Get Well

Olympic Gymnast Nastia Liukin’s Surprisingly Relatable Approach to Wellness

On eating all organic, her easy breezy beauty routine & what it’s really like to fall at the Olympics.

By: Emily Siegel
Photography: Leslie Kirchhoff

Who doesn’t remember the 2008 Olympics? The Bird’s Nest was arguably the coolest stadium of all time; the water didn’t poison people; and then 18-year-old Nastia Liukin fought to beat bestie/roomie Shawn Johnson for gymnastic gold. Since then, Liukin has become an NBC commentator, Dancing with the Stars contender and fiancée to former hockey player Matt Lombardi. Basically, this 26-year-old will give you a serious quarter-life crisis.

Moscow-born Liukin was raised in Texas by parents who were also famous gymnasts—her dad, Valeri, won gold at the ’88 Olympics, while her mother, Anna, was a world champion in rhythmic gymnastics. So it goes without saying that before meeting her at the Trump SoHo, we weren’t sure what to expect. Then she threw open the door in athleisure wear—“You don’t want to know how many pairs of leggings I own”—and agreed to jump on the bed in a fuchsia leotard while we took pictures. Basically, she’s a dream.

Her general approach to wellness:
“I won gold at the 2008 Olympics. So when people started talking 2012, I didn’t want to be on the sidelines thinking, ‘What if? What if I’d tried out?’ Ignoring that I had an injured labrum and torn rotator cuff—with no time for surgery—I powered through and trained...and fell flat on my face during trials. I knew my dreams of a second Olympics were over, but I pulled myself up and finished the routine anyway, and, amazingly, it was the first standing ovation of my career—20,000 people on their feet, applauding because I’d finished. That’s wellness to me: realizing that life isn’t about winning. That it’s about finishing what you started and enjoying the journey along the way.”

 

And mental health, too:
“It’s funny because, as a gymnast, I was always physically exhausted—now that I’m retired [from the sport], I’m more mentally exhausted. So, I like to write my thoughts in a journal; if I don’t have my journal, I write in my phone. But, really, my mental health revolves around two things: meditating, which to me is just closing my eyes and taking deep breaths and stepping away from my phone. Matt won’t even let us bring our phones into the bedroom at night. We leave them charging in the kitchen, which helps us decompress and shut off at the end of a day. (And not check Instagram until the very moment I fall asleep.) When I travel, I’ll leave my phone in the bathroom.”

 

Her current fitness regimen:
“While I was training, I would work out seven hours a day, six days a week. Then I retired, and it just stopped. I gained 20 pounds. I moved to New York [to attend NYU], and I remember the first time I walked into a regular gym: I legitimately had no clue what to do—no idea how any of the machines worked. I’d had a coach telling me what to do my entire life.

“Now, I try to exercise three to five times a week. I never like to do the same routine two days in a row, and I like to alternate between boxing, yoga and pilates—especially boxing because it’s toning and cardio at the same time. When I’m on the road, I still make sure to get the blood pumping every day—even if it’s just a few squats and push-ups in my hotel room. The one thing I won’t ever do is lift weights. Never…I just don’t enjoy it.”

 

Her Postmates obsession:
“I think I actually eat better now than when I was competing—which is good, because I’m not training seven hours a day. When I lived in New York, I was a total Postmates girl—I literally never cooked; it was so bad—but now that I live in Boston, I’m trying to cook at home more. My fiancé is really good in the kitchen, but I’m trying to learn how to cook better so I can help [laughs]. We eat almost entirely organic and we’re really into green juice—our own when I’m at home and Suja when I’m traveling.”

 

Her beauty favorites:
“I wear so much makeup in my worklife, so when I’m home in Boston, I like to keep things as minimal as possible because my skin is very sensitive. I love Burt’s Bees lip balm—I have 20 in every pocket and every purse—and use Patchology FlashPatch eye gels every day when I wake up. Then I’ll add blush and bronzer from one of those Nars compact duos and a little mascara. Then I’ll put my hair in a ponytail or high bun, and I’m good to go. But when I’m on TV or doing red carpet, I love to experiment with different looks.

“The hardest part for me is finding the right routine for travel. When I was on Dancing with the Stars, I would leave straight from the live show in L.A. and take the red-eye back to New York—often in full hair and makeup—and my skin would be a disaster. Since then, I always make sure to bring makeup [removing] wipes on planes—it doesn’t matter what brand—and Tula’s Hydrating Mist. I also never drink alcohol or anything sugary during the flight. Although, to be honest, I hardly drink alcohol at all these days other than a glass of wine on date night.”

 

Her healthy words of wisdom:
“My mom always told me to treat my body like an expensive car—to put the best fuel in it. But still, I occasionally splurged on things like junk food when I was growing up, and I could feel it at practice the next day. When you’re constantly lifting the weight of your body [as a gymnast], you notice every little thing. It’s really easy to get down on yourself and lose balance.

“I think what’s most important is to not be too strict with yourself—if you’re too harsh, it’s actually easier to give up. Everything is okay in moderation. And just because you ate unhealthily one day—had a few glasses of wine or a tub of ice cream—that doesn’t mean you can’t wake up and start over again tomorrow.”

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