Peptan Blog

OLYMPIC GYMNAST LUKA: ON THE ROAD TO WIN

athlete Luka van den Keybus sitting

OLYMPIC GYMNAST LUKA: ON THE ROAD TO WIN

27 Jun 2024

Luka van den Keybus is one of three male Belgian gymnasts competing in the 2024 Paris Olympics this summer. We spoke with Luka about his mental and physical preparation for this peak event, and about the importance of nutrition and supplements like collagen.

A kid with too much energy

As a child, Luka was so full of energy that his family urged him to find an outlet for it. ‘I was always bouncing around all over the place – at school, at home, everywhere,’ he smiles. When a friend decided to join a local gymnastics club, Luka went with him. Not long after starting, the two lads were both scouted by a professional coach and their lives took a drastic turn. Luka and his friend transferred to GO! Topsportschool Gent, a residential school for young athletes. From the tender age of nine, Luka was in boarding school – a move he has never once regretted. “Of course, it was a big change not being home much anymore, but being there with a friend turned it into a fun adventure. And the opportunity to be in the gym every day, with best possible coaching, was amazing. Finally, I had found a way to channel all that energy.’ He continues, ‘Sure, being a top athlete demands a lot from you. But there’s never been anything that made me want to quit gymnastics.’ 

From volunteer to paid pro

Ten years ago, Luka got his first taste of the Olympic atmosphere when he competed at the Youth Olympic Games in China.  ‘I won a silver medal on the horizontal bar. That’s when my sports career really started. Still, it wasn’t until September 2023 – after the World Championships – that I became a paid professional athlete. People don’t realize that there are quite a few top athletes who do not have a paid contract: they do everything voluntarily and with support from friends and family, as I did until last year.’ 

‘You succeed only 1% of the time’

In the runup to the Paris Olympics, Luka’s life revolves entirely around his sports performance – an immense challenge, both physically and mentally. ‘During training, the fact is that 99% of the time you’re failing to do what you’re trying to do; only once in a while does everything come together perfectly, and you perform exactly the way you’ve always wanted to. Learning to cope with reaching for goals that are almost always just out of your reach, and with the negative thoughts that can come from that, is crucial – especially as you’re usually training for events and goals that are years away. In order to keep believing in myself along the way, I have to stay focused on the 1% of my training time when I do succeed.’ 

‘In the runup to the Olympics, I have to forget that for the 99% of the time during which I fail to perform the way I really want to – and focus on the 1% when everything comes together perfectly’ 

The Games are just a moment

Luka offers an example of how negative thoughts can take way the joy of the sport. ‘For a long time, I thought my career could never be labelled successful if I didn’t make it to the Olympics. But I’ve learned, and am still learning, to put things in perspective. My performance in Paris will be just one moment in my life – a significant one, of course, at which I want to perform at my very best – but no more than a moment. In gymnastics anything can happen, so if the moment doesn’t go as planned, I have trained myself to remember: it’s not the end of the world.’ 

An external factor in Luka’s life that is helping him to keep that broad perspective, even while focusing on the Olympic moment, is that an even bigger life awaits right after the Games: he hopes to become a dad shortly after the 2024 Olympic Games.   

Training on the edge

In order to endure the intensive, boundary-pushing training to which sportspeople like Luka subject themselves, they have to understand their body very well. For gymnasts, training in the ‘grey zone’—which means constantly searching for the outer edges of what is physically possible—is essential. As is getting the right kind of rest and nutrition to recover from day to day, says Luka. ‘We focus as much on training as on recovering from training, because fuller, faster recovery means you can train more. This involves eating healthily and sufficiently, with a strong emphasis on protein – nearly 3 grams per kilogram of body weight per day – and vegetables, minimizing carbohydrates in the evening, and having a substantial breakfast to start my day strong.’ 

Sports nutrition is strict

What about the temptation to cheat with the occasional pizza, bag of crisps, or soda? ‘When you dream of sports success as intensely as we do, you can’t eat and drink like your peers. Just to give you an example, about five years ago, I decided to stop drinking alcohol completely – so not even on holidays or at special celebrations. Constantly reminding myself that it’s all for the greater goal helps me to maintain discipline. Loosening up every now and then in certain areas is fine, and even good for us, mentally, but doing that every weekend will make Mondays very tough. And that would mean you’re not properly training until Tuesday – and down goes your maximum potential.’ 

“When you dream of Olympic success as intensely as we do,  
you can’t eat and drink like your peers” 

Peaking with Peptan

Like most, if not all, professional sportspeople, Luka believes that nutritional supplements are an essential part of achieving peak performance in a demanding sport. ‘At our training facility, nearly everyone takes Peptan collagen peptides, and we’ve seen a significant drop in the rates of unnecessary injuries over the years. I cannot say I notice a difference between taking supplements and skipping them, simply because I’ve been consistently taking them for my entire adult career: magnesium, iron, Vitamin B and collagen. And it’s a fact that I’ve had very few injuries. Supplements like collagen help ensure your body can sustain the training effort and stay healthy.’ 

Collagen peptide recipes

Typically, Luka takes a collagen shot half an hour before morning training. During particularly intense sessions, he sometimes takes two shots a day. ‘Recently, we’ve been introduced to Peptan in its pure powder form, so we can integrate it in our diets in different ways.  

#OnTheRoadToWin

During the European Championships in April ’24, Luka suffered a small tear in his wrist. Luckily, he is on a good upward trajectory as he enters the final weeks before the 2024 Olympics. ‘Unlike people in other sports, such as running, we gymnasts don’t lighten our training regime in the last weeks. Next to staying fit, we are constantly refining our skills. I will repeat my exercises again and again to attain perfection. As gymnasts, we have to maintain consistency. For me, that means training at the highest level right up to the last days before the competition. Then when the moment arrives, my body will be used to the flow of exercise and I’ll be able to perform at my very best.” 

Follow Luka on his journey to the Olympics via Instagram 

Discover more about the other Peptan Ambassadors reaching for Olympic and Paralympic success this summer:  

  • ​​​Daniel Knegt, Dutch visually impaired judoka, with his coach, former Olympic judoka Danielle Gommers-Vriezema  
  • Noah Kuavita, Belgian gymnast and Luka’s teammate 
  • Marie Josephe Fegue, French weightlifter 

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