No matter how you cut it, the athletes that qualify for the Olympic Games are the closest thing our species has come to physical perfection and ultimate performance. These people are the best in their respective disciplines and they have committed their lives to excellence.
These days, as we are watching these incredible people do their thing in Rio De Janeiro, we will be taking a look at what and how they eat. So much has been written about this over the years that we wanted to sit down and really sift through all the info for you.
First of all, it needs to be pointed out that not all athletes eat the same. This is simply because their sports are completely different, with some needing much more calories than others.
According to some rough estimates, endurance athletes such as cyclists, swimmers, rowers and long-distance runners need anywhere between 3,000 and 8,000 calories a day. They also like to do carbohydrate loading before their events.
Athletes who play team sports such as soccer or basketball need between 3,000 and 4,500 calories per day while sailors and kayakers, for instance, need between 2,500 and 3,500. Athletes in strength and power sports such as weight-lifting or shot put will need anywhere between 2,800 and 6,000 calories.
People who do the so-called aesthetic sports, such as gymnastics, synchronized swimming and diving will be most like us “mere mortals” and require between 2,000 and 2,500 calories.
Finally, there are athletes who are divided into weight classes like in fencing, boxing, and other martial arts sports. In order to stay in their class, they will often restrict their caloric intake and ingest as little as 1,200 to 1,500 calories.
It should also be pointed out that the nutrient distribution is different depending on the sport. For example, swimmers will eat much more fat than gymnasts or tennis players. They will also be less careful about ingesting sugar. One thing is for sure, they will all make sure they are loaded with carbs.
Huffington Post did a great article on individual athletes back in 2015, not only checking up on how many calories they ingest in a day, but also what exactly they eat. Probably the most interesting insights were those concerning Ryan Lochte’s and Usain Bolt’s daily eating habits. Namely, both these incredible athletes ate like they were on McDonald’s payroll.
Namely, according to him, Lochte eats a McDonald’s Big Breakfast and McMuffins for breakfast; Chicken McNuggets, a Big Mac and a Double Cheese Burger for lunch; and the same, plus fries, for dinner. Bolt’s diet was even simpler and it consisted of Chicken McNuggets and fries for all three meals a day.
While we are on the subject of McDonald’s, the Olympic villages have for years all had their own McDonald’s restaurants where the athletes can eat for free. However, according to Australian swimmer Melanie Wright, the vast majority of athletes wait until they are done competing before they invade the restaurant. Then, she says, they are known to order up to 27 cheeseburgers or 12 sundaes.
Of course, this is not saying that all Olympic athletes gorge on fast food every chance they get. In fact, the vast majority of them are so strict about their diets that they all have their own dieticians who count every single calorie and make sure the athletes get the most out of their meals. Some athletes even bring their dietician with them to the actual Olympic games where they stay in the village and cook for them.
Another thing that might surprise you, especially these days with all the controversies surrounding doping, is that Olympic athletes use supplements. We are talking about legal supplements here, of course. Protein supplements are very common while swimmers are especially likely to use beetroot juice. It increases endurance and increases oxygen capacity, supposedly. Caffeine also helps mitigate the pain and stave off fatigue, while cyclists ingest bicarbonate soda to buffer lactic acid and keep them going through pain.
Sports nutrition has made some incredible leaps throughout the years and eating properly has become another way to get an edge over the competition.
No one knows this better than Olympic athletes.