Written By: Cassie Damewood

Olympian Diet Overview

Watching the Olympics inspires people on many levels. The stories of grueling workouts, personal and family sacrifices, and especially the “thrill of victory and agony of defeat” tug at our hearts and motivate us to work harder (at everything!), never lose sight of our goals, and eat healthier.

No matter what event you’re watching, the athletes’ bodies are nearly perfect specimens, fit, firm and able to overcome seemingly impossible challenges. Each competitor has favorite ways to maintain their edge but a significant number of healthy eating guidelines are shared by many Olympic athletes.

What these mega-athletes eat is surprisingly simple; you won’t find many weird smoothies with exotic additives or grilled reptile parts on most menus. The breakdown is about 60 percent carbohydrates from fresh produce, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Olympians generally get their protein from lean meats, poultry and fish as well as beans and low-fat dairy, which should comprise 30 percent of their diet.  The remaining 10 percent is a mixture of valuable fats like canola and olive oil, nut butters and whole nuts, seeds, and grains such as oatmeal and quinoa, and avocados.

Timing Is Everything

It’s no surprise that world class athletes never miss breakfast since training usually starts in the morning. Most agree that eating their morning meals 30 minutes after rising is the best option because it jump starts the body into insulin sensitivity, specifically affecting the hormone insulin. Eating the majority of the day’s total calories before noon also helps keep the caloric intake for the rest of the day to a minimum but most agree it’s good to eat protein within 30 minutes of a tough workout to keep energy levels stable. Also, during competition, the body burns fuel the fastest, irrespective of intensity, during the first 20 to 30 minutes.

Produce Preferences

Of course, fresh fruits and vegetables play a big part in Olympian diets. Popular choices include berries, bananas, greens, apples and kiwi but anything crisp and in season prepared sensibly is fine. Some athletes insist on organic but sometimes organic is no better than non-organic. However, produce grown with pesticides that may be harmful, including apples, bell peppers, blueberries, celery, cucumbers, grapes, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach and strawberries, pose the highest risks to consumers.

RIO Olympics 2

Favorite Power Meals

Committing to the regimen it takes to complete on an international level means eating well 24/7, so every Olympic athlete finds food groupings to make their meals as tasty and satisfying as possible.  Among the favorite combinations are:

  • Greek yogurt smoothie sweetened with berries and bananas, with an extra lift from whey protein
  • Mixed greens salad with avocado, chicken or steak, and grilled vegetables
  • Fresh sushi
  • Soups like minestrone and tomato bisque
  • Eggs, toast and a banana
  • Oatmeal with mashed banana
  • Iced coffee and a breakfast sandwich
  • Milk, yogurt, fruit, spinach and protein powder smoothie
  • Almond butter and honey sandwiches, and scrambled eggs and yogurt

On days where only one practice is scheduled, many Olympic contenders are served a treat like pancakes or breakfast burritos to start the day.

Going Rogue

With so much emphasis on training and eating right, Olympic athletes need to occasionally break free from dietary restrictions and just “tie one on” with foods that aren’t on the archetypal list of healthy rations. Some splurge on treats to relieve stress and others claim it’s good to reward yourself after a particularly good day of practice. Favorites on the list include indulging in a whole pint of fat-filled ice cream, luscious pastries from the bakery, a special homemade cake or pie, fast food burgers, Coca-Cola and French fries. Seems many guilty pleasures are the same for everyone!

CassieBy:  Cassie Damewood