Traditionally, the New Year is a time reserved for getting back into the flow of fitness and nutrition. And yet, as the calendar flipped to 2022, many Canadians were forced to reconfigure their resolution plans following the announcement that gyms would be temporarily closed to kick off the new year. However, if these past two years have taught us anything, it’s that a healthy lifestyle can be maintained from home if given the right tools and insight. For the third and final edition of our New Year’s fitness guide, World Junior champion and two-time national champion figure skater Nam Nguyen offers advice to those new to training and nutrition.
As a professional athlete, Nguyen has learned not only how to take care of his body but how to make those practices both sustainable and enjoyable. So, whether you’re a competitive skater travelling the globe in search of your next championship or simply trying to realign your lifestyle in the new year, let Nguyen’s advice be the final guide towards a healthier 2022.
Most people’s training tends to see ebbs and flows throughout the year. How does your training differ from the offseason to when you’re training for a major competition?
Nam Nguyen: Our offseason is usually around the spring leading into the beginning of summer, so that’s when I’ll typically taper a lot. Around then, I’m normally focused on doing some shows or tours, so the training is a lot different. But when I’m training for a major event, that’s when things obviously ramp up. Usually, that starts in July and August and then September through March is when we start hitting major events, so that’s where the intensity really increases. But like anything, you just have to be adaptable. I think that’s the key. You have to train differently for different goals, and it’s okay if those change throughout the year. It’s natural for everyone. You don’t have to be pushing your limits all the time but you also want to challenge yourself. It’s a balance.
What are pillars of your nutrition used both in training and the offseason that you couldn’t live without?
Nam Nguyen: Well, first and foremost, I’d say that I can’t really live without my eggs. It’s kind of my go-to food item in terms of the convenience and the nutrition-packed density they provide for me. To be able to keep up with the physical demands of figure skating, it’s really important to back that up with some solid nutrition. That’s where eggs come in. It’s really hard for me to sit still for a meal because I’m always on the ice or going to the gym for workouts or travelling to coach, so I just need something quick and easy to access. So, for anyone else with a busy schedule, you can take it from me: invest in eggs.
How have your workout recovery strategies evolved over the years?
Nam Nguyen: That is actually by far the most important change I’ve made over the years because, when I was younger, I just didn’t care about recovering my body. When I was younger, I’d get off the ice with no cool-down whatsoever. Then, I would just go immediately into other activities that were physically demanding and, the next morning, I’d be totally fine. But as I’ve gotten older, I have to pay extra attention to slowing down everything after a tough training day. Whether it be a cool-down stretch, some meditation, or even just making sure your nutrition is in order – like having a balanced dinner prepared on training days – these become so crucial in extending your prime. I don’t care how good you feel or how young you are, everybody needs to stretch, I promise.
There are so many differing opinions around dieting, especially at the start of the year. What are the biggest misconceptions you see surrounding proper nutrition?
Nam Nguyen: I think protein is one of the hottest subjects in the nutrition world right now. There are definitely narratives selling the idea that meat is the only real source of protein and that’s just not true. But to be fair, even for me, until a few years ago, I thought, “Protein is all about meat, baby!” But then I learned that there are much better, more sustainable ways to gather protein. When I worked with my nutritionist these past two seasons, she helped me open up my eyes to the many avenues to protein. But to me, that’s the biggest misconception. If you’re plant-based or just looking for alternative sources, you can still train hard and see your results without the consumption of animals.
For someone re-engaging with their fitness routine or beginning for the first time, what tips would you offer to make it a sustainable lifestyle?
Nam Nguyen: Unfortunately, Canada is in the middle of this lockdown again, where gyms are being shut down, and so it’s really hard for some people to take on the “new year, new me” mentality. Everybody wants to be active as much as possible and now there are new challenges to that. But my advice would be to just take it outside. Enjoy Mother Nature. Sure, it’s cold, but we’re Canadians. We’re used to that. So, go outdoor skating, get a run in, go for a walk or a hike with friends. This is also a great time to hone in on those nutritional aspects of your life and build healthy habits. Then, when the weather warms up and gyms reopen, you’ll have a strong foundation of nutrition that your body is used to and can use as fuel.
How does an active lifestyle impact the rest of your life?
Nam Nguyen: Especially for me, coming from a sporting world, I feel like my sporting life and my everyday life are melded together. I think that’s inevitable for any high-level athlete. No matter how hard I try to separate the two, they’ll always be connected and one will always affect the other. But I also think the same principle can be applied to the rest of the world. It’s so easy to tie in your self-worth to your training regime. At the same time, though, it’s important to make an effort to separate the two, at times. It’s great to hold yourself accountable, but don’t let a bad training day ruin the rest of your week. Ultimately, leading a consistently healthy lifestyle makes my day-to-day life so much happier. You just feel good. And if you know it’s a lifestyle and not just a flash of inspiration, it feels so much better.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.