Interview | Sophia Herzog

Sophia Herzog, one of the most recognisable faces in U.S. para-swimming, has had an excellent few years at the sharp end of elite sports. At just 18, and based out of the Olympic Training Centre in Colorado, Sophia went off to her first Pan-Am Games in Canada, and picked up four medals (three silver & one bronze). This success encouraged Sophia to push on towards the Paralympic Games in Rio, where she collected a Silver in the 100m breast.

Just a month ahead of Sophia's 21st birthday, and with the Tokyo 2020 Games in her sights, we spoke with Sophia about how she fuels her performances...

Ahead of a competition, what sorts of food/snacks are you having & when? "I am dairy and gluten free, so I eat a lot of coconut milk yogurt and I eat a lot of chicken as well". 

What would you eat on the day of a major competition like the Paralympics? "I am a huge breakfast person. So I would have a bowl of GF oatmeal with peanut butter, raisins, pumpkin seeds, with some apple juice".

What do you eat after competing? Can you treat yourself (did you head to McDonalds in the Olympic Park after you came out of the pool)? "I am not a big McDonalds fan at all by any means, so instead I brought Reese's for "treats" after all my 100m breastroke I had two!"

Does your diet change much between off & on-season? "I am not a "huge" eater so when I am in my competitive season I definitely have to work on making sure I am taking in enough calories, and increasing my protein intake especially at night so my body has something to recover on". 

What are your thoughts on protein bars & shakes? "I am more of a shake girl, mainly because I can put other ingredients in and help my calorie intake whether it be strawberries and bananas or a scoop of peanut butter".

Do you eat much at the gym/after the gym? "I honestly have a really hard time stomaching food after the gym so that's when I usually have a shake so I can have something in my system that's easy to down, and not too heavy".

What does a swimmers's gym session look like for you (lots of weights, or cardio, or a mix)? "My gym sessions have a lot of weights (back squats, cleans, deadlifts) as well as a lot of med ball throws, core, and agility to help work on reaction time. I do mobility work every day and lift 2/3x a week".

What is your cheat meal? "My cheat meal would be probably some fondue, or a pb&j for dinner! Or GF chocolate chip pancakes".

What meal(s) do rely on the most at home? "Do you have a favourite recipe? I live at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs CO, so I actually am very lucky and have my meals always ready for me after training". 

You travel all over the world, do you get to try the local food, or do you have to keep to a strict diet; or is it a case of just taking what you can get in the hotel(s)? "Depends where I am traveling and how serious the competition is, for example I went to Denmark last year (which is the food capital of Europe) and I definitely took advantage of that and ate my way through that trip! But when I was in Mexico City for our World Championships we had to be careful with the meat so we sadly weren't able to have any authentic food while being there".

Is there anything you actively avoid? "I actively avoid gluten all the time, and dairy when I am in my competitive season". 

How important is hydration at your level? "Hydration is major. I will admit I am not one of those athlete you see with a water bottle attached at the hip. But I drink coconut or watermelon water during practice which is super hydrating, low sugar and has some flavor".

You've been an elite athlete for 3-4 years now, has you diet developed or changed much in this time? "My mom got her masters in nutrition so I have always had a fairly healthy diet, I have developed though by making sure I do eat 3 full meals a day".

Do you have any pre-competition rituals? "I am pretty easy going if I don't do something I'm not going to "freak" out and feel like my race will be ruined. I usually listen to music, and while in the ready room I put the Hot Hands in my suit and under my straps. I usually pop my fingers at least once in the ready room, and prior to getting into the ready room I have a couple of quiet moments with my coach Nathan Manley where we throw med balls and then just go over the race plan. That is something I especially cherish at big international meets to share the moments with Nathan because he's the person that sees the sacrifices, sees the bad days, the poor practices, but see the good days, and successful practices and we get to travel the world and put all the work together; its very calming for me to know I have him in my corner at races".

Do you have a favourite place to compete in? "The Rio pool will always hold a special place in my heart just being my first Games, and winning a medal there. I will admit I am very particular in pools because I am spoiled with a gorgeous pool at the OTC I really enjoy bright pools with a lot of natural lighting". 

Follow Sophia on Instagram & Twitter for more information, and pictures, on her journey at the top of para-swimming.