It doesn’t matter if you left the sport last week or a decade ago. The athlete in you still exists. Just because you are no longer competitive or required to attend practices doesn’t mean you are no longer an athlete.

That’s where so many people slip up. Your identity is what dictates your behavior. Your behavior is what dictates your reality. Your reality dictates the life you live.

What does that mean? Well, let’s say you were a Division I athlete and you recently graduated. While in your sport, you probably followed a fairly strict meal plan, trained regularly, (maybe twice a day) and you based social decisions on whether or not you had a meet, match, or game the next day. That identity of being an athlete is what kept you on track. Sure, you could have had a “work hard, play hard” mindset, but you always knew you were working toward something. You were consistent. You didn’t think twice about eating a particular meal because you knew you would burn it off over time. You didn’t obsess over “problem areas,” because a strong, lean physique was part of the package. (Well, maybe you did obsess and now you’re thinking, “What in the world was I complaining about that for!?“)

When you stop a sport, most people lose consistency. I know I did. When I left gymnastics at 15, I gained 15 pounds within the first few months of retiring. That made me the heaviest I’d ever weighed in my life. (For the record, I am now at 26, back to my competitive gymnastics weight. (Give or take a few pounds – and I am stronger than ever). I didn’t think much of the weight gain then, I figured it happened to all athletes after stopping a sport. I didn’t know otherwise.

What I didn’t know was that once you leave your sport, all it takes is the same structure to stay in shape.

Whether you’ve left gymnastics, soccer, basketball, tennis, ice skating, softball, swimming, or any other sport you’ve known your entire life, immediately you feel a void. A loss of identity. An absence of purpose. What do I do with all this free time? It doesn’t have to be like that. Here’s what you need:

A Consistent Training Schedule: What days did you used to have practice? You’ve done it before, see if you can keep it up. If it’s been a while since you’ve trained 5 days a week, find a day where you have the time or can make the time to work out. If you want something bad enough, you know you will find a way to get it no matter how many tries it takes. If you want to be the best, you will put in the time. You know this, you’re an athlete.

An 80/20 Split Nutrition-Wise: Everything in moderation. The 80/20 split means that if you are making 80% good decisions, you will progress despite 20% poor decisions. Now, think of this like a grading scale. Sure, this is fine if you want a B- body. If you want to be an A body, you will need to make 90% good decisions and only allow for 10% poor decisions. The choice is up to you, but when you think about it this way, it can seem less daunting and impossible.

A Supportive Environment: This may be the most important aspect of it all. If you’re surrounded by people who don’t support your goals, a loud sleeping environment, or a home without food itself, you’re doomed. It’s almost impossible to stick to a consistent healthy diet if all of your family eats out to celebrate every little accomplishment (not to mention, impossible to save money to BUY healthy food!). It’s tough when your friends invite you out on the weekends and you throw off your sleep patterns over time. And it’s hard to bring a lunch from home or make your own meals when you don’t have food or appliances to do so with!

These things seem like no-brainers, but this is where the majority of my clients struggle most. It’s not about who is working out the hardest or eating the cleanest. It’s those who stay consistent over time. It’s those who change one thing in their life, master it, and move onto the next. If you’re starting from square one, don’t worry, this won’t happen overnight. Allow yourself time to adapt. I always say, “Be your own best friend.” If your best friend came to you frustrated they weren’t reaching their goals, what advice would you give them? We are all our own worst critics. So, it’s important we recognize that and stay kind to ourselves without enabling ourselves by creating excuses. There is a difference.

Photos by: Erik Umphery