Each month, Team USA Awards presented by Dow celebrates outstanding achievements of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Gymnast Sam Mikulak won Male Athlete of the Month for August 2018 after winning his fifth U.S. all-around championship. In Mikulak's Diamond Club feature, presented by Dow, he gives a peek into the daily life of a world-class gymnast.
By now, Sam Mikulak has the routine down pat: the two-time Olympian and one of only six male gymnasts ever to win five U.S. all-around titles is staying steady and focused as he trains for this month’s World Gymnastics Championships in Doha, Qatar.
After sewing up a fifth national title in August in Boston by his largest-ever margin of victory, the laid-back Mikulak, who turns 26 on Oct. 13, now heads up a squad of eager young hopefuls looking to surprise and impress at worlds.
“Everybody has something to prove,” the former Michigan Wolverine says. “This is one of the most hardworking teams I’ve ever been a part of. They’ve worked so hard to get where they are. Everyone just feels like this is their time.”
Consistency in and out of the gym has helped Mikulak to a place of confidence as he aims for an individual world medal, one of the only things lacking on his impressive gymnastics résumé. Here, the California native takes us through a typical day at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in preparation for the big event.
Sam Mikulak reacts after competing on the rings at U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Aug.18, 2018 in Boston.
6 a.m. A slow, easy beginning. My girlfriend Mia wakes up early to go to work, so when she gets up I usually wake up a little bit, too. I like it because waking up earlier in the morning gets my body acclimated to being at practice early, too. This way, by the time morning practice comes around I’m mentally and physically ready to perform hard skills. It’s different from when I was in college and would wake up at 10 a.m. I can’t just roll out of bed the way I used to!
7:30 a.m. Coffee and fuel. I head downstairs to make coffee and start breakfast. I usually have a pretty big breakfast, like an egg white omelette with some turkey bacon, and I like having peanut butter over toast as well, or a Hawaiian sweet roll with honey and bananas on top. That’s my ideal breakfast, though this year’s worlds are in the morning, so I’ve had to adapt my eating schedule a bit. At the moment I prioritize a bigger dinner.
9 a.m. Practice prep. Before I do anything in the gym, I get treatment. I tore my Achilles tendon last year, and since then my daily ritual during this time is to get the Achilles prepped for those landings and the pounding that gymnastics requires. During the regular season, I do lots of rehab. The session lasts about half an hour, and it’s a lot of what I call manual labor, often also chiropractic stuff.
9:30 a.m. Back to basics. We have two practices on most days, and the first one generally centers around basics on all the events. During the afternoon session we tackle skill work, sequences and full routines.
11:45 a.m. Lunch. You want to get food and restoratives back into your body as early as possible after a practice. Fortunately the cafeteria is 100 feet away from the gym, so it’s an easy commute. I keep the fats to a minimum, usually just soup and salad. The smaller carb intake balances out what I have in the morning.
1 p.m. Puppy time! I head home to play with our puppy Marshall. He’s a brindle-colored bull terrier, nine and a half months old and almost done with his teething. (I’m really looking forward for him to be done with his teething.) Marshall’s wonderful — he’s a ball of energy and the best snuggler in the world. He sleeps on our bed and he doesn’t bark very much. We do spoil him quite a bit. He’ll play 24/7 and then sleep like a log.
2:30 p.m. Workout No. 2. Back in the gym for the second workout of the day, which includes intense routine prep and generally lasts until 5 p.m.
5:15 p.m. Steam room treatment. Until 2016, I alternated the steam room with the cold tubs, but the whole mental game of ice tubbing my body, combined with what seemed like a lack of research about its benefits, mean those days are behind me now. I stay in the steam room for 15 minutes.
6:00 p.m. Home for dinner with Mia. Dinner can vary — it can be a rice or pasta with chicken or beef with asparagus or some type of vegetable. I like a traditional balanced meal, but sometimes I’ll have a bowl of Captain Crunch for dessert. If I’m having a cheat day, I go straight for the ice cream — carmel or butterscotch are my favorites. I allow myself a cheat day once a week, generally on Saturdays and occasionally on Wednesdays as well. Right now I’m doing a lot of routines to get set for worlds and burning a lot of carbs in the process, so on both Wednesdays and Saturdays I do let myself cheat a little.
7 p.m. Winding down. We’ll watch some TV and take the pup out for a walk. Before bed sometimes I’ll have two scoops of peanut butter to keep me full and my metabolism high.
9:30 p.m. Falling asleep to “The Kingkiller Chronicle.” These days I put on an audiobook to help me fall asleep. I’m a big fan of fantasy books, and hands down my favorite series is “The Kingkiller Chronicle” by Patrick Rothfuss. I’ve listened to the first two books, “The Name of the Wind” and “The Wise Man’s Fear,” three or four times now. I’ll set a timer to play it for an hour, but I’m usually asleep before that.