In Still Living Strong, which was published in You24, Lance Armstrong spoke candidly about his life after retiring from professional cycling, his diet and how he stays in shape. Here is a part of that interview.
Lance Armstrong doesn’t just wear the bracelet – he created it. You know the one: That ubiquitous yellow band with the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s motto, “LiveStrong,” stamped on it.
The phrase refers to the LAF’s hope for people living with cancer, but it also pretty aptly describes how Lance himself has lived the last decade of his life: strong.
In body, of course – everyone knows the death-cheating chapter in Lance’s life story (how he beat the cancer that invaded his lungs, brain, and much of his body), as well as those seven consecutive Tour de France victories, an unprecedented, almost Herculean feat.
But 6 months before Lance won his first Tour, I got a glimpse of his other strength – that soon-to-be-legendary Armstrong focus and discipline.
It was at an interview over lunch at the Hula Hut, an Austin restaurant, when I noticed Lance counting each tortilla chip I ate, then heard his piercing, unforgettable reminder: “You know, there’s 1 gram of fat in every chip.”
Lance had climbed aboard a maniacal merry-go-round that would control every moment of his year, every bite, every workout. For 7 years.
All of it charted to peak each July Even in the high reaches of elite cycling, most guys didn’t think this way. But as he would soon show the world, Lance Armstrong wasn’t most guys.
Fast forward 8 years. Lance has three children – Luke, 7, and twins Isabelle and Grace, 5. He’s a year into his much anticipated retirement. He’s stepped off the merry-go-round.
I catch up to him again as he’s being photographed – exclusively for 24 Hour Fitness – with a beautiful Brazilian supermodel, Daniella Sarahyba, draped, yellow-jersey-style, around his neck on the sand in front of a borrowed $4 million stucco and granite palace in the glitzy Pedregal section of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
But he’s still talking tortilla chips. Because at 35, he’s still the same guy. He’s not pushing the big chain ring 8 hours a day. He’s not padlocking his Subzero after 6. But he’s still living strong. Maybe even stronger. You decide.
Your autobiography was titled It’s Not About the Bike. For the first time in your adult life, it’s not, is it?
Nah, it’s not about the bike anymore. But I did the local race last Tuesday night in Austin. It was hard. Real hard. Even local guys can go fast.
Especially when you show up.
Oh, yeah. They always race that thing hard.
How about you? How much are you riding?
I still ride 2 or 3 days a week for 2 or 3 hours at a time. Riding’s a social thing for me. I still ride with my buddies, telling stories or talking or laughing or whatever. I just don’t want to get a big beer belly!
So it’s “about the belly” now?
[Laughing] I’ve just seen too many professional athletes – and especially cyclists – balloon up once they stop competing. Pro cyclists literally starve themselves. If you want to be the best, that’s what you do.
That’s what I did. I cannot tell you how many nights you just go to bed hungry.
Then you stop riding 6 hours a day, and you’re not doing shit except sitting on your couch and drinking beer at dinner and then – pfffffft – next thing you know, you’re big as a house.
I saw some pictures of myself in the tabloids in the spring and I was like, “Oh no, I’m slippin’.”
I saw that. It seemed like they were working you a little bit for how you looked running with your shirt off.
That’s right. I thought, This is the slide right here. And I can’t have that. So I started getting serious again. You heard it here: I’m going to buck the trend of the retired athlete that just balloons up.
I’ve set an example when it comes to racing and in my approach to philanthropy, but I think I can also set an example for retired athletes – just by going out there and saying, “It’s not my job anymore, but I love being fit.”
It’s a marathon this year, next year it might be an Xterra, the next it might be an adventure – anything to keep me engaged, keep me breaking a sweat every day. Because it’s important. The age I’m at is a critical time in life for all men and women.
Once you slide, it’s just so tough to get it back – even if you were once an elite athlete. But that’s just the physical: The more important part is probably the mental and emotional aspect of it.
I go crazy if I don’t work out every day. I’m just irritable. And a complete pain in the ass.
Cyclists aren’t known for their big upper bodies, but you look solid – like you’ve been working out in the gym in addition to running and riding.
I have. But with all the travel I’m doing these days, I really do anything I can. Sometimes that means going for a run and stopping every 10 minutes to do 25 pushups, then turning around and doing 25 triceps presses against a wall.
Other times, I’ll bring resistance bands with me to use on a run or in the hotel room. I do ab work in the hotel room, and I’m swimming a lot more in hotels than in the past.
I’m also surfing as much as I can – it’s the biggest shoulder burn you can get; after just 10 minutes, you’re worked. I just make it up as I go along.
How about in the gym – do you follow a specific routine or workout there?
Not really. Typically, I work out with someone else, and I just follow what they’re doing. It’s not like I’m looking in the mirror and wishing my biceps or shoulders were different and tackling those specific parts. I just go in to the gym to sweat. I go in to justify having dinner.
For a lot of athletes, most food that tastes good is absolutely off limits. How are you enjoying life and keeping the weight off?
The diet stuff is simple for me. When I’m eating on the road, I always try to think about fish or sushi first – some kind of good protein. And I never touch carbs – though I have to admit, I’m a sucker for tortilla chips (any Mexican food, really).
If you put chips and salsa in front of me, I just start eatin’ it. I can’t say no – so instead, I eat baked chips. They taste just as good and there’s nothing in ’em.
What? No pasta?
Dude, I did 20 years of eating pasta for breakfast. Forget dinner – of course we had it for dinner – but breakfast! I have not boiled water for pasta – outside of making macaroni and cheese or pasta for my kids – for myself since I raced.
Breakfast is eggs, like scrambled eggs with two eggs and two egg whites, with some fruit and juice.
Come on though, what about pizza? Anyone who has kids has to eat pizza once in a while.
Yeah, pizza’s a bit of a weakness, too. If we order pizza for the kids, I can’t help but eat that. If they’re eating chicken fingers, then I steal some bites. It’s impossible not to eat some of your kid’s food – they never eat it all.
I know spending time with the kids is a big part of your life. When do you work out?
Mostly when they’re at school. Luke goes from 7:45, and the girls are gone from 9 a.m. to 1, so I have time to do it. I just take the girls, drop them off at school, then go down to the trail to run, all in one swoop.
I’m out there running with all the ladies in Austin. Don’t laugh: There are a lot of very fit moms down there. [source: You24]