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6 body image secrets from a pro athlete

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Adriana Leon has a cool mix of confidence and unawareness. When the winger for the Canada’s women’s soccer team enters the Academy of Lions in Toronto one very early Thursday morning, you know she’s somebody. It’s partly her long, white-blond hair, powerhouse legs that leggings can’t hide and slick Nike gear. But it’s also her vibe. Leon and teammate Sophie Schmidt are here to put journalists and bloggers through a workout similar to their own. When she’s asked to lead us through the warm-up with carioca, dynamic quad stretches, side shuffles, walking lunges and more, she doesn’t yell at us like an army sergeant or belittle us (remember we’re not professional athletes, so it could have been frustrating). Instead, she’s encouraging, proud and really, really nice. After the workout (there’s a similar one on the Nike Training Club app called Goal Getter), as we all lie on the floor stretching our quads and hamstrings, she tells us about eating gummy bears post-exercise, de-stressing before a big game and minimizing the negative voice in our heads. After that, she chatted with Glow about how to get a strong body image. 

1. Consider each workout to be a part of a bigger plan
Leon’s not gung-ho to sweat it out in the gym every day. When asked if there are days when she’d rather do anything but, she says, “Sometimes I wake up and I’m really exhausted. Like yesterday; it was such a hard day. You have to talk yourself through it to realize you’ve got to look at the bigger picture. It’s something I need to do. I need to work out if I want to be better, if I want to be the best. I need to get up. I need to do it.”

2. Create goals that reap improvement, not self-criticism
“Basically, I just want to be the best I can be every single day in training,” she says. “So specific goals are being better than I was yesterday and making sure I’m the hardest-working player out there. Overall, I try to improve on everything. We do a lot of speed training: we’re in the gym lifting, trying to get stronger and working on the little things—finishing up the net, shooting and stuff like that.”

3. Understand that food is a source of energy
What Leon eats depends on how physical she is. During soccer season, she’ll eat more carbohydrates and supplement her diet with protein drinks. “But on a non-training day, I’ll eat a bowl of cereal, or I’ll have two eggs or egg whites and a piece of toast. For lunch I’ll have a chicken salad or a wrap. And at night, just chicken, brown rice, some greens.”

4. Appreciate your body
We don’t often think, “Wow, my _____________ looks great today.” So when asked what her favourite body part is, even Leon is caught off guard. “For me? Personally? Nobody has ever asked me that before,” she says with a laugh. But without hesitation, she says, “I like my legs.”

5. Give yourself positive me time
This means different things for different women, whether it’s a soothing bath or running a quick 10 K. Leon meditates. “I lie down, get my laptop out, put my meditation music on and just close my eyes for 10 to 15 minutes,” she says. “I just try not to think about anything. It’s really tough.”

6. Appreciate yourself
We often hear about girls dropping out of sports because of body image issues, like not wanting to wear a swimsuit. By age 14, twice as many girls stop being active compared to boys of the same age, reports a study from Women’s Sports Foundation. How did Leon make it past that stage? Body confidence. “It’s just about realizing that everyone’s different, everyone is unique. Everyone has different qualities and it’s just finding the best in yourself. I think everyone is beautiful.”

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Lisa Hannam

Lisa Hannam is Glow's health editor and unofficial guinea pig for test-driving new workouts, fitness gear and nutrition trends. When not combing through food label claims and evaluating new vitamins and supplements, Lisa can be found at her desk most days, translating the medical journal jargon into understandable English. Follow her on Instagram @lisahannam, Twitter @lisahannam, as well as on Pinterest at pinterest.com/lisahannam and tumblr at lisahannam.tumblr.com.

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