What Keeping Fit Looks Like When You’re A Professional Athlete
If you’re anything like us, staying motivated to keep fit requires a constant stream of inspiration. Things like following fitness influencers and athletic wear brands on Instagram and Facebook help us keep our goals at top of mind. Reading about the life of professional athletes is another great way to stay motivated. Their dedication and discipline is seriously impressive and makes our training routines seem like a walk in the park in comparison.
26-year-old Ben Treffers is an elite Australian swimmer. He has a host of championships and a Commonwealth Games gold medal under his belt, and now he’s gearing up for the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. Ben is also an ambassador for men’s athletic wear brand SQDAthletica, repping the brand in and out of the pool. He found some time in his hectic training schedule to answer some of our questions about what keeping fit looks like when you’re a professional athlete. From what he had to say, it’s clear to see why Ben is such a good fit with SQDAthletica. The brand’s overarching ethos is that life is all about balance. Despite Ben’s exhaustive (and exhausting) training regime, he still finds ways to keep his life in balance when it comes to food, friends, and swimming…
How long have you been a professional athlete?
I started training seriously for swimming at age 13, swimming between 8-10 sessions per week and reducing other sports to only rugby in winter. By age 15 I had to give up playing rugby and focus exclusively on swimming, and then, at 16, I was offered a scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport. This meant training next to Olympians and being a member of a professional swimming program. Training was like a full-time job, swimming 10 sessions per week, doing three gym sessions per week, and it was unacceptable to miss training or be unprepared for a session. With the commitment involved, I would say by 16 I was a professional athlete.
What does a typical day look like to you?
Our training schedule is broken down into a weekly program where we swim twice on Monday and Wednesday, and once on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with gym also on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Sunday is our only day completely off.
On a typical Monday, I wake up at 5.30am, grab a quick snack, and get in the car to be at the pool by 6am. I spend 30 minutes stretching, rolling and trigger pointing as my activation before jumping in the pool. Monday morning’s swim session is typically a 2.5-3km aerobic swim, with a little bit of intensity in the session designed to prepare for a hard session at night.
I am home around 8.30am, and have breakfast, and then have a bit of a rest watching some NBA. Most athletes nap, but I am not really into that, and prefer to just have a good sleep at night. In the afternoon, I get my life in order and do my admin stuff, and then by 3pm I really just try to chill out and mentally have a break. I then leave home before 4.30pm to get to training by 4.45pm and start my 45 minutes of pre-swim activation. For high intensity sessions, I spend the extra time stretching and preparing. My training is very specific and is focused on swimming at, or faster than, race pace, so we are really trying to push my limits. For non-swimmers, the type of training I do in the pool is equivalent to weight training, but in water. After a session like this, I quickly have a protein shake or muesli bar, and then come home. I call it a night around 9.30pm, and get to sleep to prepare for the next day.
What does your training plan look like when you’re preparing to compete?
The preparation for swimmers works in cycles, as we are always preparing to compete. In a typical year, we have two big competitions per year, one in March/April and one in July/August. We usually only get a two-week break from training after the second main competition for the year. This means our ‘down’ time or ‘off-season’ is from August to October. But this time is typically reserved for aerobic improvements or as an opportunity to make leaps in training.
Throughout a year, your preparation gets broken into training blocks. The first block, from August to October, is typically a conditioning block, where you are really just setting up base fitness so that you can handle the more intensive blocks to come. After this block comes a more intensive, more specific training block. This is the stage where training starts to become more specific to racing. December through to February is the next block, which becomes an extension to the previous block. Training is now focused on race specific sets. Through this block, we race locally, while also travelling inter-state to race at NSW and/or Victorian State Championships. There is a balancing act that happens through this block of trying to train, and make training improvements, while also trying to start racing and get results. After this block, we taper for three weeks prior to the first main competition for the year. Through taper, the work-load and intensity is gradually reduced and the quality is ramped right up. This is the period for making final adjustments and final preparations to compete. It is meant to be the time to enjoy swimming, because you are spending less time in the pool, but also the racing coming up means nerves are starting to bubble, and all you want to do is swim fast. After racing in April, you usually get a week off, or at least a week of reduced training, and then a similar training cycle is repeated but on a smaller scale for the next major competition in July.
