Meghan O’Leary: 2016 Olympics Rower
Meghan O’Leary, 2016 Olympian and four time National Team member for US rowing is not only training with Beet It Sport, but is now one of our leading Ambassadors.
Meghan O’Leary (left), a rising star in the rowing world, is our January 2018 Beet It Sport Shot Ambassador (Photo Credit: US Rowing)
Meghan says “For this times where you’re at the last push in a race, where you just need that last bit of energy to get through the line…Beet It Sport helps gets me through the race and through the line.”
How did you get involved in rowing?
I grew up playing all kinds of sports and was a two-sport NCAA Division I college athlete, playing volleyball and softball at the University of Virginia. Head UVA Women’s Rowing Coach, Kevin Sauer invited me to come out for the team, seeing the potential and even going so far as to say I could be an Olympian, but clearly I was a bit busy with my other sports! Regardless, his invitation sort of planted the seed and after I graduated from college and was beginning a career at ESPN, I started to use the rowing machine in my workouts. A couple of years later, I moved to Hartford, Connecticut for work and was looking for something new and challenging to do outside of my job so decided to give the real thing a try. I literally Googled “rowing” and found a nearby boathouse on the Connecticut River. I signed up for lessons and quickly joined the Master’s team — which is basically the community club adult recreational team. After just a couple of months, I realized I was pretty decent and absolutely loved it so decided to see how far I could go in the sport. It had always been a dream of mine to be a professional athlete. That was the summer of 2010, and the rest as they say, is history. A year later I was invited to the United States National Team Training Center and six years later, I was racing in the 2016 Summer Olympics W2x Final.
Growing up, who was your all time inspirational athlete?
When I was a kid I plastered my wall with posters and magazine pictures of strong women athletes. Any great athlete I read about in a magazine, I would cut out and tape to my wall. Jackie-Joyner Kersee, Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Fernandez, Stacy Dragila and the entire U.S. Women’s Soccer team were just some of the faces I walked past everyday on my way to school. I was obsessed with Mia Hamm–like, superfan status. I had multiple posters of her on my walls and dreamt of the opportunity to meet her. I played soccer growing up and was in complete awe of the U.S. Women’s National Team. They were my heroes. I remember recording the 1999 World Cup Final (on VHS!) and re-watching it over and over. Mia Hamm played with such tenacity and a quiet fierceness. She was dominant yet humble, and as a female athlete, unabashedly intense and aggressive in her style of play.
Best rowing achievement so far?
I set out to make the Olympic team and competing in Rio at the 2016 Summery Olympic Games was a huge personal goal of mine, but winning the silver medal at the 2017 World Championships with my boat partner, Ellen Tomek is perhaps my greatest achievement in rowing to date. Ellen and I have committed our careers to making the United States competitive and successful in the Women’s Double event. Our silver medal in 2017 was the highest finish and only fifth medal ever won by the United States in that event at an Olympics or World Championships since women have been allowed to compete. We made history as the first crew to win a silver medal and we’re still on the road to hopefully become the first crew to win a gold medal.
I need the right nutrients to provide the energy to do the work, while at the same time elevating the capacity at which my body is working. Beet-It Sport bars and shots are a key part of that proper fueling process.
How do you balance training and competition life with life outside of the sport?
It can be really tough sometimes and I am constantly working to find balance. Rowing demands a lot of time and energy for training and recovery in order to be successful. When you train six to eight hours a day, six days a week, it leaves very little time and energy for life outside of sport, but I do believe a healthy balance is important and even necessary. I have a job and also volunteer outside of rowing so it can get difficult to balance all of these things and make sure those other activities don’t have a negative impact on my athletic career. For me, it’s all about time management and prioritization. I plan ahead and schedule out my day and week, with to-do lists and blocked off time for training, recovery, work. etc. Right now my rowing career is the priority so I have to build out my other priorities around that. When I am at a competition, that has to be my main focus and I am very deliberate about removing any other distractions that may take away from that focus: putting up an out-of-office for my work email, telling friends and family ahead of time my schedule and how to follow the racing, etc. On the flip side of that balance, when I am at work, volunteering, or spending time with my family and friends, I try to make sure that no how matter how little that time may be, that it is high quality and I am focused on them or the work I need to get through. There can be great benefits to stepping away and building in breaks from the focus and intensity that comes with being an elite athlete, but you have to remember that everything requires time and energy and you only have a limited amount to spread across the various areas in your life.
Aspirations in triathlon?
