While watching the top Olympic athletes of 2016 compete, have you ever wondered how they can stay healthy while consuming so many calories every day? An Olympic diet varies for each athlete and the event they’re competing in. The types of meals they’ve eaten since over time have also evolved into healthier options that truly benefit their bodies. Here is how the olympian diet can be used to win gold medals.
Olympic Endurance Events Diet
These types of events include the heaviest high-calorie diets because each athlete will be put to the test of exerting tons of energy over multiple laps. Endurance events consist of swimming, cycling, rowing, and marathon runners, and they are the sports with the most injuries. These Olympians rank the highest in calorie intake by consuming around 3,000 to 8,000 calories every day.
Olympic Swimmer: Michael Phelps
One of the biggest players in the Rio Olympics this year, Michael Phelps has proved time and time again that he knows how to manage his health by bringing home 18 gold medals. His diet has changed since the last Olympics, mainly in the fact that he’s consuming fewer calories and less sugar. Michael Phelps’ diet used to revolve around tons of fried food, pasta, chocolate-chip pancakes, and a whole pizza by himself for a meal. Now, he focuses on eating fruit, oatmeal, and protein for breakfast, meat and grains for lunch, and a good heaping of grains, meats, and veggies for dinner. For someone who is training up to 4 hours a day all week long, this type of meal plan is burned off easily. He’s estimated to consume a total of 4,000 calories a day.
Olympic Swimmer: Janet Evans
With five gold medals to show for her hard work, Janet Evans has proven that knowledge of proper nutrition can help in the long run. She has a family history of heart disease that has truly affected her choices. She takes fiber supplements to lower her cholesterol and makes sure to include an abundance of fruits and vegetables into all of her daily meals. This Olympic swimmer diet is light but packed full of protein and produce. Salads, beef, chicken, greek yogurt, and avocados keep her palette refreshing and healthy so that she can move fast in the water.
Olympic Cyclist: Sir Chris Hoy
Sir Chris Hoy has an intense high-calorie diet of 6,000 calories a day, believe it or not. Known for his nickname “Golden Thighs” for his 27-inch thick thighs, Hoy has shown that vigorous exercise regime for cycling has changed his diet completely. His breakfasts are generally light with fruits, caffeine, and a protein shake, but his lunch and dinner are a different matter. He drinks a meal-replacement shake for lunch that’s high in calories and prefers chicken, pasta, and veggies for dinner. Because he spends 3 hours on the track every day along with two hours of gym time, he needs plenty of excess calories to burn.
Olympic Rower: Esther Lofgren
This professional rower works out twice a day so that she can keep up her stamina while rowing. Esther Lofgren claims that her favorite foods are fruits, veggies, greek yogurt, and high-flavor grains because she knows they will benefit her body the most. She avoids gluten and limits her red meat intake to twice a week, according to this Huffington Post interview. Lessening her intake of gluten and red meats suits her body personally and keeps her from feeling sick or overfilled. With constant snacks throughout the day and before and after workouts, Lofgren shows a great control over her diet that will help her succeed.
Olympic Runner: Emma Coburn
Emma Coburn takes part in the steeplechase race that tests her speed and jumping skills at the same time. However, Coburn is living proof that you do not need to eat the same set of meals every day to achieve your maximum potential. Many athletes live by their meal routines, but Coburn always strives to change up her routine to avoid becoming superstitious. She is able to run 80 miles in a single week, which means she needs a carb-heavy diet. She eats a great deal of red meat to up her iron intake and also enjoys whole grains, eggs, and dairy products. Claiming to not count calories, Coburn proves that you don’t need a strict diet to stay healthy and happy.
Olympic Team Events Diet
These sports can also contain athletes consuming high amounts of carbs but to less of an extreme that swimmers and runners do. Olympic team sports like basketball and football are physically demanding and athletes must be capable of putting their best foot forward in every round. Other Olympic team sports that require a healthy mind and body are sailing, kayaking, or canoeing. Each team requires a moderate intake of 2,500 to 4,500 calories.
