Training for an Olympic sport starts at the kitchen table. In order to sustain the energy levels of an Olympian athlete, you must fuel properly—before and after training sessions. Ahead of the Beijing Games, Michael Phelps was consuming 12,000 calories a day (4,000 per meal)! Your daily caloric intake should be based on basal metabolic rate—the number of calories you burn naturally throughout the day—and the frequency and intensity of your exercise routine.
Not sure how many calories you should be consuming? This chart gives general guidelines (don’t forget to consider your metabolism!), or you can gauge your recommended daily intake using the American Cancer Society’s calorie calculator tool.
So, let’s chat and chew about how to eat like on Olympian to boost your superhuman workout routines.
Put a plan together. When it comes to training for a gold medal, there is no time to worry about what you will eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Olympic athletes clearly have the advantage when it comes to meal planning—the best dieticians surround them—but don’t let that discourage you from creating your winning approach. To eat like an Olympian, you should consider allocating:
- 55-60 percent of your daily calories to carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, and whole grains)
- 15-25 percent of your daily calories to lean proteins (fish, poultry, beans, and low-fat dairy)
- 20-30 percent of your daily calories to high-quality fats (olive oil, nuts / nut butters, seeds, and avocados)
Fuel-up first thing. Whether you’re an Olympian or an average Joe, breakfast is equally as important. Within an hour of waking up, kick-start your day with a protein-packed meal—try incorporating organic options when possible. Whether in bed or on the road, include foods such as omega-3-rich eggs or egg whites, lean breakfast meats (turkey sausage), low-fat, organic dairy, and high-protein, whole grains (steel cut oatmeal or quinoa).
Remember, you are what you eat. Olympians are not all experts at the same sport; therefore, not all athletes train and eat the same way. Check out this article from Live Science about what Olympians eat depending on their sport.
The smaller the better. To help prevent fatigue and reduce the risk of injury, eat small meals more frequently throughout the day. Follow the Olympic way and re-fuel every four hours, or do what’s best to help you sustain your daily activities. Sticking to a meal schedule can help you reduce muscle damage, increase recovery speeds, enhance your immune system, and avoid glycogen depletion.
Replenish your body. It is just as important to warm up properly as it is to cool down. You should replenish nutrients within 30 minutes of a hard workout, especially when it comes to long-distance activities. Try a smoothie that includes soy or nut milk, plant- or whey-based protein powder, bananas or berries, and peanut butter (2 tbsp.).
Hydrate just enough. Generally speaking, you should consume around 11 to 15 cups of water each day, according to the Institute of Medicine. Feel free to mix in herbal teas and natural juices when you need a change. It’s especially important to NOT overhydrate, which can lead to an electrolyte imbalance and hyponatremia.
There’s more to the Olympic diet than a box of Wheaties™. Don’t try and go for gold all in one sitting—trust the Olympians when they say it’s not easy to consume thousands of calories every meal. While athletes continue breaking records in Rio, set reachable goals to help stay healthy and motivated throughout your fitness journey.