To make it to the Olympics, athletes not only train their bodies and their minds to perfection, they must hone in on their nutrition, too. They know that what they eat can make a difference in Olympic gold.
Eating a healthy diet sufficient in nutrients and calories to fuel training is the key component and may just be the deciding factor in that tenth of a second that distinguishes a gold medal from silver. These athletes know firsthand how to eat and drink for optimal performance and recovery, and their tips can help you, too.
Olympians Eat Breakfast Daily
Olympians consume their first meal approximately 30 minutes after waking up. Our bodies become insulin sensitive after eating breakfast. Insulin sensitivity refers to how well the body responds to the hormone insulin. When you eat most of your calories earlier in the day, the total caloric intake throughout the day actually decreases.
Starting the day with protein is a good choice. When consuming lean protein in the morning choose omega-3 rich eggs or egg whites; low-fat, organic dairy; lean and clean breakfast meats; as well as the high protein, whole grains like steel cut oatmeal or quinoa.
Olympians Eat Organic
Foods which are not organic may be toxic and pose severe health risks to people as well as hinder athletic performance. Avoid the most contaminated fruits and vegetables by purchasing organic versions. “The Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables was put together by the Environmental Working Group. This list includes apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumber, blueberries and potatoes—some of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables.
Olympians Eat Small, Frequent Meals
The Olympic season is considered peak season for athletes. They should fuel often, eating every four hours. By keeping a regular meal schedule, athletes can prevent fatigue and reduce injury risk. During competition, the most rapid use of fuel, regardless of intensity, occurs during the first 20 to 30 minutes. The goal of athletes during competition is to provide macronutrients and calories to sustain the activity. Athletes need proper nutrition to prevent glycogen depletion, enhance their immune function, reduce muscle damage and speed muscle recovery.
Olympians Hydrate Often
When entering competition fully hydrated, chances are athletes will perform better. Fluid requirements vary from person to person, so the best way to stay adequately hydrated is to stick to a schedule. Different from Olympians, most of us only require approximately 11 to 15 cups of water daily, according to the Institute of Medicine. Choose to drink filtered water, so that many of the dangerous contaminants have been removed.
Sample Olympian Diet
Approximately 60 percent of an athlete’s diet should steam from carbohydrates with a mix of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and small amounts of low fat, organic dairy. About 30 percent of an athlete’s diet should come from lean proteins, fish, poultry, lean meats, beans and low fat, organic dairy. Another 10 percent of an athlete’s diet should come from quality fats, like olive and canola oils, nuts and nut butters, seeds and avocados.
A smart nutrition goal for any athlete would be to enjoy a nutrient rich, mostly plant-based diet. Always fuel before, possibly during and after exercise. Balance energy by eating small, frequent meals throughout the day and be sure to hydrate adequately with water, herbal teas and natural juices. Good nutrition will always enhance performance. Never let poor nutrition be a limiting factor.