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In a single match, soccer players run on average about 7 miles. As 24 teams around the globe prepared for the biggest tournament in women’s soccer—the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup—these athletes must be trained well mentally, fueled properly, and ready to work up a sweat.
Kelley O’Hara, American Olympic gold medalist in soccer, is no stranger to the tough demands placed on an athlete. Decorated with medals and honors in her sport, O’Hara trains her body to play hard every minute she is on the field.
Aside from executing soccer drills and practicing important plays, there are two key elements that help her say in tip-top shape: running and fuel. Running 5 to 6 days a week, O’Hara expresses the importance of running for her routine. “The more fit you are, the better you can perform on the field.”
“I love the way I feel when I’m done running,” she continues. “Nothing is better than the feeling after a grueling workout. And if I’m fit, I love the feeling of pushing beyond what you think you can do during a run.”
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So what does a typical running workout look like for this soccer super star? For sprint endurance during periods: 100 yards in 15 seconds, and then rest 15 seconds. Repeat 12 to 16 times, completing two sets. For longer endurance over an entire match: Half-mile repeats. Run hard for a half of a mile—which O’Hara aims to do in under 3 minutes—and then rest for 2 minutes. Repeat as many times as you feel appropriate for your body. Since these two workouts are purely for speed and power on the soccer field, proper rest is needed in, both between sets and after the entire workout, to max out at top speed every time.
“I love to be able to just relax and decompress,” she says. “If I am near the ocean, I enjoy surfing or being in the water. As a professional athlete, it’s important what I do on the field, but it’s equally important to take care of my body when my workout is over.”
Before her run, she tries to keep her food intake light. A cup of coffee and a bar in the morning is all she really consumes before her sprint workouts. Lighter food intake is easier on her stomach when O’Hara works on her speed and longer-distance runs—a balance between body and fuel that O’Hara says is key to her success. For post-run fuel, O’Hara understands the importance of feeding her muscles with the right blend of protein and carbs. This will aid in quicker muscle recovery so she’s ready to go for her next workout, as well as making sure she gets the right vitamins and minerals she needs to keep her muscles satisfied.
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So what’s one post-practice beverage that this soccer star has in common with plenty of runners? “I first started drinking chocolate milk to refuel in college when one of my assistant coaches said there were studies that proved that low-fat chocolate milk was great for recovery,” recalls O’Hara. “So after practice we would get out two big gallons and drink it together as a team.”