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Whether you are an avid sports fan or don’t care to waste a moment of your time on sports, there is a valuable lesson to learn from the way that professional athletes focus on their fitness, health and wellness.

Remember that even the top-performing athletes need a coach, trainer, counselor and dietitian to guide them.

When we think of professional athletes, we often focus on their game performance and individual heroism, but rarely consider their off-the-field preparation. But it’s important to remember that even world famous athletes need the support of a team of professionals to help them stay on top of their games.

Theses teams of health and wellness professionals work with these athletes behind the scenes to help them follow cutting-edge plans to optimize their fitness, nutrition and psychology. This includes yoga, meditation, and psychological coaching to help with their performance. This holistic approach is not unlike the four pillars of the Ornish Program.

One of these plans includes the ever-growing numbers of vegetarian athletes. They include Billy Jean King and Martina Navratilova of tennis, famed Olympian Carl Lewis, “Broadway” Joe Namath and Ricky Williams of football. These are only a few of the many athletes who have found that being a vegetarian is not only possible while playing professional sports, but profitable for their health and performance.

In a 2012 blog post in The New York Times, reporter Gretchen Reynolds talked with three experts about athletes who choose to be vegans. David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University, said:

The foods that vegans like Scott Jerk avoid, like dairy products and eggs, are the easy ways to get protein in a plant-based diet, obviously. But you still have grains, nuts, and soy. Eat enough of that and you’ll be fine. The one issue is vitamin B12, which is found only in meat; B12 is important for endurance athletes, since it affects red blood cell production. But many cereals and soy milks are fortified with B12 now, or you can take supplements.

Many athletes have also turned to yoga and meditation as a way to recover and calm their bodies. The best example of this might be former professional athlete turned Hall of Fame coach, Phil Jackson. The former coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, Jackson was often called the “Zen Master” because of his belief in Eastern philosophy and his regular use of meditation, visualization and yoga with his basketball teams. It’s hard to argue with his successful approach as he coached his teams to a league leading 11 championships. This approach is also a large part of the Ornish program, which not only provides athletic performance benefits but enhances health, wellness and spirit.

So anytime you feel alone on your quest for better health, remember that even the top performing athletes need a coach, trainer, counselor and dietitian to guide them towards optimal physical and psychological health and performance. While doing the Ornish Program, we may not have that same goal as professional athletes, but it’s good to remember that it takes a team of support to become the healthiest and happiest version of ourselves.

Which athletes have most inspired you – emotionally, spiritually or nutritionally?

Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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