What does a professional swimmer typically eat?
I eat a pretty balanced diet as an athlete, but probably eat just more than the general person. I would eat bigger main meals and more snacks. Depending on training, it is important to manage diet to match energy input and output. For me, I am almost always trying to maintain weight, placing importance on replacing what I use to ensure I do not get run-down and sick, and am able to back up for each session.
A typical diet for me is:
Pre-session AM – 2x muesli bar
Post-session AM – Jelly-fruit cup
Breakfast – A bowl of fruit with home-made almond milk chia pudding and muesli and a bagel
Lunch – Ham salad bread roll
Pre-session PM – 2 slices of fruit and nut toast
Post-session PM – Brown-rice protein shake
Dinner – Steak, sausage, pear and rocket salad, and sweet potato fries
Dessert – Home-made choc-chip cookies and peppermint tea
I am a big believer in a balanced diet, and enjoy a burger or pizza on the weekend, but I never binge eat, or skip meals.
How do you relax/switch off from training?
I am a big NBA fan, so I come home from training and flick on whatever game is on NBA League Pass. I am a San Antonio Spurs fan because of Patty Mills, but I just enjoy watching any team play. I don’t really watch any swimming, but I watch pretty much any other sport.
I also really enjoy eating out. I would by no means say I am a foodie, but I love being out and trying new places. It is a great way to switch off and spend time with friends. I have my local favourites: The Collective Palm Beach; Burgster, Palm Beach; Oz Thai, Palm Beach; Comuna Cantina, Broadbeach; Canteen, Burleigh; as well as trying some new places.
However, my favourite thing to do and the best way to switch off, is to stay active. Since moving up to the Gold Coast, I can’t surf enough. Any chance I have to surf I am super keen, but I have to be careful in managing the amount of time I spend surfing and my recovery. At this stage, the opportunity to surf is kept to a minimum with only an hour on Sunday allowed.
How restrictive do you find your training/eating regimen?
My eating regimen is all about balance, making it not very restrictive. I don’t go crazy on anything, but enjoy a little bit of everything. As for my training regime, it is really restrictive, basically a 24/7 job. There is no option to miss sessions, or even to come to a session un-prepared. It is my responsibility to be ready to train, and ready to train hard. I have to restrict the time I am active outside of swimming, manage sleep, and am often unable to travel or go to events as this impedes recovery and preparation for the next session. There is a lot of restrictions with training that affect how I as an athlete live my life. I find it one of the biggest challenges of being a professional athlete that you have to sacrifice everyday activities or experiences to recover for training or because of training. This sacrifice is getting harder as I get older too, as priorities are shifting and the desire to do other things grows.
Apart from your training routine, what are other ways you like to keep your fitness up?
I barely have time or energy to do other things outside of my training routine, but I love to be active, whether it is going for a swim at the beach, surfing, playing basketball or anything outdoors. As a part of my training routine I lift weights two to three times per week, and outside of training I like staying active by spending time with friends and family. Anytime I have off swimming, I try to spend it surfing or skiing, and as much of it as possible.
Do you have any advice for non-professionals who want to keep fit?
Consistency and balance. Consistency is key to making improvements and achieving results. Even as an elite athlete, that is the difference maker. Consistently training at a world-class level is one of the most critical factors in achieving success. On the other hand, balance is important to keep training exciting and interesting. This is why I surf, because it can provide me with the biggest shift mentally, changing my attitude and preparing me for another week of hard work. I am a passionate advocate of keeping training different, and integrating different stimulus to make training enjoyable. At the end of the day, keeping fit should be fun, so adjust your training to incorporate things that you enjoy.