Olympic Games is the biggest sporting event in the world and is held every 4 years, alternating between the Summer and Winter Games every 2 years in the 4-year period.
The Summer Games consist of 28 different sports and Winter Games consist of 7 sports, with athletes from more than 200 countries around the world competing against each other. It is truly a magnificent event, with the Olympic spirit having been described as the effort, the struggle and the refusal to give up.
At this highest level of competition the margin of victory is so narrow that athletes seek any advantage they can get. In their effort for sporting excellence, Olympic athletes put in years of grueling training to even stand a chance at reaching the pinnacle of their sport. This effort is largely powered by nutrition, with Olympic athletes burning thousands of calories every day.
The task of fuelling Olympic athletes is often left to sports nutritionists, with the demand possibly being as high as ever. Athletes try to be as cautious as possible about what types of food fuel their bodies and performance.
Joanne Irvine, a performance nutritionist at Canadian Sports Institute Pacific (CSI Pacific), who works with Team Canada athletes says that nutrition can impact an athlete’s performance to the extent of uncovering and gaining even a 1% advantage over their competitors, which may make the difference between 1st and 4th place.
Olympic athlete diet plan
A typical Olympic athlete’s diet plan may look something like this:
- 55-60% of daily calories from carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. This is because Olympic athletes need a lot of energy and carbohydrates are your bodies primary muscle fuel.
- 15-25% of daily calories from lean proteins, fish, poultry, beans, and low-fat dairy. Protein serves as the building blocks for tissue such as muscle. Athlete’s need plenty of protein to grow and repair their muscles.
- 20-30% of daily calories from high-quality fats such as olive oil, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados. Fats are essential for helping your body to absorb vitamins and minerals, as well as boosting the immune system and brain function.
The macro ratios can be adjusted according to the individual needs of each sport and athlete. For example, the legendary Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is known for his extraordinary 12,000 calorie diet consisting of massive sandwiches, pizzas, pancakes, french toast and other fatty foods. They are then washed down by stream of energy drinks. The reason behind this diet is the insane energy demands of a high-endurance sport like swimming. Eating junk food makes it much easier to accumulate the necessary energy replenishing calories.
However, not every nutritionist and athlete agrees with this practice. Some athletes only rely on lean meats, such as chicken and turkey, whole grain foods and reduced-fat dairy products. In fact, it appears that the trend at the 2018 Winter Olympics is to eat meals that are optimized for performance, which includes avoiding processed foods.
A common breakfast for many athletes in the 2018 Winter Olympics consists of such foods as oatmeal, fruits, eggs, yogurt, vegetables and lean fish, such as salmon.
Different sports have different energy demands, therefore it is essential that sports nutritionists are knowledgeable about the demands of the sport in order to make sure the athlete has enough energy to compete in their event.
A ski jumper may consume as little as 1300 calories per day, because the demands of the sport require the athlete to be light in order to fly farther. These athletes are also known for ‘cutting’ weight by restricting calorie consumption prior to competition, in order reduce their body weight and gain an advantage. This is very similar in figure skating, where athletes need to be quick and agile.
The opposite can be observed in disciplines, such as cross-country skiing. The grueling demands of the sport require the athlete to push their bodies through a snowy terrain over a long distance, therefore have greater energy demands.
This article first appeared on GYMNASIUMPOST.com on May 11, 2020.