By random chance, I got to talk to a guy who used to be US #1 Fencer. He said his name was Stan and he was here to teach fencing because a banker paid him to train his daughter. He also conducts lessons at Turf City. I did not ask his name or credentials further as it seemed impolite. His dad is also the former #1 in the US for fencing, hence he came from a background in the sport.
Prior to this conversation, I had zero interest in fencing and hence had no meaningful question to ask him regarding fencing techniques or the particular “Mecca” of his sport, or what makes a meaningful life in fencing.
However, I was really interested in world-class athlete’s training and how their lifestyle is. Hearing it first hand made it even concrete for me. That said, the information is completely his experience though there are many points I agree with.
- 6am – Wake up
- 7am – 1 hour of fencing
- 8am – 45 mins of Running on the beach without shoes
- 845am – 45mins of fencing footwork on sand
- 930am – Head back home, cook breakfast for himself, coach and dad
His breakfast is 6 egg whites, 2 slabs of chicken breast, whole wheat toast, 1 litre of water
He says he finishes 4 – 5 bottles of 1.5L of water a day. He says the human body is based by evolution to hoard and value water. If lesser water is drunk, it is telling the body nature is lacking in water hence the heart pumps lesser blood to conserve water. By drinking more water, the heart sends more blood to the muscles and hence performance is naturally increased. He tricks his body into better performance by drinking a lot more water than necessary.
- Rest till 12pm
- 12pm – 1 hour fencing practice
- 1pm – Lunch
Note: His diet has 7,000 to 8000 calories a day. This is nothing new. All elite athletes easily burn this amount a day. The idea is to keep his body in a constant anabolic state (where it is repairing muscle) rather than catabolic state (where it is breaking down muscle to repair other muscles) so constant intake of food during waking hours is necessary. He also drinks protein shakes regularly.
However the danger is prescribing this constant food intake for a normal office worker who is a sports enthusiast. The nutritional needs of an elite athlete and civilians are different.
- Rest 2 hours
Rest refers to the body is a completely relaxed state. This means you can be reading or thinking. He discourages watching tv or videos of non-related material because it means your body is not really resting. The best activity during rest is to sleep.
I liked how he said he was completely comfortable being alone. He can always be thinking to himself or enjoy doing nothing. Purposefully being free is one of the highest states of self-control.
He shared the example of his friend being over at his apartment and his television was spoilt. He noticed his friend could not do anything without the TV, his friend was fidgety, moving things and was just plain uncomfortable. It is like we are so conditioned to be constantly entertained in this world that when we have to use our own brain to entertain ourselves, we are no longer able to do it.
- 4pm – Footwork practice
- 8pm – Cross Training at the Gym or Tennis (1 hour)
- 930pm – 1030pm: Sleep
One good anecdote he shares is books put him to sleep quickly, hence he tends to read before bed. This goes in line with good sleep habits – removing bright light sources and relaxing just before bed time.Before sleep, he takes a bottle of Casein. Casein is slow digesting protein. A natural alternative is cottage cheese.
During sleep, he naturally wakes up twice during the night to pee and drink more water. This is how he keeps his body hydrated during the night.
He also says if he could only recommend 1 book, he recommends Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. This is also a book I recommended. You can buy it from Amazon or Book Depository. Among the concepts in the book is the topic of “deliberate practice” and 10,000 hours, both that I agree with truly. It also discovers the secrets to success in some fields or industries. Definitely a good read.
On a similar note, Talent is Overrated explains deliberate practice in greater detail.
He also talks about the lack of distractions in his lifestyle. His house had no television and very little access to internet. To perform optimally as a student and athlete for him, his social life suffered. Personally, this was my experience when I was in NTU Year 1. I had to manage a business while studying. I managed both well but my social life suffered.
He said that all the good coaches from Europe (particularly Ukraine) are now heading to USA and China because of better pay or opportunities. This seems to mirror the intellectual shift in the 1930s during the rise of Hitler and National Socialist Party in Germany. This being the case, it is no wonder USA is overtaking Europe in Olympic medals. Where the top brains go, achievements and accolades for their host countries follows.
Finally, he recommended the website of Alex Ariza, the trainer of Manny Pacquial. He followed the diet closely and his physique immediately saw improvement. I found it interesting how a world class athlete could also see improvement from another’s blog posts. This is the power of the Internet.