What Soccer Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo’s Training Regimen Reveals About the Nature of Success

If you aren’t familiar, Juventus (formerly Real Madrid and Manchester United) striker Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably one of the best soccer players in the world. He’s won five Ballon d’Or awards; think best male soccer player in the world. He’s won five Champions League titles and holds the records for most goals and most assists in Champions League competition.

He’s the first player to win league titles in England, Spain, and Italy.

And if you’re into that kind of thing, he ranked second on the 2020 list of highest paid athletes in the world with total earnings of $105 million.

While talent is required to amass such a flashy CV, so is longevity. Ronaldo is 35 years old, which in soccer years is ancient, especially for an attacking player reliant on speed, quickness, and agility.

Ronaldo’s “secret”? Relentless physical conditioning.

An extremely strict and regimented diet. Ronaldo eats six meals a day: High protein, low fat, wholegrain carbs, lots of vegetables and fruits. Nothing frozen. Nothing processed. Limited sugar. Limited alcohol. His favorite dish is bacalhau a braz, a mixture of cod, onions, thinly sliced potatoes and scrambled eggs. (Eek.)

And apparently lots — and lots — of sleep. Ronaldo works with sleep expert Nick Littlehales, author of Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps, and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind.

Littlehales is a longtime proponent of taking five 90-minute sleep periods throughout the day. 

Yep: Five 90-minute naps.

The underlying theory makes sense. A normal sleep cycle lasts for 90 minutes. As you sleep, you go through different sleep states. The first is light sleep, followed by deep sleep and REM sleep. The full cycle lasts about 90 minutes and is repeated during the night.

“The best way to plan your bedtime is to work backwards from when you need to wake up,” says Christopher Lindholst, founder of MetroNaps. “If you need to get up at 7 a.m., go to bed at either 1 a.m. or 11.30 p.m. That way you get four or five full sleep cycles. Then you’ll wake up more naturally and avoid sleep inertia, the feeling of grogginess that results from waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle.”

Which makes 90 minutes an ideal length of time to sleep.

The key, according to Littlehales, is to sprinkle those periods throughout the day and night for a total of 7.5 hours of sleep.

“Before artificial lighting came along in the 1700s, we always slept shorter periods, and more often,” Littlehales says. “Shorter at night, midday and early evening with little short breaks. That is how we used to do it.”

History backs him up: The book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past describes how households went to bed one or two hours after sunset, woke a few hours later and stayed up for two or three hours, then had a “second sleep” until dawn. In between they would relax, do a little work, tend to livestock… the practice of two “sleeps” was normal.

Whether Ronaldo strictly follows the five 90-minute sleep periods is open to debate. Some sources say he embraces it. Others say he takes those “naps” in addition to getting a full night’s sleep. (Hard to imagine, but hey — maybe nothing is impossible for Ronaldo.)

But what’s not open to debate is that Ronaldo has found a fitness, diet, and sleep regimen that works for him.

Which is all that matters.

Plenty of people feel they go the extra mile. Plenty of people say they’re willing to pay the price for achievement. Plenty of people they understand the price that must be paid for incredible success.

Yet whenever you try something new — whenever you try something other people are afraid to try, or do something other people are unwilling to do — it’s hard to not worry about what other people might think.

They’ll definitely talk about you. They might even laugh at you. 

The only way to keep other people from criticizing or judging you? To only do what other people do. 

But that means you can only be as successful as they are. Or as fulfilled. Or as happy.

Work hard to find what works for you, professionally and personally. If an unusual sales process works for you, follow it. If an unusual leadership style works for you, follow it. If an unusual fitness routine works for you, follow it.

Other people might think you’re off track. Or odd. Or even a little crazy.

But that’s okay, because the goal is to live your life.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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