Cara Stawicki is a rower in hot pursuit of a spot on the U.S. National Team. Dedicated to the support and development of young women athletes, Cara currently lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
What is your morning routine?
My mornings are all about efficiency. My team starts practice at 6:00am. It’s my job to make sure that my body and mind are ready to go, which is not always easy to accomplish so early! I actually have two morning routines that I use to prepare: one for home and one for the boathouse.
At home, my alarm goes off at 4:35am. I hit snooze, climb out of bed to put on my heart rate monitor, then immediately climb back in. For about the next fifteen minutes (two snooze cycles) I measure my resting heart rate and heart rate variability using BioForce HRV and simultaneously try to get a few more minutes of sleep. Bioforce generates a “readiness score” based on my heart rate measurements. Assuming the score shows I’m recovered and ready to train, I get up for a second time, make the bed, take a hot shower and throw on my gear for practice.
After that I head into the kitchen, have a glass water, make coffee and mix my pre-workout drink. Starbucks VIA microground coffee is my go-to before practice. It’s super easy and I love the Columbia roast. My pre-workout drink changes but almost always includes a SuperStarch, which is a type of carbohydrate and great source of energy for practice.
There’s plenty of time to sit with my coffee and pre-workout fuel at home but I get anxious to get to the boathouse, so at this point I head out the door. Ideally, it’s about 5:25am. Once there, I’ll sit in the car for five to ten minutes, have my coffee and pre-workout, and get my head ready to train. For whatever reason, it calms me to arrive extra early and have those minutes to myself in the car.
I head inside at about 5:40am and at this point, routine number two begins! Recovery drink in the fridge. Backpack in the locker room. Gather the rest of the gear I need for morning. Then into the weight room to start my mobility and dynamic warm-up routine.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
About two years.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
I used to wake-up around 5:30am for 6:00am practice. I’d climb out of bed and basically head straight to the boathouse to start my dynamics.
There were a few months when my practice time was changed to 7:30am. This is when I started experimenting with pre-workout fuel and settled into my current routine. When my practice time was changed back to 6:00am, I knew it would be worth it to wake up extra early to stick with what had been working.
What time do you go to sleep?
On average, I head into bed between 8-8:30pm. Lights off around 9:00pm.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
I always prepare the fuel that I’ll need for during and after the next day’s practice. Lately I’ve been drinking Natural Amino by NutriForce Sports mixed with a tablespoon of maple syrup during practice, and Ultragen by First Endurance after practice. I also set out all my gear (uni, long sleeve, long tights, etc) so I’m not fishing around for clothes in the morning.
I don’t necessarily do these things right before bed. Just at some point during the afternoon or evening when I have extra time or need a break from work.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
Yes and yes! Some people seem to have this huge aversion to hitting snooze but I don’t see a problem with it.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
I usually get home from practice around 9:00am and start making breakfast almost immediately. I’m eating by about 9:30 and try to get out the door by 10:00 to grab a second cup of coffee and settle in with my laptop to work.
I almost always have eggs, egg whites, or a combination of both, as well as sautéed veggies with either toast or oatmeal. My current go-to is two slices of Canyon Bakehouse Mountain white bread toasted, two teaspoons of Bonne Maman jam or jelly, and eggs on top mixed with spinach and either cheese or avocado. It’s a great mix of fat, carbs, and protein. If I’m particularly hungry, I may add a sliced banana on top too.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
I follow my team’s training program, which means I work out almost every morning on the Concept2 ergometer (indoor rower) or on the water.
We’ve had a really mild winter in Philly this year so we’ve been able to row almost every day. In terms of the actual workout, I do whatever’s on the program. Morning workouts are generally about two hours and vary in intensity depending on the time of year.
Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?
No, but ideally I can focus my mind on the erg or the water to the point of attaining sort of flow, which to me is a form of meditation.
It’s hard though. It takes discipline. There’s always a lot going on at the boathouse and on the Schuylkill. It’s easy to get distracted. I noticed last year that distractions were really affecting my performance. I’ve had to learn to be less reactive, improve my focus, and discipline my mind.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
No. I’ll either start checking email at home during breakfast or wait until I’m back out of the house and ready to work for the day.
I read once that answering email first thing in the morning triggers a reactive state of mind. I agree, and therefore make it a point to leave email until later in the day.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
Not really. I started using the calendar feature of the Day One app a few months ago to keep track of my daily schedule. Sometimes I’ll check in with that in the morning, but usually I’m just focused on getting out the door with my coffee!
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
My morning routine is pretty condensed, so honestly everything is important.
I’d say my top three tasks are making the bed, taking a hot shower, and having my coffee and pre-workout fuel. I remember when a university commencement speech made national news because the speaker, a former Navy Seal, talked about the importance of making the bed to start off the day. I totally got that because this has been a habit of mine since I was a kid. I think I actually forwarded the speech to my husband, if I remember correctly. But, yes, making the bed has always been an important morning task. I literally can’t leave the house unless it’s done.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
Water, coffee, pre-workout drink. Roughly in that order. Starting around 5:15am.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
Yes, but practice on the weekends usually starts at 7, 8, sometimes even 9:00am. So I’ll end up waking up later and bumping the entire routine to later in the morning.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
I’ve been an athlete my whole life, so honestly, if I don’t get in a workout first thing in the morning, I can get pretty cranky. However, our training can get incredibly intense and I’ve learned to rest whenever I can and as much as I can. So during the occasional morning off, I don’t stress about not working out and instead catch up on things at home.
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