This month marks the beginning of a major international event: the 22nd Winter Olympic Games. By this time, our athletes are well situated in the Olympic Village in Sochi, preparing for their opportunity to bring honor and Olympic gold back to their home country. In between endless bouts of practicing and perfecting, what else will those Olympians be doing? Eating, of course!
Olympians are renowned for their unique (and sometimes, downright crazy) eating habits. You may remember the speculation surrounding Michael Phelps’ alleged 12,000 calorie a day diet, or the discovery of Yohan Blake’s pre-event feast of 16 bananas. Clearly, Olympian diets don’t resemble the average person’s diet one bit—and for good reason. These athletes burn thousands of calories each day and must consume enough food to sustain them throughout their daily workouts. Although an average person would not do well to follow an Olympian’s diet precisely, the fundamental staples of an athlete’s daily intake are great sources of nutrients for all people—even those of us whose weekend exercise will be watching the Olympics from home. By incorporating moderate amounts of these foods into your diet, while increasing the frequency and intensity of your exercise routine, you can start feeling like your favorite Olympian athlete.
Of course, lean red meat and poultry adorn the plates of athletes in the Olympic Village. However, fish is an equally valuable food that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Fish is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, reducing inflammation in the body. Fatty acids help athletes recover and feel less sore the day after a tough workout. Fish highest in fatty acids include salmon, tuna, and mackerel.
Got milk? Gold winning medalist Aly Raisman does—chocolate milk to be exact. The gymnast claims the drink provides the perfect combination of protein and carbohydrates, and she’s not the only athlete that refuels on this beverage post-workout. For us non-Olympians, we would do better to stick to plain non-fat milk rather than chocolate. A glass of fat-free milk is a great source of nutrition, but don’t add the chocolate unless you’re planning on burning a thousand calories in the gym or on the track.
Oatmeal is one of the more popular meals in the Olympic Village. Athletes love the 100 percent whole grain breakfast food, as the fiber and carbohydrates crammed into one bowl provide them with enough energy to endure a long morning workout. Although plain oatmeal is a nutritional source of fiber and a great way to lower your cholesterol, steer clear of flavored oatmeal that packs in excessive amounts of sugar. Also be mindful of serving sizes—most American cereal bowls are three times the suggested serving size.
Berries are packed full of antioxidants, which boost immunity and keep athletes healthy. The tasty fruit also helps athletes rid their bodies of free radicals, boosting muscle recovery and helping them prepare for tomorrow’s workout.
Most Olympic athletes appreciate the value of calcium and the strength it gives to the bones. For this reason, many turn to Greek yogurt for a quick, calcium-filled snack. Yogurt is also great because it’s chock-full of probiotics, which assist both the digestive and immune systems. Many athletes swear by drinking yogurt-based smoothies in place of a solid meal once a day.
These foods aren’t so crazy right? Much less crazy than eating 16 bananas a day, in any case! Keep in mind that while many of these foods are nutrient rich and heart healthy, most are calorie dense and should be consumed in moderation. Try to incorporate small amounts of these foods into your diet while gradually increasing your workout intensity, and you could start feeling like an Olympian in no time.