Super Jules the Snow Princess

Olympian Julia Mancuso on staying motivated and fit
By Cara Lucas

Professional athletes aren’t normal. But do we really expect them to be? In fact, if it were not for their undeniable talents, some of the quirky, repetitive things they do would be labeled crazy, annoying, or disgusting to anyone witnessing them in real time.

Sports psychologists say that many athletes have their own rituals or superstitions to help them focus. Just think about the enormous pressure they are under on a constant basis, constantly in a fishbowl of public scrutiny, trying to keep people happy while doing their job in front of a million judging eyes.

Maybe they eat the same meal, say a prayer, watch a favorite movie, or wear a particular article of clothing at every competitive event. Or maybe it’s worse?

LeBron James can’t stop chewing his fingernails. Baseball pitcher Turk Wendell used to brush his teeth after every inning. National Hockey League goalie Patrick Roy confessed he talked to the goal posts during the game. Croatian tennis player Goran Ivanisevic often wants the same ball back after he hits an ace.

But what about three-time Olympic medalist, skier Julia Mancuso? What’s her lucky 7? For 29-year-old Mancuso, it’s all about the undies.

In fact, her underwear line, Super Jules, was inspired by Cameron Diaz’s character in the film Charlie’s Angels, in the scene where she was dancing around in her Underoos.

“I thought that was such an awesome, empowering moment, so I bought a pair of Paul Frank ‘Super Julius’ Underoos, which made me think of that moment in the movie. It was pretty easy to convert the ‘Julius’ into Jules. It’s funny to think that those ‘Super Julius’ Underoos turned into my lucky race essential, which, in turn, led to my own line of lucky undies!”

Training + Diet

Currently Mancuso is putting those lucky undies to the test as she gears up for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. This year she wants to be more consistent and win more races. But to win consistently, she knows she needs to train consistently. More importantly, it’s about being mentally tough.

“I need to use all my past experiences to make sure that when I’m at the start gate, I have the mental power to stand there and say to myself, ‘I can win this race because of all the work I’ve done to lead up to this moment.’ If I get it right in the off-season, I know that I have something to look back on to give me confidence.”

Her training days start at 6:00 a.m. so she can make it to the chairlift around sunrise. She stretches, does some core work to wake up, has breakfast, and heads out the door to hit the slopes.

“We usually ski until noon, eat lunch, and go home to take a short nap or go to the gym for some biking and more exercising. In the afternoon I try to catch up with emails and do about an hour of physical therapy. Then before I know it, it’s dinnertime and I’m off to bed early,” explains Mancuso.

Before you feel too bad for her, let’s talk about her off-season training during April, May, and June. Even then she enjoys being active. (Hint: It does not involve a ski suit.)

“When I’m not in the mountains skiing, I head to the ocean. I love the water and spend most of my off-season living in Maui. I love to free dive and collect shells, and to surf and enjoy the island life. My life in Maui is completely opposite of the fast-paced life I lead during the World Cup. You could say my life is very yin and yang!”

Olympics aside, Mancuso is always training. The Olympics are ultimately just a few grueling weeks carved out of her regular competition season. She’s coming in at the top of her game this Olympic season and has been able to stay injury-free for the last three years, thanks to healthy eating (greens and lean protein) and focusing on injury-preventative exercise therapy.

“I don’t like to eat a lot on race days, so shakes and smoothies are a really important part of my diet. I like to blend lots of greens and undenatured whey protein every morning before each race.”

Her go-to exercise of choice is a type of neurokinetic Pilates, a form of physical therapy that focuses a lot on body movements. She practices about seven hours a week, often in her ski boots, in order to train her brain to remember the correct position. The muscle memory focus has kept her healthy and strong.

“I’ve never been at the top of my game going into the Olympics, so it’s going to be interesting,” Mancuso says. Not everyone is going to train (or eat!) like an Olympic athlete, but Mancuso has some tips you can take home and incorporate into your daily routine to stay in shape and feel healthy and motivated.

>> TIP 1: Do it in the morning

Mancuso likes to do her workouts at the top of the day, so they’re done and out of the way. She stresses having a solid routine, even if you’re active, so you can push yourself and consistently measure your fitness level gains.

