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Olympic swimmer Travis Mahoney

How an Olympic swimmer prepares to race in Rio

When Travis Mahoney was a primary school student, he had to write down his life dream, which was: ‘To swim for Australia at the Olympics’. In August he’ll live that dream and swim the 400-metre medley in Rio. But his aspirations weren’t realised easily. In 2015 he lost his aunty after a nine-year cancer battle. She was a woman he describes as his ‘biggest inspiration’. His grandmother died shortly afterwards – all while he was training to qualify. But it gave him the motivation to train harder than ever. He qualified on the first night of trials. Here, he shares his training, eating and sleeping routine ahead of the big race.

Training timetable

Between now and Rio, Mahoney will be in the pool every morning at 6am for up to two hours, except on Wednesday when he gets a sleep in and Sunday which is a rest day. After a morning swim he’ll complete either a gym session, core stability training or pilates, and then it’s usually back in the pool for more laps for one or two hours.

If his schedule allows it, he’ll try and have a morning nap. Completing a university subject at Deakin last semester made this difficult, but now he’ll defer for a semester so he can preserve his energy for the race towards the gold.

Sleep schedule

Sleep is an essential component of training. ‘If you can get a good amount of deep sleep, it’s really good for recovery, that’s when the human growth hormone is increased and it has recovery benefits,’ Mahoney explains. He uses mindfulness tools to reduce over-thinking when resting. He will also begin to transition into a new sleep routine ahead of the Olympics, because the finals won’t start until 10pm, in order to align with US prime-time programming.

Before heading to Rio, Mahoney and his team mates will train at Auburn University in Alabama and get on the right schedule in order to manage the late-night swims once in Brazil. ‘We’ll have breakfast later, we’ll have dinner later and we’ll go to bed later. We’re just shifting how we do things,’ Mahoney explains. Sleep is an essential part of the elite athlete program. ‘It’s important for controlling nervous energy before and after racing,’ he says.

'If you can get a good amount of deep sleep, it’s really good for recovery, that’s when the human growth hormone is increased and it has recovery benefits.'

Travis Mahoney,
Olympic swimmer and Deakin University student

Food and nutrition plan

‘We consume about 5000 calories a day because we have such a high output,’ Mahoney says. He has worked with a dietitian and kept a food journal to establish where he needs to amend his diet. Before training he’ll have something light – a glass of juice and a muffin, for example. After training, he’ll consume something high in protein. If it’s been a big session, he’ll add carbohydrates. Lunch is often two toasted sandwiches or ham and salad rolls.

And dinner is always packed with protein. This meal is colour coded green, yellow or red depending on the demands he faces the following morning. ‘Green you don’t need too much, yellow you need a fair bit and red you need enough carbohydrates for the session in the morning. So if I’m having a curry I’ll add an extra half a cup of rice,’ Mahoney explains.

Travis Mahoney is completing a Bachelor of Teaching (Science)/Science at Deakin University. He will compete in the 400-metre medley in the Rio Olympics.

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