The Olympic Games represent health, fitness and dedication like nothing else and it was incredible to feel a part of them when in Rio.
Of course, the Olympics only last a couple of weeks in August, and the Paralympics a couple of weeks in September 2016, so not everyone will have the opportunity to experience them when visiting Rio de Janiero. Thankfully, there are lots of other things you can do if you want to experience a fit, healthy and inspiring trip to Rio...
Take a hike
We arrived in Rio at 5am after a restless overnight flight, but the first thing we did was head to the base of the Corcovado mountain in the stunning Parque Lage to hike up to Christ the Redeemer - one of the new seven wonders of the world.
There are options are to take a train, van or taxi up, but we wanted a workout, a challenge, and to experience the beauty of the jungle. Those two very sweaty hours were so worth it.
There aren’t many panoramic viewpoints on the hike, but as you’re in the middle of a dense, luscious jungle, you’re constantly surrounded by overwhelmingly beautiful sights (and adorable little monkeys!). For me, experiencing the jungle like this was even more amazing than seeing Christ the Redeemer itself.
The path is simple to follow as it is well worn. The hike is fairly easy to start with but it increases considerably in steepness. The last third of the trail in particular is tough with deep steps that require some lower body strength to get yourself up (my glutes were burning!) and sections that require you to climb up rock, or metal rungs where the rock is too steep to navigate otherwise.
The latter especially tested my confidence in my own strength and fitness, but that meant that completing the trail was so rewarding. I’m sure this wouldn’t be rated as an incredibly difficult trail overall - especially for experienced hikers - but it requires at least a basic level of fitness.
After paying our entrance fee and taking obligatory tourist photos at the top of the mountain with the statue, we took the train down. While we saw some people take the trail back down, we thought better of it after watching them struggle - descending the steep inclines appeared even more difficult and dangerous than ascending them. The train ride back through the trees was the perfect way to end the experience though, allowing us to gaze down into the incredible depths of the jungle with a different perspective.
I’d highly recommend the trail to anyone with a relatively good level of fitness. The park rangers suggest that the hike takes 2.5 hours, but we did it in almost exactly two.
If you’re thinking of tackling it, drink plenty of water (we each took a 1.5 litre bottle with us), fuel up on energy-sustaining healthy fats and proteins before you set off (we started the day with a massive stuffed omelette and snacks of cashew nuts) and consider taking a towel!
Other hikes that I’ve heard are worth trying (but didn’t get chance to experience myself) include:
- The hiking trail that leads to Tijuca Peak in Tijuca National Park, where there’s the picturesque Cascatinha Taunay waterfall.
- Morro da Urca, which is the smaller peak located next to the famous Sugarloaf Mountain. We took a cable car up to each peak as we were with a group, but I’d have loved to have hiked the first peak before continuing by cable car to the second.
- Two Brothers - the iconic hills at the western end of the Ipanema/Leblon beaches. We had considered hiking Two Brothers, but as the trailhead is at the top of Vidigal, a favela neighbourhood, taking a guide is recommended.
I've definitely been inspired to get outside and walk more at home too. Let me know if you can recommend any good walks/hikes near London or across the UK.
Besides hiking, there are lots of other ways to get active around Rio. As with most city breaks, you can clock up a lot of steps simply by exploring, but Rio is a playground designed for more than just a stroll.
The Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon (where the Olympic Rowing is held) is definitely worth a visit. It’s lined with a two-directional pathway to guide the many locals who walk, run or cycle the 8km circumference. There are also a number of fitness stations - frames designed for exercises such as pulls up and dips. Some of these areas have also been kitted out with weighted bars - concrete set on each end of a metal bar and weighing around 60kg, giving you the chance to sneak a few deadlifts in!
Like the lake, the beaches in Copacabana and Ipanema have path lanes running alongside them specifically used by cyclists and joggers as well as multiple workout stations for a picturesque training session.
Drink coconut water
The lake in particular is lined with drinks vendors selling a variety of refreshments but there’s nothing that I’d recommend more than sipping from a fresh coconut.
The young, raw coconuts have a deliciously delicate and refreshing taste, completely different than you might have experienced from a carton off a supermarket shelf.
I’m not a fan of heat-treated, tetra-packed coconut waters, and neither should you be! There’s a reason why so many people that have been put off coconut water entirely by them.
The kinds of coconut water that you find in stores outside of a refrigerator have been heat pasteurised to extend the shelf life. However, in the process, the taste is changed and key nutrients are destroyed. They also tend to use the water from older coconuts, which is cheaper, less nutritious and tastes very different. Some drinks even use a concentrate rather than fresh water.
If you’re looking for a good quality coconut water in the UK that tastes as similar to a fresh coconut as possible, opt for brands like Unoco and Mighty Bee who source their water from young, green coconuts, which undergo minimal processing. You’ll be able to see and taste the difference!
Eat fresh bananas
Like coconuts, you can see bananas growing locally in the beautiful trees that line roads and hiking trails around Rio. If you get up early enough you’ll also see locals climbing the trees to pick the fresh fruits.
While I’m generally not the biggest lover of bananas in the UK, I bought one for an energy boost pre-hike from a street vendor’s crate where it sat looking… not that appealing... Yet, it was the most delicious, fresh-tasting banana that I’ve ever had.
Bananas are sold in so many different forms in both supermarkets and restaurants and it’s worth giving them a try. I loved the grilled banana I had at dinner one evening.