To be the first United States crew in history to win a medal in the Women’s Double at the Olympics. Preferably, it’s a shiny gold color.
Can you give us an insight into your pre-race routine?
I am very laid back before a race. I try to relax as much as possible as the days leading up to a race offer a rare opportunity to relax since training volume is low and I’m not going into work each day. I cut back a bit on the sugary sports drinks and use electrolyte only drinks (ie: Nuun) and lots of water. I do believe in carb loading, but try to be rational about it. I use to stuff my face with pancakes the day before but realized this wasn’t the best approach for me. I eat very simple carbs, and start to eliminate fruits and veggies from my diet two days prior to a race.
What are your top three sport nutrition tips?
1) don’t count calories! 2) Get as much protein as you can, especially for women. Protein after strength workouts, and right before bed really help the body stay fueled and help with body composition/muscle building and retention. 3) Don’t be afraid to eat during training. You need to get the proper nutrition during every training session in order to properly recover for the next workout. This is even more important for triathletes who typically train at least twice each day.
What motivates you to train and compete harder?
The great thing about sport and rowing specifically, is that there is no such thing as perfection. You can always improve and even if you’re beating everybody around you, you can still compete against yourself by getting stronger and going faster than a previous time. I know that I am still improving each day and haven’t yet realized my full potential. This is motivating in itself. Rowing is a tough sport. You have to be willing to endure a lot of pain and exhaustion to keep going, but I still love what I do and know that there are new limits to reach and goals to achieve.
If you could be a professional athlete in another sport, which sport and why?
This is a tough one. I have such admiration and love for so many different sports. I never really got into tennis and wish that I would have. My mother is a great tennis player so I probably have it in me, but I gravitated toward the team sports growing up. I really love the combination of precision and power, finesse and explosiveness in tennis. Just as I loved the feeling of a good kill or blocking a big hit in volleyball or nailing a three-pointer at the buzzer in basketball, I imagine I would relish the feeling of hitting a line shot for game point in tennis. As a professional athletic career, tennis probably has some of the greatest opportunities out there for women athletes. I mean, who doesn’t want to be Serena Williams!?
What are your top three sport nutrition tips?
Consistency is everything. I’ve been asked a lot about what I eat differently on race days versus training days and my answer is always, “it’s not that different.” As an endurance athlete, you are training your body to operate as cleanly and effectively as possible. If on race day I decide to throw a huge kink into the system by eating and drinking things that I don’t on a normal basis, my body is going to freak out a bit. So I believe in keeping in consistent; identifying what works for you; and separate from a little variation to properly fuel for a maximum effort, don’t do anything drastically different.
Do your homework. I have made a lot of improvements to my nutrition over the years competing as an elite athlete by simply reading and studying how what I eat and drink will impact my performance. Paying attention to which products work best for you and how they make you feel during training and competition is crucial to identifying proper nutrition. Every athlete is a little bit different and by simply paying attention and taking the time to learn about performance nutrition, you can make huge gains.
Eat and drink for performance AND recovery. The performance + recovery nutrition loop is an endless cycle and one is constantly feeding into the other. How you fuel for and during a race is impacting your recovery; just as how you are rehydrating and refueling after a race will cycle into your next performance.
How did you hear about Beet It Sport?
When I made my first National Team in 2013, I started to pay more attention to my nutrition and how that was impacting my performance. At this level, everyone is working hard and so an extra edge and how you differentiate yourself from your competition will come from other areas besides the hours of hard work you are putting in. Beyond training, nutrition and recovery are two of the most important things in rowing. Over the last few years I have read a lot about sports nutrition, educating myself on how what I eat and drink will impact my performance. I was reading a study about the great benefits of nitrates found in foods (like beets!), and eventually I discovered Beet-It Sport. I ordered my first case of Beet-It Sport shots and bars over two years ago and have been hooked ever since!
Why do you use Beet It Sport and how has it helped you?
Rowing is a high intensity, endurance sport. In a 2,000-meter race, we are pushing our cardiovascular and muscular systems to their limits. This means I need the right nutrients to provide the energy to do the work, while at the same time elevating the capacity at which my body is working. Beet-It Sport bars and shots are a key part of that proper fueling process. When I first starting using Beet-It, I felt the benefits right away during intense training sessions and racing, but also saw improvement throughout my entire training and recovery cycles due to the added nutrients I was providing my body. Competing clean is also important to me as a professional athlete and the fact that Beet-It Sport is tested and certified by Informed Sport is a huge plus. In Beet-It Sport, I know I’m using a high-quality and safe product.