what does an olympian eatWhen reviewing the diets of Olympic Athletes, some interesting eating habits are revealed, but a couple questions loom large; what do they eat, why and how much?  In this article I will answer these questions in order to help you create a meal plan that meets your nutritional needs. 

In 2008, it was said that Michael Phelps would consume upwards of 10,000 calories a day.  More surprising was Phelps’ secret to reaching this number, “try to cram whatever I can into my body.”  Although Phelps backed off of the 12,000 calorie statement this year in London, telling Ryan Seacrest that, “it’s pretty much impossible,” the amount and types of foods consumed by Olympic athletes seem to reject traditional nutrition protocols. 

  • British weightlifter Jake Oliver says that each day he has a morning shake containing 50 grams of oats, 30 grams of whey protein, a pint of whole milk, and 10 grams of colostrum, which is the first milk of a cow that has just given birth. 
  • Canadian shot-putter Dylan Armstrong weighs in at nearly 350 lbs and will eat 6,500 to 9,000 calories a day.  Unlike Phelps, Armstrong builds his 5-6 daily meals around salmon, chicken and beef. 
  • Yohan Blacke, Jamaica’s 100-meter world champion says he eats 16 ripe bananas every day to keep his potassium levels high and energy up. 
  • Naoko Takahashi, a Japanese marathoner and former Olympic champ, said he would only eat twice a day and house 50 pieces of sushi totaling 4.5 lbs of fish after a big training session. 
  • Then there is Hiroshi Hoketsu, the 71-year-old Japanese equestrian who eats, as he put bluntly, “whatever I want to eat. I think I was born very lucky. I don’t get fat, even if I eat a lot…I don’t care so much about what I should eat or shouldn’t eat and what I should drink.”

Unique is one word that comes to mind to describe these nutrition practices.  But, all told, most athletes subscribe to a diet plan based on their size, sport and specific training goals.  A shot-putter like Dylan Armstrong is focused on harnessing the maximum amount of energy into one throw or short burst, an endurance athlete is concerned with maintaining peak output over a sustained period of time.  So, while runners, cyclists and rowers might be loading their tray and body with carbohydrates; gymnasts, divers, and wrestlers might be restricting calories and carbohydrates. 

Your Pre and Post Workout Meal Plan

When it comes to creating your own meal plan, it is important to keep these same factors in mind.  Are you concerned with aesthetics or performance?  Do you want to run a marathon or snatch 430 lbs?  Your personal goals will determine what and how much you eat. 

The two most important factors to consider will be exercise duration and intensity

For workouts that are conducted at a low intensity or last less than 45 minutes, you will not need to take on excessive amounts of carbohydrates because your body will be carrying a sufficient amount of glycogen to be used as energy.

For training sessions that are conducted at a high intensity or last 60+ you will want a pre-workout snack that is made up of simple carbohydrates (high glycemic) such as fruit.  Dates, banana, mango, a handful of pumpkin and sunflower seeds with raisins, or other fruits work great here.  Pushing beyond the 60-minute mark may also require some intra-training nutrition.  Depending on how you stomach certain foods and sweeteners you may want to try sports drinks and gels or whole foods. 

Here is a look at some of my pre and post workout food choices.

  • Pre-workout (30 min), high intensity cardio:  half of a banana.  I would have eaten a substantial meal or snack 2-3 hours prior.  Just before the workout, I would top off my glycogen stores with the simple sugars in the banana.  After this workout, depending on when I can get a whole meal in, I might down the other half of the banana or just wait to eat a full meal.
  • Pre-workout (30-40 min), low intensity weight training:  8 oz coconut water with 1 scoop of egg white protein powder.  This snack provides some essential nutrients like potassium and sodium, a small amount of sugar, and the crucial amino acids from the protein.  Similar to my cardio workout above, depending on when I am eating next, I might have some more protein or just refuel with a complete meal.
  • Post-workout (within 30 min), following a 90+ min bike or run:  8-10 oz water, 3-4 tablespoons of glucose, and 1-2 tablespoons of egg white protein.  During and after a long endurance effort, I compromise my nutritional rules to allow for the consumption of fast, easily digested sugars.  This can include sports gels, drinks, or glucose.  Post-workout I aim for a 3:1, or 4:1 simple carb to protein ration to promote recovery.  When I get hungry, usually 1-2 hours later, I eat a complete meal featuring yams or sweet potato as my carb of choice.   

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