On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
With 11 Olympic medals — including one gold, two silvers and a bronze from the 2016 Summer Olympics, and four golds and three bronzes from the 2020 Summer Olympics — Emma McKeon is the most decorated Australian Olympian of all time. At the 2020 games, she was the most decorated athlete across all sports, and she has tied with Ian Thorpe for the most number of Olympic gold medals won over the course of an Australian athlete’s career.
But her path to sports history has been a rollercoaster ride.
Born on 24 May 1994 in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia, McKeon was destined for swimming greatness. She is the daughter of Rob McKeon, four-time Commonwealth gold medalist and two-time Olympian, and Susie, also a swimmer who competed in the Commonwealth Games.
Then there’s her uncle, Rob Woodhouse, who specialised in medley swimming and was a two-time Olympian; her sister Kaitlin, a National age swimmer; and brother David, who represented Australia in the 400 metre freestyle and the 4 × 200 metre freestyle relay at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
My mum, dad and uncle were all on the Aussie swim team and have been involved in swimming their whole lives. I’m really lucky that they are all able to give me the best advice and support in both swimming and life, because they have done it all before and really understand it. We all grew up by the water, surfing, doing nippers in the summer, waterskiing and swimming, so it was a natural choice I think. That’s where my love for the water comes from.Exclusive: Olympic Star Emma McKeon On Her Special Family Bond | The Carousel
Leading up to her first Olympic trials, McKeon had been successful at the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics held in Singapore — winning a gold medal in the x 100 metre medley relay; silver medals in the 100 metre freestyle and the mixed 4 × 100 metre freestyle relay; and bronze medals in the 50 metre freestyle, 200 metre freestyle, and mixed 4 × 100 metre medley relay.
Naturally, all eyes were on the Australian swimmer when it came to selections for the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Unfortunately McKeon failed to make the team, placing 7th in the 100 metre freestyle, 9th in the 100 metre butterfly, 10th in the 200 metre freestyle, and 13th in the 50 metre freestyle.
“I was really upset when I missed that team — obviously because my brother made it, and our other training partner, Jarrod Poort, he made it as well in the 1500,” she said in an interview with Swimming World Magazine. “I was really upset after that, and then I actually stopped swimming not long after the Trials. I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics, but I didn’t want to wait another four years, so I was like, ‘I’ll just stop.’”
Fortunately for McKeon, her teammates, as well as Australia, her hiatus actually helped to rejuvenate her love for swimming again. She returned to the sport in late 2012. “I guess I just knew that you have to be showing up to training every day and doing everything properly to be able to perform at the level I wanted to perform at,” she later said.
Emma McKeon’s daily training routine & diet
On a typical training day, Emma McKeon is up early like most swimmers. The Olympian is out of bed at 5.30am and she’s headed straight to the pools, while eating a small breakfast — usually a banana. McKeon will do some stretching before jumping into the water for her two hour morning workout. For the Australian, her typical weekly training schedule includes nine x 2-hour 5-6km swimming sessions, two x 1-hour gym sessions, one x 1-hour Pilates session, plus yoga and core training.
“Today I did some sprint stuff because we had a hard session to get ready for in the afternoon,” she told Women’s Health about an example training session. “If it was a Monday or a Friday, I’d be doing a one-hour gym session to work on my strength, so that when I get in the pool I can move through the water better and faster.”
After training, breakfast for the swimmer is usually Weet-Bix or two eggs on toast. Over the years, McKeon has learnt to adapt her eating habits for her training requirements.
“At times I used to just eat whatever I wanted, even when training, and I would end up being exhausted and not have enough energy to get through training sessions,” she said in an interview with Rescue. “So I have learnt what foods I need to eat and how much I need to eat to fuel my body, and learnt which foods to choose instead of filling up on things that aren’t going to fuel me for intense training.”
She’ll typically have a mid-morning nap for half-hour after breakfast. When she wakes up, she’ll have a snack — usually yoghurt or fruit — then depending on the day, she’s off to physio to help with her muscle recovery.
“They will focus on my shoulders because I use them so much, then just any other little niggly or tight things that need maintenance,” she said. “So far I’ve been pretty lucky not to have any proper injuries, just little niggly things that will go away after some regular physio treatment.”
Lunchtime is often leftover dinner, or a salad sandwich. She’ll then spend some time watching television, reading or resting for her afternoon training session.
We’re back in the pool by 3:20pm and swim for two hours. The afternoon is always the main set, so it’s a harder session. We did time trial-type stuff and high-lactate kinda work today. I like doing this sort of training because it’s more based on the race. So, for my 200m freestyle, I’m practising the pace that I’ll do in the race, trying to hit the time for each lap. I stretch a bit after that, and use a trigger [spiky] ball anywhere my body’s sore. Then I have a Musashi vanilla protein shake.A Day In The Life Of Olympic Swimmer Emma McKeon | Women’s Health
Once McKeon wraps up her last training session for the day, she’s back home cooking dinner, which is usually “something quick and easy to cook such as stir-fry, pasta, or a steak and salad.” She’ll also occasionally indulge in the sweet treat like ice cream or chocolate, although her favourite guilty pleasure is a chocolate thick shake.
After dinner, it’s TV or a book, before lights out at 9pm. “I’m in bed by now because I want to get at least eight hours of sleep a night before I get back in the pool,” she explained to Women’s Health.
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