Gymnast Nastia Liukin won five medals at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, including the prestigious individual all-around title, before retiring in 2012. The 26-year-old recently graduated from New York University with a degree in sports management and will be an Olympic gymnastics commentator at the Rio Games starting in August. Later in the fall, she’ll host and perform on the 40-city Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions. She talked to the Cut on behalf of Tula Skincare about cookies, 20-minute workouts, and how everyone has a gold-medal body.
How I start my mornings: I wake up around 5 or 5:30 and work out. For me, it’s really important to get a workout in as soon as I wake up because if I don’t do it then I feel like I’m not going to have a chance to do it. I try to get four to five days a week.
I like to eat something very small beforehand, whether it’s a banana or a piece of fruit, and I have coffee. It was the same when I was in gymnastics. After my workout I’ll have a bigger breakfast, like an omelet with tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, and maybe some chicken or something. Making sure to get enough protein in is extremely important for me to this day. It keeps you full longer.
How I like to sweat: I followed a strict plan for 22 years so as soon as I was done competing I was like, you know what? I’m gonna do what I feel like doing. Some days that’s just getting in 20 minutes of some kind of workout, maybe it’s in my hotel room or my apartment or going for a quick jog. But for the most part I love changing it up. I also think that my body responds to that best. When you do the same thing over and over your body just gets used to it.
I love boxing with my trainer. I love barre classes and hot yoga. I love Pilates. That really elongates you, but it’s also important to do some kind of cardio and now that the weather’s nice I love running along the West Side. It’s a beautiful view. I take spinning classes, too.
On life after retirement: I felt so lost for a good year. I gained probably 10 to 20 pounds, because when you stop doing something and just go cold turkey your body doesn’t even know what to do. I finally feel like I’ve found my rhythm again. It takes time to figure out what your body needs and what’s best for you both in nutrition and also fitness.
I remember walking into a regular gym, not a gymnastics gym, and looking at the equipment and thinking, “What are these things?” I had no idea what to do and how to use this equipment because my whole life was so structured. My dad was my coach and he always gave me a plan. All of a sudden I’m like, “Wait, where’s my coach?” It was really up to me to kind of figure it out.
To me, wellness is: I remember my mom telling me at a really young age, “You have to treat your body like an expensive car. What kind of fuel are you putting into that expensive car?” If you’re going to put junk food into your body, then that’s what you’re going to get out of it. As soon as I was able to process that, like when I was 12, it made total sense to me. Of course I ate junk food every once in a while as a kid, but then I would kind of feel it in my body, you know, you don’t have as much energy.
On cooking versus ordering: My fiancé, Matt, is actually a really good cook. Better than me, which I’m working on. But I’ve also felt like, living in New York, it’s a little bit challenging to cook here. It’s easier to Seamless or Postmates something. But I’ve been trying to cook a little bit more. We always either have some kind of fish and he’ll make a great kale salad and a homemade dressing. We definitely eat more protein and vegetables, but obviously making sure it’s a well-balanced diet of having some carbs in there, too — brown rice, sweet potatoes, those kinds of things. But I wouldn’t necessarily eat a whole bowl of pasta at night. If I would have that, it would probably be earlier in the day.
On dessert: I also remember my mom telling me, “If you want a cookie, have a cookie.” Because then you’re going to get to a point where just like you want ten cookies and you’re going to eat ten. So allow yourself to have that. Yeah, maybe don’t have a cookie every single day, but if you want one, then have one. It’s all about having that balance and not getting too crazy about it because that’s definitely not good for anybody.
How I end my day: Unwinding is extremely important for me. I feel like I’m always around so many people and I’m constantly talking and sharing my energy so I try to make time for myself, like doing a face mask. It’s so important for me to take care of my skin because you always just feel better that way. I love Tula’s face mask, and Matt and I like doing a spa night at home and watching a movie and making popcorn. He’s probably not that excited that I just said that, but yeah, he does it too.
My wellness advice is: It’s important to find something you’re passionate about so you don’t feel like you’re being forced to go work out. I love going to Pilates and I feel great after it, and yeah, it might be hard to wake up some mornings but at the end … you know that feeling, and it’s worth it.
How wellness has changed for me: The older I get, the more I realize it’s also about longevity. Yes, it’s about living in the moment, enjoying your life, but at the same time, think about your life 10, 20, 30 years from now. You want to be able to enjoy life with kids and play with them and be active with them and then hopefully one day grandkids! It’s important to think about those things, but not overly obsess about them.
I believe in being able to just live your life and be happy and comfortable with it, but be active and take care of your body because it’s the only body that you have. You’re not going to be able to replace it. It’s like my gold medal — you just can’t get another one. It’s kind of like your body: You have one chance with it, so try to treat it the best that you can.
This interview has been condensed and edited.