Olympic competitors are famous for treating their bodies like finely tuned machines. So what does it take to fuel an Olympian?
“Every athlete is different,” says sport dietitian Susan Boegman of Victoria, who created the diet plan for members of the Canadian swim team. Depending on the sport, their physique and their training, athletes’ nutritional requirements can vary wildly, she says. Some individuals may need to focus on ingesting more branched-chain amino acids from protein sources, like meat or dairy products, to develop muscles. Some may focus on increasing their calorie intake to power them through high-volume training, while others may need to eat more carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores.
Timing is also a factor. Ms. Boegman says some Olympic athletes reduce their food intake as they taper their training ahead of competition, which could mean cutting as much as 3,000 calories from their daily diets.
“A light-weight rower, for example, might drop down quite significantly in their intake,” she says. “It’s what we call ‘periodizing’ their nutrition.”
While a triathlete like Paula Findlay ingests roughly 2,500 calories a day while training, Kamloops, B.C.-born Dylan Armstrong, known as the world’s No. 1-ranked shot putter, consumes nearly four times as much energy during peak training.
Trent Stellingwerff, a senior exercise physiologist who works with the Athletics Canada team, created a diet plan for Mr. Armstrong that was low in fat and heavy on foods containing high levels of the amino acid leucine, like meat and fish, to help him gain muscle mass. He estimated Mr. Armstrong’s caloric requirement is roughly 6,000 to 9,000 calories a day, and sometimes more, during particularly intense training periods. But Dr. Stellingwerff advises not to get too caught up in keeping close tabs on one’s daily intake, as individuals tend to over-report or under-report what they eat anyway. His advice: “Use hunger and body weight as your key guide.”
Here’s a snapshot of what two competitors eat in a typical training day.
Triathlon, roughly 2,500 calories
Paula Findlay, 23, is preparing to make her Olympic debut. While a public-relations representative for Ms. Findlay says she doesn’t really keep track of the amounts she eats, the Edmonton-born triathlete definitely keeps a healthy diet that is heavy on vegetables and rich in lean protein, like chicken and fish.
- Rice cakes with almond butter and a banana
- yogurt with chia seeds and nuts with almond milk
- salad with cottage cheese
- energy bar, apple, carrots and hummus
- quinoa with lots of vegetables, yams, chicken, and salad
Swimming, up to 6,000 or 7,000 calories
Ryan Cochrane, 23, is looking to add another medal to his collection. The freestyle specialist from Victoria brought home a bronze, Canada’s lone medal in swimming, from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Mr. Cochrane and several of his fellow team members follow a diet designed by sport dietitian Susan Boegman that contains plenty of whole grains, vegetables and fruits, plus lots of milk and yogurt.
-large bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal, small handful almonds, berries
- sport drink
- energy bar
- several scrambled eggs with tomatoes and greens; several slices of wholewheat toast; greek yogurt and fruit
- 2 sandwiches with whole or sprouted grain bread with sliced roast beef, avocado and lettuce; green salad, chocolate milk
- yogurt and a banana
- sports drink
- whey protein berry smoothie
- stir-fried vegetables (peppers, broccoli, cauliflowers, carrots, bok choy), 2 cups of brown rice, 2 chilled chicken breast,
- rice pudding