Natalie Coughlin is the most decorated female athlete of both the 2008 Beijing and 2004 Athens Olympic Games. She is also the most decorated female swimmer in world championship history, with 16 medals. Beyond natural talent, she trains hard and eats well, making her a go-to spokesperson for the California Dried Plum Board.
Here, on behalf of those nutrient-dense dried fruits, our Q&A with the swimmer superstar.
SheKnows: What was your most outrageous meal while competing at the Olympic level?
Natalie Coughlin: I do remember one time in Australia during a world championship; we went to a British pub and they had fried sheep brains on the menu. And we had it. The flavor wasn’t bad and the texture was OK, so we tried it. I will try just about everything once.
Don’t diet — find pleasure in cuisine
SheKnows: Do you think most athletes over-think nutrition and take the pleasure out of eating?
Natalie Coughlin: Yes, that is exactly how I feel about dieting. So many athletes break food down into all the micronutrients — how many carbs, fat grams, [how much] fiber, proteins, etc. I really don’t like to do that. I think it’s important to educate yourself. There are ways to take pleasure in cuisine and not sacrifice. It’s really about self-education and experimentation — searching the Internet for recipes, trying different ethnic cuisines — things like that are really important.
Healthy snacks keep you revved
SheKnows: What are your top three energizing snacks?
Natalie Coughlin: Gluten-free snack bars. I like them because they are not highly processed, they’re portable and have a wide variety of ingredient and are really healthy. You can make them yourself and they’re super-nutritious.
Dried plums. I keep them in my bag and in the car. I always have them on hand for whenever I get hungry.
Green smoothies. They are very soothing and a good way to get in a ton of vegetables in an easy way. I just throw in a ton of kale and spinach.
SheKnows: Please share your top tip for overcoming an afternoon slump.
Natalie Coughlin: If possible, get outside and feel the sun on your face – get your blood going and take a quick 10-minute walk. Another tip is not to eat a heavy lunch. Many people overeat at lunch and then all your energy goes to digesting your food from lunch. That’s why you crash.
Hit the produce aisle for organic fruits and veggies
SheKnows: Do you believe organic foods are better than non-organic, and if so, why?
Natalie Coughlin: Yes. There is a lot of science to back it up, so it’s just not merely a belief. Organic farmers use healthy farming practices that are better for the environment, which lead to healthier soils which then lead to healthier fruits and vegetables that are more dense in nutrients. That said, when you are in the snack aisle, just because something is labeled organic does not mean necessarily that it’s healthy!
SheKnows: What’s your secret to winning all those medals?
Natalie Coughlin: A combination of hard work and luck! I have been so focused on swimming for so long, have been very fortunate and the stars have aligned for me. I have not had many serious injuries, knock on wood. I think the strongest thing is my ability to focus for hours on end and to apply that focus with ways to help me improve my technique.