Olympic Basketball Player: Sue Bird
Sue Bird and her team have won 3 gold medals by working out and eating before leaving it all on the court. Bird’s interview on “How to Eat like a WNBA Player” has displayed the important balance of eating right and treating yourself. During her average day, Bird has a light breakfast before working out and enjoying a protein shake. She tries to limit her protein to chicken and fish and mixes plenty of vegetables into all of her meals. With four ounces of protein, two cups of veggies, and two servings of grain for dinner, she has shown that a controlled diet and exercise plan helps in the long run. However, she fully admits that she has cheat days that may include a cookie ice cream sandwich or two and that she feels no shame in treating herself when the time is right.
Olympic Football Player: Abby Wambach
Abby Wambach’s team has beaten Japan’s skilled football team and taken home the gold for two Olympics in a row now. Despite her amazing abilities out on the field, Wambach has another passion: cooking! Post-Olympics, she stated she would love to open her own restaurant that is cafe-esque with eclectic food. She understands how important food is to fuel her body for a 90-minute game, so she would like to share that with others. She would especially like to share her love for carbs, as she stresses how important they are to provide energy for any athlete. Wambach swears by whole-grain, wheat, quinoa, brown rice, and other grains paired with vegetables and protein to create a more fulfilling lifestyle.
Olympic Sailor: Paige Railey
Sailing is one of the more unique and uncommon water sports that Olympic athletes train many years for. One wouldn’t think that there are specific diets for Olympic sailors, but there are! Paige Railey understands that certain foods are stressful on the body and that there is nothing more important than staying hydrated. Handling a dinghy requires strength, stamina, and mental clarity to steer it precisely and correctly. Some of the boats even have optimum weight ranges, so Railey focuses on a steady and healthy exercise regime along with refreshing meals that keep her mentally and physically healthy for her race.
Olympic Canoeist: Tim Hornsby
Canoeing and kayaking have been a part of the Olympic events since the 1930’s and require extreme focus and muscle power. It gets more than tiring to compete in these events, and Tim Hornsby has stressed that building endurance is a huge part of overcoming that. He trains 25 to 30 hours a week to build his legs and arms for the competition. Kayakers and canoers generally focus on remaining hydrated for 24 hours and eating a high carb meal 2-4 hours before their race. Tons of grains, fruits, and vegetables, or meal replacement smoothies are recommended for those about to compete.
Olympic Power Events Diet
These athletes may not be tested for long periods of times, like endurance and team sports, but keeping up their strength is still of the utmost importance. Keeping a moderate energy and carb intake helps shot-putters and weight-lifters build muscle and power. These Olympians will eat between 2,800 to 6,000 calories a day depending on their event.
Olympic Weightlifter: Kendrick Farris
Having competed in the Olympics for three times in a row, Kendrick Farris has become quite experienced in training his mind and body. Two years ago, he has announced that he’s going for a vegan diet to prepare for Rio. This is controversial as most weightlifters claim that an all-meat and protein diet is the only way to bulk up. However, Farris has proven that his diet is bringing him success as he set a new American record total at the 2016 Olympic trials in Salt Lake City. Despite not releasing any dietary details on his new vegan lifestyle, Farris is having no problem moving up weight classes to compete this summer.
Olympic Shot Putter: Dylan Armstrong
In a humorous way, Dylan Armstrong has the exact opposite diet of Kendrick Farris. Having grown up eating ridiculously large meals with tons of meat and protein, he has applied this method to his Olympic diet. Armstrong consumes nearly 6,500 to 9,000 calories a day, eating nearly five or six times in just 24 hours. He claims to love salmon, chicken, and beef but stresses that his diet is high-protein and not high-carb. His 6-foot-4 body needs a lot of nutrients so that he can work out and compete efficiently.
Olympic Form-Driven Events Diet
Not to say that these sports are only concerned about looks, but staying in top physical condition will help them hold complicated forms during their events. Gymnastics, diving, and synchronized swimming take hours upon hours of practice and often have more dietary restrictions than any other Olympic sports. Form-driven events only need about 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day to keep up their form and their strength.