“Waking up a little bit earlier than you normally would drastically influences your health habits throughout the day. It makes you conscious of what you do the night before—you go to bed early, eat healthy throughout the day, and you feel more energized!”

>> TIP 2: Be the best version of yourself

If you’re not a morning person, no worries. In a world of cutthroat, dog-eat-dog hustling, it’s difficult to remember it’s not about beating other people; it’s about winning for you. Coming from a world-class competitor, that’s pretty profound advice.

“I don’t like to compare myself to other people, so I set goals for myself. I’m not super-competitive or jealous of others. Ultimately, my goal is to be the best version of myself. In skiing, I try to make my best turn, and I look to others for inspiration. I think training is enjoyable, not just because it makes me faster, but because I genuinely enjoy it.”

>> TIP 3: Stay healthy while traveling

Mancuso recommends preparing healthy snacks to have on hand before you travel. Consistency with your diet—even when you’re tempted—really helps keep you feeling good while you’re on the road.

“I travel eight months out of the year, so I always need to have my greens. I’m a huge fan of Mattole Valley Naturals protein powders. They’re handcrafted whole food herbal blends and there are so many great products to choose from. It’s crazy to travel with a bag full of powders, but I really believe in them.”

Her favorite on-the-go snacks are nuts and Zico coconut water. Staying hydrated is key to performing well and while it’s often hard for her to drink water, she loves the chocolate-flavored Zico coconut water after a workout and sometimes even incorporates it into a favorite shake:

8 ounces Zico chocolate coconut water

1 scoop of vanilla protein powder

3 ice cubes

1 tablespoon almond butter

1 tablespoon raw cacao nibs

1/2 cup frozen blueberries (optional)

Staying Motivated

Between 2006 and 2010, Mancuso dealt with a chronic back injury. She didn’t listen to her body and had ignored a small pain in her back, pushing through it only to finish with mediocre rankings at the 2010 Olympics. Lesson learned? Sometimes it’s hard to remember that you must take care of yourself in order to eventually move forward and succeed. It’s not always best to go, go, go. Rest and listen to your body. You’ll be better off in the end.

Mancuso, just like everyone else, knows how easy it is to get distracted—whether by choice like indulging in unhealthy food, or by something circumstantial, like an injury. But staying motivated and focused on healthy goals is key. The answer is moderation.

She uses a little trick to keep her on track when it comes to desserts, a particular weakness of hers. “A great [solution] is to only allow yourself something sweet in the afternoon. That way you’re not consuming sugar after a big meal and there is still a chance to do something active and burn those extra calories later in the day. Also, be honest with yourself. I really love chocolate, so I can be satisfied with a couple pieces of dark chocolate instead of a consuming a cream pie or eating a ton of sugar cookies or whatever yummy dessert is being served!”

We all know Mancuso is fit (she’s a lingerie model, too!), but there are other health aspects that are very important to her as well. Take skincare, for example: While most of us are working behind a desk or other indoor setup, Mancuso works in the wind and sun, leaving her skin exposed to harsh elements on a regular basis. Every morning she applies sunscreen and constantly reapplies throughout the day. She credits her grandfather, a dermatologist who stressed the importance of sunscreen to the entire family.

While working out and wearing sunscreen are staples in her healthy lifestyle, it all goes back to the diet for Mancuso. “When you maintain a healthy diet there are so many benefits. I feel like my attitude is more stable, my skin is more radiant, my body composition is better, and my joints feel great.”

We may not be able to relate to the crazy superstitions—or the lucky underwear—of professional athletes, but if there’s one thing we can understand about Mancuso, it’s her passion for life and respect for her mind and body. We can relate to her honesty and self-awareness, and the fact that she owns who she is as an athlete, but even more, as a human being. That is a message each of us can take away.

“Life is really about the journey, and I think most people can relate to that. I try to enjoy every moment and always end every race knowing I did my personal best. Knowing that I’ve given it my all, I can be truly happy for my competitors when they kill it. You can’t win everything, but you can try, and you most definitely can’t control how or what other people do.”

Stay healthy and stay hungry, readers—but only for the good stuff. You deserve it.