Ever wonder what Olympic athletes put in their bodies to get them performance ready? Let’s take a peek into what astonishing and quirky diets these athletes fess up to. Eater Magazine notes that more than 10,000 athletes consumed 460,000 pounds of food a day at the 2016 Rio games this year!
Michael Phelps, who is the most successful Olympic athlete of all time, had a 12,000 calorie diet in 2008 when he was 23. Global News
notes that for breakfast he ate 3 breakfast sandwiches loaded with mayo and cheese as well as an omelette with 5 eggs, 3 slices of French toast, 3 chocolate chip pancakes, two cups of coffee, and a bowl of grits on top of all of that. For lunch, he would eat a pound of enriched pasta, 2 ham and cheese sandwiches, and 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks. Finally, for dinner, he would eat a pound of pasta, an entire pizza, and additional energy drinks. I guess that out-of-this-world athletes need out-of-this-world diets!
It might be interesting to note that other athletes have habits of their own. GQ Magazine notes that the world’s fastest runner, Usain Bolt, starts the day with an egg sandwich followed by a workout and then has a light lunch of pasta with corned beef, meat or fish. Throughout the day while training, he satisfies his appetite with mangos, pineapples, and apples. For dinner, he replenishes all those calories lost with a large meal of Jamaican dumplings, roasted chicken, lots of vegetables including broccoli — something he’s admitted that he’s not a big fan of.
Simone Biles, who is a gold medal winning gymnast, told ABC News
that she eats pepperoni pizzas after every single meet! Seth Weil who is a member of the US rowing team uses peanut butter and jelly burritos in a flour tortilla to fuel himself.
It is important to remember that diet is no joke for these athletes. Eatright.org attests that, for athletes, nutrition is “one leg of the three-legged stool that supports their performance. Genetic endowment coupled with sport-specific training and coaching cannot stand on their own without proper food and fluid intake.”
Jason Machowsky is on the United States Olympic Committee Sports Dietitian Registry and works with Olympians as well and Olympic hopefuls (Interview with an Olympic Dietitian). He mentions that certain nutrition recommendations for Olympic athletes may not be suitable for the average person (like you and I). For instance, he notes that endurance athletes need more electrolytes and sugar while training versus a regular person. Endurance athletes demand lots of energy from their cells to contract different muscles throughout the body. Electrolytes like potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium are all necessary in allowing nutrients to pass through cell membranes, stimulating action potentials and enabling them to perform various metabolic processes during exercise. Cramps, side stitches, and muscle fatigue are all signs of electrolyte imbalance and thus for high endurance athletes, replenishment of electrolytes is especially important to maintain high active performance (Importance of Electrolytes).
However, Machowsky also mentions that everyone needs their fruits and vegetables! It may be interesting to note that Machowsky touches on the topic of eating disorders. He explains that some Olympic athletes take an extremely regimented approach to their eating to maximize their performance, but sometimes the athletes become too focused. The new-ish term coined in 1997, Orthorexia, is defined as having obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet. In Rebecca Rupp’s National Geographic article titled ‘When it Comes to Eating, How Healthy is Too Healthy?’, she discusses how Orthorexic lifestyles are controlled entirely by their diets and it consumes their lives. Although it is not an official eating disorder, Rupp has interviewed many first hand people who are recovering from this disorder and sees what a significant toll it has taken on their lives.
Machowsky declares that developing a balanced, healthy relationship with food is everyone’s best bet for long-term health, in the Olympics or not. Olympic diets may be specialized designed for high performing athletes, but there are many things that we as “normal people” can learn from. He says that Olympians having very strong self-discipline and endurance for their diets because they know it’s only for 4 years and they have their eyes set on the gold. Although not every one of us live for the Olympic competition, Machowsky makes a very strong point that individuals need to discover and set their own goal or “gold.” Olympic athletes act through a lens that allows them to focus on each decision and how it will affect their performance and ability. Individuals like us must strive for our own gold, whether it be a certain body mass index, specific weight or jean size, muscle mass, etc.
With a specific goal in mind, we can all make strategic decisions on what we should be eating to have our bodies perform at their best. And although most of our goals do not include Olympic medals, we can all definitely set small goals and achieve them. After all, we are UCLA students who do not shy away from any challenge!
Phillip Cox is a 4th year Bioengineering major and blogger for the Eat Well Pod within the Healthy Campus Initiative.