We all remember the reports of Michael Phelps’ 12,000-calorie daily binge (although there are reports that this was a myth) during the Summer Games. On the other end of the spectrum, there are wrestlers consuming only 1,200 calories on the day of competition just to make weight. So what is an athlete to do? What are Olympians in Sochi eating right now?
My daughter is a figure skater, so we’ve been watching the Olympics pretty closely. Because of what I do, advising teams and discussing sports nutrition for young athletes, my kids are pretty in tune with the do’s and dont’s of eating for sports. She pointed out to me the irony of having McDonald’s and Coca Cola as main sponsors of Team USA. She asked me if the athletes are required to eat McDonald’s food and drink Coke, then she said “it would be a shame to train so hard at home to make it to the Olympics and then sabotage your efforts with junk food.” Wise beyond her years…
So WHAT are the Olympians in Sochi eating? According to Nanna Meyer, senior sports dietician for the U.S. Olympic Committee, her job is to help athletes “make their plates, steer them away from MacDonald’s and keep them excited with interesting new things in snacks and familiar things shortly before, during and after exercise.” So I guess that answers that question.
Surprisingly, it was not until recent years (brought on by an Olympic skier who had to eat several protein bars for dinner because she couldn’t find anything else, and others who were getting sick from eating strange foreign foods before competition), that the US Olympic Team hired sports dieticians as well as team chefs to feed US athletes. There is an enormous amount of preparation that goes on at home and abroad to feed hundreds of athletes during the 3 weeks of Olympic events. A recent article by the New York Post reported on how Allen Tran, chef for the United States alpine, snowboarding and nordic teams, was dashing through the streets in full competition mode…in search of noodles! Tran says: “We were in battle with the Koreans who bought out all the rice noodles in Sochi,” Tran said. “They spent $35,000 in groceries. But luckily, we knew about an alternative market, so we responded. We got our game on, too. It’s an international competition not just for the slopes but for groceries.”
The women’s US hockey team also recently hired the services of a sports dietitian. “You want to have a lot of gas in the tank so you can show how good you are,” said Katey Stone, the American coach. “It’s just one more piece of the puzzle so that you have an advantage, a little edge.” Five hours before the United States opened the Olympic women’s hockey tournament with a 3-1 victory over Finland, the U.S. Team ate a breakfast of scrambled eggs, chopped baked potatoes, oatmeal, cereal, strawberries and blueberries. Two hours later, a pregame snack included bananas and more oatmeal fortified with peanut butter and almond butter. Afterward, fresh fruit was available in the locker room, along with liquid yogurt, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and shakes made of whey protein, pineapple, bananas and orange juice. The importance of the right foods at the right time is what gives athletes that Nutrition Edge, and I personally am SO happy to read that elite athletes are following the same basic principles I try to encourage my young athletes to follow. Julie Chu, a women’s hockey team forward says it best: “We can do all the training in the world, but if we don’t fuel our bodies right, that training’s not going to mean anything.” Music to my ears!
Jennifer Gibson, United States Olympic Committee Sports Dietitian, states: “It differs from athlete to athlete, but typically they eat four to six meals per day, evenly spaced out, and no more than four hours apart. The fiber is typically reduced in the athlete’s diet to avoid any upset stomachs or other intestinal unpleasantness, according to Rosenbloom. “No athlete wants to go into competition feeling gassy or bloated.”
Since post training recovery snacks are also important, here are Gibson’s top 5 easy, portable, and tasty snacks for athletes:
1. Chocolate milk or soy milk + banana + water
2. Chobani Greek yogurt+ apple + water
3. A shake with fruit + protein + water
4. High protein cereals like Mini Wheats or Kashi + milk or soymilk + water
5. A chicken, turkey, or tuna sandwich + fruit + water
So to all my young athletes, continue doing what you’re doing; train hard and fuel your body correctly…Eat Like a Champion to Be One!