This month we’ll be tuning in to see amazing athletes from around the world, as well as our own communities, compete in the Winter Olympics, in Pyeongchang, North Korea. These olympians have to be in peak physical condition as they jump, spin, and fly with seemingly superhuman ability, in their quest to bring gold home to their respective countries. However, their abilities and physiques aren’t the result of anything other than practice, and a focus on the rest and fuel that keep them at the top of their game.
Along with the time these Olympians put into building their bodies up and honing their skills, the final piece of the trifecta that allows these athletes to perform at such a high level is the way that they fuel both their workouts and recovery. And, while few of us have 6 hours to put in at the gym, or succesfully get a full 8 hours of sleep each evening, we can all learn a little something from how these athletes eat as we pursue better health and performance.
First of all, let’s dispel the myth that all elite athletes eat 12,000 calories a day, and still retain their physiques and peak ability while chowing down on whatever they want. I mean, we’ve all seen the photos of Ryan Locate carb loading with 3 servings of pasta before a race, or read articles about teammate Michael Phelps downing multiple Big Macs as part of a daily diet, but these aren’t the norm for the US Olympic Team. In fact, multiple interviews with both Olympians and team dietitians reveal that, in light of increasing competition, athletes are eating small, eating often, and definitely eating clean.
According to Asker Jeukendrup, a leading sports nutritionist who has worked with a number of Olympians, “There’s been a change in the last few years where athletes have become more serious about thinking about what they’re putting into their bodies,” because, “the differences between winning and not winning are becoming smaller and smaller, and more and more athletes are becoming serious about nutrition.” One such Olympian is gymnast Gabby Douglass. Even when regularly training and competing Douglass only consumes between 2,000 and 2,500 calories a day, and focuses on small, high quality meals. One example of a typical lunch includes organic chicken breast and grilled asparagus, with balsamic vinegar. This lunch packs plenty of protein and nutrients into a tiny, 250 calorie package.
Trainer Matt Fitzgerald echoes the importance of a quality diet, stating that, “Although they eat everything, [he does not see athletes trending to any one kind of diet], they skew toward the highest quality food types – natural and unprocessed.” This can help pack the nutrients needed to keep our Olympians healthy, as well as the fuel necessary to keep them performing at their peak.
These natural, unprocessed foods keep Olympians bodies healthy, as well as working properly. The one thing that every Olympian has in common, no matter what sport they compete in, is their heart must perform at a higher level than the average person. By focusing their attention on foods that contain healthy fats and low cholesterol, they are feeding their heart what it needs to continue to perform at the level they require.
You don’t however have to be an Olympian to take on some of these dietary habits in your everyday life. By making small changes like baking foods instead of frying them, choosing produce that is organic, and limiting your intake of processed foods you too can start to see some of the benefits these athletes experience by eating clean. Take some time to reflect on the dietary habits of you and your family and see where you can make some changes to ensure you’re fueling your body with what it needs to perform!
Check out more information on the diets of some of your favorite Olympians, as well as more information from the trainers quoted above, check out the following articles: