Can you believe we’re only six months away from the 2016 Summer Olympics? If you think the London Closing Ceremonies feel like they were just yesterday, imagine how it feels to be American swimmer and 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin. She’s only on the cusp of becoming *THE* most decorated female athlete in the history of the Olympics. You know, NBD. Natalie took a breather from her intense training schedule to talk to us about the Road to Rio and life as an Olympian, so read on for some of her work/life balance tips, including how to spice up workouts, her DIY hobbies and her very own recovery smoothie recipe.

Why You Should Fit Swimming into Your Schedule

BEIJING - AUGUST 14: (L-R) Lisbeth Trickett of Australia, Britta Steffen of Germany and Natalie Coughlin of the United States competes in the Women's 100m Freestyle Semifinal 1 at the National Aquatics Centre during Day 6 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 14, 2008 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Sure, it’s fun to get jazzed up about new fitness trends (cat yoga or Piloxing, anyone?), but one you’re probably ignoring is the one you were practically born knowing how to do. “Swimming is one of the few activities that you can do at any age,” says Natalie, who took her first lesson at only eight months old. “You can do it well into your elderly years, you can do it while you’re pregnant. Grandparents can do it with their grandkids. There are very few exercises like that.”

And if you’re not tempted back into the pool by some of the obvious fitness benefits of water weightlessness, such as natural resistance and low impact on joints, Natalie suggest considering some other ways to liven up a swim. “One of the biggest trends right now is taking a paddleboard and doing yoga in the water, or Zumba in the water. I’ve done the water spin class before. It was fun, and it’s really different!” (Photo via Al Bello/Getty Images)

How to Stay Motivated for Four. Whole. Years.

Natalie Coughlin Official Headshot, image courtesy of Speedo

Suffering an injury or losing a match can test an athlete’s patience, especially when the next race or game is weeks or months away. Heck, sticking to a juice cleanse for more than a day can cause a crisis of faith in the best of us. But four years? How do you keep a goal set in your sights for four years? “I definitely struggled with motivation when I was younger, because the four years in between the Olympics seemed like such a long period of time. Now that I’m older, I kind of know what to expect. The time in between the Olympics flies by. I feel like I was just preparing for London, but now we’re less than six months away from Rio, it’s pretty crazy.”

The key to staying so focused? Gratitude. “So many of my friends have normal office jobs, and they have to figure out how to fit in their workouts around their work schedules. I get to work out as my job.” At 33 years old, Natalie knows she’s lucky to be able to still call herself a professional athlete. “Taking care of my body, that’s such a great thing, and that’s not gonna be forever. So I’m savoring every moment of it.” (Photo via Speedo)

On Making Time for Hobbies

Natalie Coughlin Garden

Since staying in a pool 24 hours a day would make her fingers all pruney, Natalie’s got to balance it all out with other fit + fun activities. In addition to running, yoga and weight lifting, this East Bay girl loves to take her two dogs for hikes around the Lafayette Reservoir, or she’ll hit the waves in Pacifica for some surfing with friends.

And when she’s not exercising? Natalie’s cooking up a storm with ingredients from her very own garden and chickens. “I’m actually in the process of a massive garden renovation,” she tells us. “We hired a landscaper that specializes in edible landscapes. I’m *so* excited, because now it’s going to be beautiful on top of being productive. It’s going to be a Mediterranean style garden, because Mediterranean is low water, naturally.” It’s going to be chockablock full of colorful, healthy goodies like brambleberry bushes, pomegranates, pineapple guava, citrus trees, figs and, of course, lots of green veggies. She even plans on adding honey bees as her next hobby. (Photo via @nataliecoughlin)

Eating Like an Olympian

Natalie Coughlin Official Headshot 2, image courtesy of Speedo

With all that goodness growing her backyard, you know Natalie is eating right. And while we were definitely curious to hear if her diet is as insane as fellow super swimmer Michael Phelps’ diet, Natalie says it’s neither too gluttonous nor too strict — just more calories when training versus not training and avoiding foods that cause inflammation like sugar and trans fats.

“It’s really just about getting enough protein during the day. As an athlete, my muscles are constantly getting torn down from the training and everything, so I want to help with it.” She focuses on getting protein, not just during breakfast, lunch and dinner, but also in snacks. “Almonds, hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, things like that give me protein in little hits throughout the day. That’s something I’ve really been focusing on for the past five years or so, just getting enough protein spread throughout the day for muscle repair.” (Photo via Speedo)

Natalie Coughlin’s Almond Cherry Recovery Smoothie

Natalie Coughlin’s Almond Cherry Recovery Smoothie 1

Aching muscles come with the fitness territory, so take it from this pro and try her deeeelicious recovery smoothie. “The almonds are great because they add protein. The chia seeds also add protein, as well as fiber. The dark cherries are really good at preventing inflammation, and they have a ton of antioxidants. It tastes like a milkshake!” Try out Natalie’s recipe below to whip your muscles back into shape!

Makes 1 serving

 — 1 cup unsweetened almond milk

— 1 tablespoon chia seeds

— 1/2 frozen banana

— 1 cup frozen dark cherries

— 1 tablespoon almond butter

 Put all ingredients in a blender and blend. Enjoy!

Do you incorporate swimming into your workout routine? Tell us about how you make it interesting @Britandco!

(Featured photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty)

Fitness inspo from Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin.