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As the world’s elite athletes got ready to compete on the world stage at the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games 2018 in PyeongChang, we asked United States Olympic Committee strength and conditioning coach for the scoop on athlete preparation. Brandon Siakel, USOC sports physiologist, told 24Life what he thinks is the key—and it might surprise you.

24Life: How do athletes acclimate to conditions of competition in a foreign country?

Brandon Siakel: Many of the athletes who are going to be at the Games have competed in Asia multiple times throughout the four-year quad. As a result, they have a better understanding of what has worked for them individually in terms of coping with jet lag and adjusting training schedules, as needed. We have a very good physiologist in Randy Wilber, who does a phenomenal job with making specific jet lag protocols for athletes based on where they’re traveling to compete. Also, Susie Parker Simmons is our dietitian, and she does an outstanding job helping with nutritional plans during flights and also when they arrive in the country, to help mitigate some of the stressors of travel.

Roughly a year out from the Olympics, there are test events at the actual Olympic competition venues where many of the countries will come in and compete against each other in their respective sports. And that allows for the National Governing Bodies, athletes and coaches—as well as the USOC—to try out protocols to see what works and what doesn’t work a year out from the Games.

24Life: What does an elite athlete’s rest day look like?

BS: Usually light activities, whether it’s doing some mobility, or light stabilization work, going out for a walk, doing something that’s less strenuous physically and mentally. And another thing that our performance team highly encourages the athletes to do is other hobbies or interests that allow them to disengage from their sport. That’s crucial, not only for physical rejuvenation but also mental rejuvenation, as well.

24Life: What’s one thing that might surprise people about working with these elite athletes?

BS: What I’ve learned working with elite athletes—and working with athletes in general—is they’ve got to know that you care. And if you are not communicating well, or at least attempting to have a system of communication that works well … to help support the athlete’s action-steps, it’s not going to work very effectively. Communication is hard to do, but that’s a key component, in my opinion, of success.

Photo credit: Mickael Tournier, Unsplash