some Sports Medicine matters for incorporation into his training. He is a highly ranked weightlifter and I have learned in working closely with him that much of the planning for competition is done considering one’s personal life, as well as the Olympic Games interval.

For example, while David Garcia (pictured with me) would have loved to compete in this year’s Olympics, his sights are set on the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan. To reach his goal, there will be a gradual “ramp up” process that takes into account the competition lead time, personal life priorities and the lifestyle activities necessary to prevent burnout. This approach helps advance his life as it relates to the Olympics, and his life outside of it. He is an impressive and highly intelligent young man. I often review his training programs, exercise physiology, nutrition and dietary matters. I fully expect to see him four years from now in Tokyo.

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  • Andrews Research & Education Foundation
  • American Board of Internal Medicine
  • JJM Medical College
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