Olympic Diver: David Boudia
The sport of diving, not to be confused with swimming, is entirely form-driven and has to be executed flawlessly. David Boudia has risen in popularity this year with his recent gold medal and strong performances with his partner Steele Johnson. Boudia’s Olympic preparation is much different from the previously mentioned athletes. His diet only consists of 1,800 calories a day, as the only time he burns calories is climbing up the ladder to the diving board. This doesn’t mean that he is not eating healthy, though, because as a diver his leg muscles need to have explosive power for every dive. He incorporates protein pancakes, protein shakes, and turkey and chicken dinners into his daily diet.
Olympic Gymnast: Aly Raisman
Alexandra Raisman is one of the many Olympic athletes that has stuck to a strict gymnast diet year long to optimize her performance at Rio. She trains 6 hours every day, for six days a week, and desperately tries to stay away from processed foods. Her fuel comes from lean meats, veggies, and whole grains. Her breakfast is light with lemon water and toast with jam, her lunches and dinners are chicken or fish (she loves sushi!), and she snacks on greek yogurt or fruit in between meals. Raisman believes that every minute she spends sleeping, training, or eating is meant to fuel and take care of her body.
Olympic Synchronized Swimmer: Anita Alvarez
Synchronized swimming is a beautiful and demanding sport, and Anita Alvarez knows this better than anyone. Combining skills like strength, coordination, grace, and timing is something she must always be aware of and working on. She will eat 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day with high protein meals that consist of chicken or fish, but never pasta. While this is a bit over the average calorie intake of other swimmers, Alvarez utilizes every carb in the pool and exercises a great amount to have complete control once she hits the competition waters.
Olympic Weight-Class Events Diet
Making and staying in a specific weight class can affect an athlete’s chances of winning tremendously. Taekwondo, wrestling, and fencing require controlled diets that most other athletes don’t have to pay attention to. Bulking up and working on technique requires the least amount of calories for an Olympic diet, coming in around 1,500 calorie diets.
Olympic Taekwondo Athlete: Steven Lopez
Steven Lopez has shown his dedication to the public on keeping a healthy diet, mind, and body to stay in the best possible shape. Because he works out nearly 11-12 times a week, he understands that picking the right food to fuel your body is crucial. Taekwondo is a sport that requires technique practice along with cardio and strength conditioning workouts all week. Lopez recommends staying away from saturated fats and instead focus on foods that are high in antioxidants. Having a proper balance of proteins and carbs is also important for rebuilding muscle after a workout. Along with taking vitamins, Lopez has a lot of self-discipline when it comes to keeping up with his Olympic diet.
Olympic Wrestler: Andy Hrovat
Andy Hrovat has to constantly keep an eye on his weight and muscle mass to compete in the correct weight class at Rio this year. Lean protein and amino acids help a wrestler “make weight” whereas most normal athletes only use them for energy purposes. Chicken, turkey, tuna and ground beef make up protein requirements for Hrovat, but he’ll also need to bulk up on carbs to make up for his heavy workout sessions. Pasta, grains, and rice with vegetables is the easiest way to get the most from complex and simple carbohydrates. Wrestlers like Hrovat need to have a detailed meal plan to keep up their strength while maintaining a consistent weight.
Olympic Fencer: Miles Chamley-Watson
Referred to as “the baddest sword fighter in the world”, Miles Chamley-Watson demonstrates the constraint an Olympic fencer must have when it comes to carbs. Fencing is a mentally demanding sport but does not test the same physical aspects that a runner may need to compete. Chamley-Watson declares that his body feels much better and lighter when he eats proteins and vegetables instead of carbs. He trains 6 hours a day on a 3,500 calorie diet to keep his 6-foot-4 body nimble and in check.
How Diets Affect Your Body
While all of these Olympians have put in the time and effort to become professional athletes that need to count calories every day, the average person doesn’t! It’s not bad to restrict yourself from processed foods or products that contain an abundance of sugar or saturated fats. Many people have different opinions on diets and the negative connotation that comes with them. At Arrowhead Health Centers, we try not to label these decisions unless they are affecting your body and mind in an unhealthy way. Instead, think of these meal plans or goals as a way to always pay attention to what your body needs and what will help you perform at the gym, home, or work better. Paired with other healthy habits like exercise and a decent amount of sleep, your body will thank you!