How (and why) to be an everyday athlete

“I’m not really a runner.” “I’m just doing a 5k”. “I just do this to keep in shape.” “I’m not really an athlete, but . . .” YES. YOU. ARE. People give all kinds of stories to explain why they aren’t athletes. But we can all be everyday athletes– folks who use our bodies to do awesome things. Just because your insta feed is full of ultrarunners crushing 200 mile races doesn’t mean that your bike commute, dog walk, or weekend 5-mile trail run doesn’t count. If you’re an active human, you ARE an athlete. Merriam-Webster IDs an athlete as “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina”. For lots of us, that’s just part of daily life. Note that there’s nothing in here about being the fastest in your age group or having a certain body type. 

The government publishes physical activity guidelines which are based on research findings. The most recent version, released in 2018, stresses that moving more and sitting less is key, in addition to the total time spent being active, and that benefits of activity are both immediate (better sleep and mood) and persistent (lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease). So the smart kids endorse the idea of being an everyday athlete. Check!

You can and should treat your body like an athlete would, even if your “sport” is biking to work, taking yoga classes, or hitting up Orange Theory. Physiotherapist and all-around wizard Kelly Starrett likes to say that humans should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves. That’s the task of the everyday athlete: take care of the instrument you use to go through your daily life (that’s your body). It’s easy to ignore this advice until it’s too late, but surprise! It’s also easy to do it. It just takes awareness and intention. 

If you’ve ever made a major change to your lifestyle, you might be familiar with the idea that you don’t know how good you can feel until you do. Some folks have this epiphany when they first go vegetarian or vegan, or quit drinking, or start walking. You might have had one already– it’s time to level up! What does that look like?

  • If you are eating a vegetarian diet (or you’re vegan-curious like me!), you are already on the road to optimal recovery. So make sure you’re actually eating plants– as a vegan, it’s possible to eat mostly processed foods (I see you, impossible burger and oreos!), but that won’t serve your athlete’s body best. Eat veggies. Eat whole grains. Eat fruits and legumes and nuts, oh my! And save those other goodies for a special treat. 
  • When you’re active, you need fuel. If you increase your activity, you need more fuel. This might mean packing snacks and meals when you’re out and about– vegans can’t always find nourishing options on the go as easily as others. Are you bike commuting? Throw an extra snack in your bag so you don’t run out of steam for the ride home. Nutrient-dense foods that travel well include fresh or dried fruits and nuts or nut butters. The convenience-food version of this is a whole-foods bar such as Larabars. Does this take a little planning? Yes. Is it hard, once you get the hang of it? No.
  • Keep hydrated. If you are moving more, you are likely sweating and breathing more, both of which cause you to lose fluids. Everyone and their mom has a cute hydroflask or other reusable bottle these days. Rock one. Or develop an herbal tea habit. As a bonus, keeping well hydrated means you have to get up to pee so you’re avoiding the dreaded sitting slump.
  • Recover like an athlete. Treat your tissues like you love them. You might spend a few minutes before bed foam rolling, or working on your tissues with a lacrosse ball, or moving through some range of motion exercises. Maybe you do it at your standing desk, maybe you do it while your morning coffee’s brewing. Jut make it a habit.
  • What are you wearing? I don’t mean you need to step out in head-to-toe compression gear or rock a spandex look, but are your work and play clothes allowing you to move well? Especially think about your shoes. Does standing, moving, and walking feel good? Or are your toes crunches and your achilles shortened? Can you take a full-body stretch? There are options for folks with day jobs in most professional contexts. Find flat shoes, or get comfortable with being “the sneaker guy” (I personally have about 10 pairs of casual, colorful kicks). Seek out clothes with a little stretch that are washable (now that athleisure is a thing, you can find them in mainstream clothing stores as well as places like REI or specialty athletic brands).
Footwear spotted in the wild at a professional conference

If you keep your plant-fueled body in peak condition, you might find you have more energy, function more efficiently, and want to add even more activity into your life. You might find that you feel like walking when you used to drive, that you want to sign up for something that used to sound crazy, or that you beat an old PR without trying to. Congrats, everyday athlete, your’e crushing it!

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