When you think of Australian swimming greats they don’t come more accomplished than Ian Thorpe. With five Olympic gold medals — an Aussie record — and a bunch more to his name he knows what it takes in and out of the water to be a sporting champion.
Thorpe, now 38, retired from the sport in 2006, aged 24, but admits he still refers back to the advice he received during his time as an Olympic athlete when it comes to his diet and exercise now, proving the gruelling routine of a professional swimmer is hard to unlearn.
“There’s a part of being an athlete where you have all of these experts that you can draw all this information from that I can put into everyday life now,” he says as he chats to 9Honey Coach inside a Surry Hills gym where he is filming an exclusive workout for Optus Sport Fitness.
“When I was swimming and doing all of that training, I could eat whatever I wanted, it didn’t matter, because you burn it off, but the quality of the food makes a huge difference,” he says.
Thorpe’s eating habits have changed considerably since his days of swimming 40 hours a week, where “sometimes you can’t eat enough to keep weight on” — a problem he now admits would be nice to have, since stepping away from the swimming world — and it’s now all about enjoying food and making compromises along the way.
“If I got out during the week and I have a glass of wine, [I won’t have] dessert, so that’s the compromise there. It’s just about being sensible with portions, that’s kind of what I follow,” he says.
So, what does a typical day on a plate look like for the swimming legend, and Optus Sport ambassador, now? See below…
I have a coffee straight away, and I do my first email check and then after that I have breakfast. I have a mixed muesli, it could be healthier, it’s not like it’s in butter and baked or anything like that but it has some things that are higher in fat. So, I have less of it but I enjoy eating it. I usually have it with Greek yoghurt and throw some fruit on it and that’s breakfast done.
I don’t snack. I try not to snack. [My breakfast] takes me to lunch. I’ve tried doing multiple meals throughout the day but I actually prefer sitting down and spending time with lunch instead.
I try to make sure I stop, that’s the one thing that’s important. Because if you’re eating on the go I don’t think you’re enjoying your food to start with. I try to make it social and go out for a lunch or have people at my place. Occasionally I’ll have a sandwich because I feel like it, but wraps are more appropriate for the amount of carbs, and I have some favourites. A chicken salad with some slow release carbs in it is the other go-to for me.
When do you like to workout?
I actually go in the middle of the day to the gym so there’s no one there. It varies depending on schedule but if I had the choice it’s the middle of the day. I’m one of the lucky ones.
Dinner varies a little [depending] on how busy I am. If I’ve got time, I’ll cook everything. But if I don’t have time, it’s then going to, depending on what it is, be something that is sustaining. If I have all weekend, I’ll actually cook, and I’ll cook multiple dishes and I’ll put some in the freezer. I’ll have a dish for that night that can carry over to later in the week so that’s kind of what I do. It’s all around time, if I get home and I’m exhausted it gives me the option to grab something from the freezer instead of doing the Uber Eats thing, which I still do but it’s a choice then.
I still eat carbs with dinner, because it actually helps you sleep. I try to go for the slow-release carbs but if I’m going to have pasta, I’m going to enjoy it I don’t care.
Has it been hard to change your routine since you stopped swimming?
I love a routine when I need it and there’s times now that I’m on as strict a routine as what I was when I was swimming, but I actually like the freedom and not being controlled by my alarm — that’s what I like.
Do you still swim now?
I don’t, I had a shoulder replacement so I can swim at the beach and catch a wave but I can’t really do laps.
Do the upcoming Olympics make you want to get back in the pool?
Not in that sense. I get anxious for the athletes, I can feel what they’re going through and when I’m watching them I can feel that still. But no, I’m too old to get back into it, but yeah I can still feel it, I get butterflies in my stomach