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Healthy Eating Secrets and Motivation Tips from Olympic Athletes

It's time to get your game face on. As the 2012 Summer Games gear up, we scored the secrets to success from the Olympic athletes making the trip to London. From their diets and travel tips to how they mentally prepare, here's how they make it happen.

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Lolo Jones
Harry How/Getty Images Sport
Donald Miralle/Getty Images Sport
Nick Laham/Getty Images Sport
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Nap and Nosh

That's how Olympic bronze medalist, 10,000-meter runner and marathoner Shalane Flanagan preps for a race. "When I'm heavy into training, I try to get eight to ten hours of sleep a night, which is quite a bit for most people. I also take a nap on top of that, which can vary from 30 minutes to two hours. With that nap I don't need any caffeine later in the day -- just getting off my feet for an hour does the trick."

Flanagan also credits her energy levels to always having a snack ready. "I munch on a piece of fruit, a banana or apple, or Gatorade G Series Pro Carb Energy Chews; they taste just like gummi worms."

Motivation Mantra
"I'm part of a training group, and it's nice to have accountability to help me get out the door. I've never come back from a run and said 'Gosh, I wish I didn't do that.' As soon as I get out there and commit to it, I always enjoy it. It's just those first few steps that feel like drudgery."

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Grow Your Own Greens

Swimmer and 11-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin credits getting through a heavy routine to a hearty bed of veggies. "I really lean toward a plant-based diet. I have seven vegetable beds, one is all kale since that's one of the best foods for you." Before she hits a wall, Coughlin says she reaches for a smoothie of coconut water, kale, spinach, and romaine, with some add-ons like apples, celery, or pineapple. "It's harder when I travel and I don't have a green drink handy. When I'm on the road, I just try to eat as many salads as possible."

Motivation Mantra
"Leading a healthy, active lifestyle is all about momentum. If I'm in the middle of training it's easy for me to keep that up. It gets tough when I'm on a break. I just try to start my day with a good breakfast and a quick walk, something simple that gets the day off on the right foot. The more I do that, the more I make healthy choices that reflect the good choices made earlier."

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Go Granola

Natasha Hastings, Olympic gold medalist and track-and-field sprinter, swears by good old traditional granola bars before a race. "I keep those and dry fruits close by on competition days when my eating schedule is kind of funny." Another tip she takes with her? Be a minimalist when you travel. "I'm the carry-on queen...I've done a month in Europe with just a carry-on bag. My boyfriend and I have a joke when we travel to see who can get through the security line faster." Looks like competition doesn't have to only be on the track!

Motivation Mantra
"Everyone has days when they don't want to work out. What keeps me going is knowing that while I'm in bed my competitors are out there getting better. That's my reminder."

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Veg Out

To keep two-time silver medalist and track-and-field sprinter Allyson Felix on her toes, she hits the kitchen for grilled fish, chicken, and veggies on top of heaps of pasta. "My go-to snacks are pretty basic -- almonds, cashews, and grapes," Felix says. "Though I do love ice cream, Ben and Jerry's Oatmeal Cookie Chunk is my favorite!" To stay tuned up on the road Felix spends her time in the air sleeping as much as possible. "It helps me adjust to the new time zone once we land."

Motivation Mantra
"I focus on my competitors and what they're doing. I can't slack off, I have to be on top of my game. I'm always thinking about my goals."

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Have a Sneaky Shortcut

World-champion hurdler Lolo Jones knows getting in veggies is important for her performance, but there's only so much spinach a girl can eat. "I make a protein shake every day and put spinach in that -- it's easy to get in the amount you need that way," she says. And though racers are known to declare their undying love for carbs, Jones doesn't indulge in them often. "I load up on chicken, fish, steak, and veggies. No bread and no carbs, especially at night." Though as a professed chocolate lover, Jones admits to treating herself occasionally. "I made the switch to dark chocolate...before I couldn't stand it but now I'll have some 90 percent dark chocolate with almonds. It fills me up so I'm not just eating chocolate like crazy!"

Motivation Mantra
"Never discount the fact that resting is just as important as work. Sometimes when I'm not motivated I use that time to shut it down and take a rest day or two. When I do that, it ignites a flame and makes me realize how much I enjoy running. And any time I need a dose of inspiration, I watch Soul Surfer (the story of surfer Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm to a shark attack)."

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Shop Whole Foods

And we're not talking about the trendy grocery store. "I'm a huge advocate of whole foods," says Sarah Groff, Olympic triathlete. "I don't eat processed foods, including bars or supplements. I believe in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables." To keep energized while traveling, Groff drinks water constantly and skips napping once she's arrived. "I get out and get some exercise, no matter how awful it feels. I also wear compression socks on the plane, because that whole cankles thing does not feel good."

Motivation Mantra
"At the end of the day, I have to remember that even though I'm not in an office, this is my job. And like any job, I have to trick myself to make it more pleasurable sometimes, because it's easy to forget how lucky I am are to be able to do this. If I'm feeling too routine I'll run somewhere else, make a new playlist, and buy a new outfit to make me want to train."

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Splurge on Quality

Swimmer Jessica Hardy credits her stamina through long workout days to eating small meals five to six times throughout the day. "It's always worth investing the time and money to sustain proper nutrition. Your body deserves the best and it will thank you later, whether you're in the pool or just running around with your kids." To keep her body in tune Hardy stocks up on lean protein, fruits, veggies, and snacks like acai bowls and Greek yogurt.

Motivation Mantra
"I try to get active before I have time to talk myself out of it. Fitness is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. I take each workout minute by minute, and don't get caught up in the entirety of the whole workout."

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Just Eat the Frozen Yogurt

Though Olympic silver medalist and gymnast Alicia Sacramone tries to eat dairy-and-gluten free as much as possible, she still caves from time to time. "Once I eliminated gluten from my diet, I stopped getting food comas and my performance really improved. I have more energy but I still give in and say, 'All right, today I want frozen yogurt.' I still have whatever I want, it's just having it in moderation."

Motivation Mantra
"I have days when I really don't want to do anything, but I make it a point to do something physical every day. It may not be as grilling of a workout as a typical day, but I'll do light cardio, the stationary bike, the elliptical, or just a dance class. Though I did try Zumba once and it was pretty hard. I was so tired after!"

Originally published on, June 2012.

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