Being a talented athlete is one thing, but reaching the next level takes an incredible amount of commitment and dedication.

A top athlete needs to be strong, fast, and agile, but what many people overlook is the effort spent off the pitch that can hugely affect performance.

Every little detail from nutrition to sleep can make all the difference when an athlete turns up to game or race day.

Here are seven top tips for training like a professional athlete and gaining an edge over your competitors.

1. Athlete Nutrition

Nutrition is critically important for an athlete. Fuelling the body with a whole food diet can give you a competitive edge.

Digesting processed foods takes an accumulative toll on the body, hindering performance and recovery.

By cutting out processed foods and adding in more fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, you can prepare your body for battle.

Protein is also essential for an athlete’s recovery. As a rough guide, athletes should be consuming somewhere between 1.2 and 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

Spreading this protein out over 3-4 meals has shown to be the most beneficial for muscle synthesis. Some lean protein sources include beans, pulses, fish, chicken, low-fat cheeses, and tofu.

2. Resistance Training

It doesn’t matter what the sport, every athlete ( from endurance to power athletes) knows how necessary resistance training is for reaching their peak.

Resistance training helps to build strength, power, and speed.

Try to hit the gym at least 2-3 times per week.

Focus on compound and sport-specific movements that mimic the way you play.

Compound movements are more realistic in that they work multiple muscles at once - building strength, coordination, and flexibility, all at the same time.

3. Bodyweight Training

Bodyweight training is a great way to improve balance, coordination, and strength.

Bodyweight exercises train athletes to gain better awareness and control of their bodies while providing some variety to weighted resistance training.

By balancing resistance training with bodyweight exercises, athletes can gain strength and power while maintaining agility and flexibility.

The great thing about bodyweight training is that it can be done anywhere at any time.

4. Recovery

Recovery is essential in an athlete’s career and can genuinely make the difference not only in their performance.

But it can also contribute significantly to how long an athlete can sustain their peak form.

Adequate recovery allows top athletes to train day after day, without fatigue considerably affecting their performance.

Rest is a critical component of recovery, and an athlete must learn to understand when their body needs a break. Some recovery techniques include:

5. Mental Imagery

It may seem that an athlete’s most excellent tool is their body, but many people overlook the importance of the role the mind can play in an athlete’s performance.

Athletes often have to deal with a considerable amount of pressure, which can lead to self-doubt and a lack of confidence.

Mental imagery is an incredibly powerful tool that athletes use to gain confidence in themselves and perform to their best ability consistently.

Mental imagery or visualization is when an athlete uses their imagination to map out a scene in their mind, picturing in great detail what a successful training or game might look like and how it would feel.

Studies have shown that visual imagery can successfully lead to improved performance.

Michael Jordan is one example of many elite athletes that use this tool to achieve greatness:

“I visualized where I wanted to be, what kind of player I wanted to become. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there.” (1).

6. Sleep

There have been countless studies on the effect that sleep can have on an athletes performance (2,3).

A lack of sleep leads to longer recovery times, slower reaction speeds, increased risk of injury, and an increased risk of illness.

All of these factors lead to sub-optimum performance.

Because an athlete’s body is subject to a lot of physiological stress at training, athletes require more sleep.

For the average person, 7-8 of sleep usually is sufficient.

Athletes, however, should aim to get around nine hours of sleep per night.

Some ways to improve sleep quality include

  • Avoid caffeine later in the day
  • Be consistent with sleep and wake times
  • Minimize any artificial light and noise at night
  • Set a cooler bedroom temperature (around 20 degrees celsius)

7. Hydration

Athletes need to be especially careful with their hydration and ensure they drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.

An athlete is at an elevated risk of dehydration as you lose water in sweat during exercise.

Even mild dehydration can decrease concentration levels and affect performance.

When water loss reduces body weight by 2-3 percent, signs of fatigue, reduced power output, and reduced endurance appear (4).

Many elite athletes consume electrolytes during harder sessions, which help to retain water and limit the risk of dehydration.

Keep a bottle on you during the day from which you can sip. Use this water intake calculator to see how much fluid you should be consuming per day.

Bonus Tip: The Secret Weapon

At the elite level, athletes look for any means possible to give them an extra edge in competition. For many, one such ‘secret weapon’ is respiratory muscle training.

Many elite athletes utilise tools such as the Airofit as part of their overall training regimens. This training increases the endurance and strength of the muscles that allow you to intake and deliver as much oxygen to the working muscles as possible.

In addition, improving your breathing technique and ability in this way allows you to perform at higher levels without the feeling of breathlessness that can quickly put a halt to your maximal efforts.