If you’re not already aware, bananas are packed with nutrients like dietary fibre, vitamin C, manganese and potassium. Just be conscious of their high sugar content!
You might have seen acai (pronounced AH-SIGH-EE) products online and littering aisles of stores such as Holland and Barrett in the UK, their popularity driven by absurd weight loss claims. Erase those from your mind.
Simply, the acai berry is a dark purple fruit that looks similar to a grape. They grow on palm trees which are native to South America, mainly Brazil.
Acai bowls (Açaí na tigela - "açaí in the bowl") are made from frozen, blended acai berry (or probably acai powder in most cases outside of Brazil), typically topped with granola or banana, and is often blended with another fruit. I had a delicious acai bowl with passionfruit.
Acai bowls can be found increasingly in health food cafes outside of Brazil (for example in Whole Foods or Mojo in London), but in Rio, acai bowls can be bought at chain juice stores such as Polis Suco, from street vendors and in large tubs in supermarket frozen aisles - all pretty cheaply. Acai powders also take pride of place in their health food stores, such as Mundo Verde.
Like many other fruits (especially those rich in colour), the acai berry contains many nutrients and are pretty delicious. Definitely worth trying an acai bowl, but for multiple reasons, give any kind of acai supplement a miss.
Eat your protein
Rodízio restaurants are popular in Brazil, and have been replicated across the globe. They are the all-you-can-eat style of restaurant in which you will typically have servers come to you at the table with various types of meat on a huge skewer, which they will carve onto your plate.
Without a doubt, the best meal that I had during my trip to Rio was at Fogo de Chao in Botafogo. There were numerous types of meat served - still sizzling - directly to you at your table as well as an incredible buffet of sides and salads.
Take control of your nutrition - what to take with you
Despite the delicious foods that I’ve described above, and the abundance of amazing exotic fruits on offer, I really struggled to eat well while in Rio (especially at Olympic venues, where the food offerings were quite honestly appalling).
The majority of the food was based around wheat and loaded up with cheese or sugar. Finding a convenient source of lean protein was near impossible and I was lucky if I managed one portion of vegetables a day.
For some people, having an excuse to spend a week devouring pizzas and burgers might be great, but I felt incredibly sluggish and was craving something fresh. I found a couple of healthier food places, such as a salad bar chain called Go Fresh in a shopping mall, but they were few and far between.
So, to keep you feeling happy and healthy during your trip, there are a few supplements that I’d recommend taking with you, to keep your digestion, immune system and overall wellbeing on point:
I knew that my diet wouldn’t be different than it is at home, and that I could be susceptible to bugs when travelling, so I took a probiotic with me that was high strength and contained a good variety of beneficial bacteria. I hope that this helped to keep my gut bacteria balanced and doing their job of keeping me healthy!
In addition to probiotics, I wish I’d have taken some kind of fibre supplement with me to Rio. Fibre helps to keep your digestive system healthy, including the healthy bacteria in your gut, and can help to control blood sugar levels.
During and after my trip, I wanted to ensure that I took plenty of immune boosting supplements (in addition to probiotics). The huge perk to travelling with a supplements brand was that this was easily taken care of - I got my hands on the Immune + Elderberry formulation by Swisse. I was pretty sniffly after enduring a long trip home and so took 4 of these a day for the next week. Thankfully the sniffles didn't turn in to anything worse!
I think everyone should be taking a multivitamin daily. It’s an easy way to ensure that you’re meeting your nutritional requirements - a simple insurance policy. Swisse have a pretty impressive range of multi-nutrient products containing a decent dose of vitamins, minerals and botanical extracts. They’re also easily available (and affordable!) at Boots stores in the UK - so you’ve no excuses not to hit your RDAs!
Side note: Swisse haven’t asked me to promote any of their specific products, but I’ve taken these myself and am genuinely happy to recommend them to anyone.
While in Rio we unluckily had some of our bags stolen, which meant that I was without my phone, as well as many other personal items, for the duration of the trip.
Weirdly, I didn’t freak out that much. Of course it caused inconvenience, but it turns out that not having a phone or a bag full of random stuff to carry around is incredibly liberating.
I spent 5 days in Rio carrying little more than a few bank notes and a travel card in my sports bra. I lived in the moment, enjoyed the company of who I was with, and felt calmer than I have in months (despite the nightmare of having to make police reports and cancel bank cards…).
At the time of writing this, I’ve been back in London for over a week and still don’t have a replacement personal phone. In some ways, it’s a total pain in the ass. In other ways, it’s kind of nice. I’m wasting a lot less time and looking up a whole lot more.
We should all spend less time living through handheld devices.
Side note: if you visit Rio, be incredibly mindful of your belongings and never carry more than the essentials with you. We were very aware of the risk of theft but in just a few seconds of letting your guard down to admire breathtaking views, shit happens.
Thank you Swisse!
Thanks to Swisse, I had an unforgettable experience visiting Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games.
On the trip, I was really lucky to speak with the team behind the brand about their products. One partiuclar highlight was joining the Australian Swisse team in the suite that they were occupying during the Olympics for ingredients chatter and general supplement geekery over a healthy brunch - genuinely my idea of a good time. Swisse is ‘Australia's number one multivitamin brand’ and they were also the vitamin choice of the Australian Olympic Team.
If you’d also like to get to know the brand, head to the Swisse website for a browse. I'd love to know if there are any products that you have your eye on, so be sure to leave me a comment below.