Crafting your self-care formula: Health and performance secrets from pro athletes

The perception that self-care is too difficult, too time-consuming or too self-indulgent often discourages people from sticking with their formula when things get tough. However, self-care is not selfish; research shows that our daily choices can significantly influence our performance, as well as our longevity.

In the high stakes world of professional sports, success isn’t just a matter of talent; it’s about dedication, discipline and a relentless pursuit of improvement. Pro athletes approach their careers with a mindset that revolves around self-care, constantly crafting and tweaking their formulas for optimal health, performance, and recovery. Locking in simple rituals can pay huge rewards. Committing to getting one per cent better every day offers valuable lessons that extend far beyond the playing field and can be applied to our lives, careers and passions.

Pro athletes understand that good health is not a spectator sport. Winning self-care formulas are specific, dynamic, and require frequent attention. This mindset keeps these high performers attuned to their decisions and daily choices, recognizing their pace and lifestyle’s profound impact on their energy and performance.

Of course, embracing failure is also part of their process; athletes know there will be challenging days and games where their performance will fall short of expectations, but the opportunity to learn from these disappointments and the prospect of playing again the next day fuels their relentless competitive pursuit.

Here are some performance secrets from pro athletes, current and retired, that you can apply to your formula to boost your game:

LeBron James:

Prioritizing sleep and healthy fuel for longevity. At age 39, James is still dominating his opponents as the oldest current player in the NBA. When asked about the key to his longevity, he has repeatedly stated that the consistency he brings to his formula gives him his edge. He is dedicated to his physical training, injury maintenance, and keeping his body clean; however, he credits his sleep ritual as the critical fitness strategy to his long and successful career. Getting at least eight hours of sleep every night is fundamental to his physical, mental, and emotional well-being. On the Calm App, he narrates a featured class titled The Power of Sleep, where he states, “There is nothing more valuable to my body, to my recovery, to my career, to my happiness than sleep.”

In a podcast interview with author and podcaster Tim Ferriss, James also shared that he uses his diet to support his performance, choosing whole foods and staying away from artificial drinks, added sugar, and fried foods. By cutting back our consumption of ultra-processed foods, we improve the quality of our cellular repair, reduce the oxidative stress on our body, and elevate our metabolic and gut microbiome health. This translates into improved energy and a stronger immune response.

Silken Laumann:

Mental fitness and self-love. Arguably Canada’s greatest rower of all time, Olympian Silken Laumann further showcases the power of a well-crafted self-care formula. Overcoming physical injury and emotional trauma, Laumann leans on sleep, yoga, and meditation to stay within striking distance of her peak performance. Approaching 60, she still eagerly begins each day excited by the potential it offers. Checking in with this emotion occasionally provides a metric to quality control her pace and avoid burnout. If this sense of adventure ever wanes, she knows she is falling out of rhythm or pushing too hard. Left unchecked, her body will escalate warning signals like headaches, odd carbohydrate cravings or fatigue. The volume of these symptoms will continue until she course-corrects her self-care behaviour.

Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons:

Gratitude and motivation. Canadian Football Hall-of-Famer Michael Clemons’ commitment to peak performance post-retirement involves a layered approach that includes daily gratitude and prayer, love, kindness, determination, and hard work, demonstrating the multifaceted nature of self-care. Setting goals or small fitness challenges with good friends keeps fitness fun and holds him accountable. He strives to keep within five pounds of his playing weight, exercises regularly, eats mindfully, and practices time-restricted eating, with at least 14 hours between the last meal of the day and the first meal of the next to do so. When asked about self-care, he shares, “We all must suffer one of two pains in life – the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The path you choose defines your life.”

Actively investing in self-care and embracing the one per cent improvement mindset with a kind but determined heart is the common thread to professional athletes’ approach to self-care. Framing self-care in this light and applying the same intentional discipline can elevate your game, too. The pain of discipline is a small price to pay for a life of excellence and fulfillment.

-Canadian Immigrant

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