At just 25 years old, English swimmer Adam Peaty has already been deemed a “swimming icon.” The Uttoxeter-born athlete represented Great Britain at the 2016 Olympic Games and grabbed the world’s attention by breaking his own 100-meter breaststroke record to claim gold in Rio. As the first British swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal for breaststroke in 24 years, Peaty was honored as a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to swimming.
To date, Peaty has smashed world records on 11 occasions and is the world-record holder in both the 50- and 100-meter breaststroke events. At the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, he became the first man to clock 50 meters in under 27 seconds and 100 meters in less than 57 seconds.
Among many other accolades, Peaty has won gold at the World, European, and Commonwealth Games, but a return to the Olympics faced a setback with the announcement that the 2020 Games would be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In April, along with many other countries, the British government enforced lockdown restrictions on its residents, including the closure of many gyms and training centers — meaning athletes were forced to figure out their own ways to train.
Peaty was provided with a small training pool that he could tether himself to for training at home, and he also found a passion for cycling to stay active. Now, with UK swimming pools back open for elite athletes, Peaty is laser-focused on 2021. He took the time to take us through his mental and physical approaches to training, and share some tips for those that want to improve on their own swimming speed.
Peaty has returned to full-time training in recent weeks, and M&F caught up with the record-breaking swimmer to find out how he’s coped during the involuntary downtime, and how he’s gearing up for the 2021 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo.
How much of a challenge was lockdown from a mental standpoint?
It’s all about adapting to your environment and being resilient, and that’s important for us [swimmers] because one day we might not feel so good, but we still need to get the training in, you’ve got to stay ahead of the game and for me, the mental aspect of sport is very important.
How has your attitude to training changed from when you were forced to stay at home, compared with today?
When I’m focused on a block of training, I’m very strict with my nutrition and I don’t drink alcohol at all, but in the downtime we’re encouraged by coaches to relax and mentally reset so that when we get back to the pool we are focused. So now, the mission toward the 2021 Olympics has begun.
Did lockdown have an impact on your bodyweight?
while training, I’m looking to be at 95-96 kilograms (approximately 210 lbs.). My ideal weight changes from year to year, because of lockdown I was probably a few kilograms over but it’s important to have that buffer zone, just in case you get ill or pick up an injury or something like that, so you can recover better.
Do you have a competition weight?
Normally for my competition weight I would be looking at 92-93 kilograms (approximately 205 lbs.). I need to be lean while still holding on to a lot of muscle.
What do you make of those stories of Michael Phelps consuming 12,000 calories in a day?
12,000 calories is out of the window for me (laughing). Michael Phelps was a middle-distance swimmer whereas I’m a sprinter. How much you eat is dependent on your metabolism, so there are so many variables like how much water you drink, and what your resting heart rate might be in terms of how much fat you can burn. For me, during lockdown I built a lot of muscle so now that I am back in the pool, I’m having to step back a bit from the weights and focus on cardio.
The size and shape of your muscles must be something you need to be aware of. Could the slightest change in body composition have an impact on your speed?
Definitely. The more muscle you have, the bigger you will be, so there’s more drag for swimmers, so the amount of muscle I have needs to be controlled.
Have you used intermittent fasting in your nutritional strategy?
Definitely. I fast before 12 p.m. I stay at around 2,500 calories during this time of the year just to lean up. Then when I’m in a hard, hard training block like in a training camp, I would probably increase that to around 4,500 calories.
I’ve found that 15 hours of IF works for me, and I tend to start from 9 p.m. through to 12 p.m. the next day but I can adapt that depending on where I am, or what I’m doing.
With fasting, it’s not just about the performance, or the leanness, but there are even more health benefits because there have been all kinds of studies that show a decreased risk of cancer and I think that intermittent fasting is a natural way for the human body to perform, because it’s only a recent thing where every household is overly stocked with high calorie foods, or you can go through a drive-thru, but it wouldn’t have been like that 100 years ago.
Between meals, do you use any supplementation?
I make sure that my nutrition is based on full meals, and then the supplements are there to complement the activities that I’m doing throughout the day. Especially on a training camp, because you’re training all the time and you may not get time for a big meal so it’s good to have them, and then you can obviously have a bigger meal at night.
I’m an ambassador for SIS (Science in Sport), I use a lot of their range including the performance multivitamin, beta-alanine at around 4mg per day for 10-12 weeks before a big competition, and I use the Advanced Isolate Whey and Protein 20 bars.
When you train to break records, is it important to vary the intensity of your output?
Yes, you have to be careful not to train too hard, too early, otherwise you’ll be exhausted by the time you get to the Olympic Games. You need to find the balance.
In the last five years, recovery has become so much more important as I’ve gotten a bit older but then with age comes more power and endurance so that’s good.
You have also been working on “AP Plus” during lockdown—this sounds like an exciting platform for anyone that wants to improve on their swim.
“AP Plus” is an app that will launch later this year and it should be a great tool because if you look at the statistics, most kids drop out of swimming by the time they are 14 or 15 years old as they pursue other goals. We’ve found that one of the reasons they don’t carry on with swimming is due to a lack of direction and stimulus during their swimming experience.
“AP Plus” will be integrated with coaches, swimmers, and parents as a platform for everyone to gain useful content, advice, help with nutrition, psychological training and tips for the gym. It will be a two year course and will feature video and written content for swimmers of any age group.
If and amateur swimmer wanted to improve their speed, what would be your first tip?
Look after your diet and your overall health, because this complements what you do in the water, and how you perform. Strength training is important. So short reps, with a higher weight to avoid hypertrophy.
Become obsessed with going faster. Visualize going faster. Find a coach or find a resource online where you can follow speed sets. I average 40,000 meters per week, but set yourself a target of 20,000 meters. That’s still a lot, but put the emphasis on speed.
Not only do you have the 2021 Olympic Games to look forward to, but you’re welcoming your first child next year. Will this affect the way you approach the challenges of the coming months?
I know what I need to do this season, the Olympics were postponed but it didn’t really affect me too much, you get on with it. For me, going to the Olympics is always about being a better version of myself, and with a baby on the way that will give me a lot of motivation as well!
To follow Peaty’s swimming career, and to find out more about AP Plus: