When you're an avid home cook and foodie like Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin, being stuck eating all of your meals for weeks on end inside Olympic Village isn't something to look forward to. But at this year's summer Olympic Games in London (a city not exactly known for its amazing cuisine), the food was thankfully better than expected, says Coughlin.
"It's cafeteria food, so you have to have that in mind, but this was the best food I've seen at Olympic Villages, and this was my third. London did a really good job of having fresh vegetables and a really well stocked salad bar," notes the swimmer, who picked up her 12th Olympic medal this year. She was also able to sample some of the local "street food" offerings that were scattered around the village. "You could get a taste of Wales or Scotland. And they have all these wonderful cheeses and things. It was kind of fun. It reminded me of a festival, like those food and wine festivals, just no wine."
Well, no wine for Coughlin and her teammates, at least, since USA Swimming forbids athletes from drinking alcohol while training during the Olympics, a rule the 30-year-old doesn't necessarily agree with. "I think it's kind of ridiculous just because at home I definitely enjoy a glass of wine when I'm training," she explains. "It's just a glass of wine and it's not going to kill you. But that's the team policy, which I guess I kind of understand."
Back in Northern California, Coughlin tries to focus on a healthy diet by cooking at home with her husband of three years, swim coach Ethan Hall, limiting her fish and meat intake to a few times a week, incorporating lots of fruits and vegetables into meals, and arming herself with healthy snacks. "One of my go-to snacks are California dried plums. I keep those in my purse along with raw almonds and herbal teas," she shares.
Coughlin, who is a spokesperson for California dried plums, says she especially likes the fact that items like dried fruits and nuts are healthy and portable and don't have to be refrigerated, helpful attributes for when she's on the road. "I'm constantly traveling and don't want to be at the mercy of any hotel or fast food chain or airport," she explains. "That way when you get that 3 o'clock blood sugar drop and you're starving, you're not tempted."
That's not to say the super-fit Coughlin is always focused on healthy grub. "I definitely indulge occasionally and I think that's really important not to get to crazy with any one diet. You know, it's depressing."
On the fitness front, the Olympics may be over, but Coughlin hasn't stopped exercising. Her current regime includes the TRX suspension training program, running, and yes, swimming "a little." As for whether she'll continue to compete professionally now that she's hit the ripe old age of 30, that answer is most likely yes, but whether another Olympics is in the cards remains to be seen.
"I still haven't fully decided what I'm doing, but I love being a professional athlete. It's such a wonderful job and I know that I'm blessed to be able to do this," Coughlin confesses. "And I love the day to day training. As grueling as it is and as exhausting as it is I love it and I'm going to continue to do it. I just don't know if another four years is going to happen or not. I'm just going to take it day by day right now."
In addition to swimming in front of billions at three different Olympic games, Coughlin has been in the pop culture spotlight over the last few years as well, with a stint on the ninth season of "Dancing With the Stars" in 2009 and an appearance earlier this year in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, in which she posed, along with a few of her teammates, wearing nothing but body paint made to look like a swimsuit. When it came to concerns about posing in a magazine full of half-naked models, well, Coughlin didn't have any.
"It wasn't overly sexualized and we had smiles on our faces and it wasn't over the top," she says. "I went to an all girls' Catholic school and the head nun was giving my dad compliments about the issue. So I think if Sister Kathy approves, it's fine."
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