Want to eat like a champion? Any gold-medalist will tell you that what you put in your body is just as important as what you’re doing with it. We’ve identified five time-tested eating habits of elite olympic athletes and shared them here. Sure, these superjocks have coaches and nutritionists to dictate every bite, but add these guidelines to your current fitness regimen and you might soon discover faster moves, heavier lifts, sharper focus and unrivaled energy.

 

CARBS: HAVE NO FEAR

When you’re training several hours a day, carbs are an absolute necessity. If you deplete your carb stores during training, the body will switch to burning fat and, depending on your fat stores, muscle tissue for energy. This puts more stress on the body and will compromise your competitive edge. Keep carbs available for burning during exercise to increase stamina and fuel the muscles.

Complex Carbs 

EAT FOR YOUR SPORT

Some sports require you to be on the heavier side (like an olympic weight lifter), while some require you to be on the lighter side (like a road cyclist). To support the right weight for your sport, you need to eat the right number of calories. Not every olympic athlete needs 12,000 calories like super swimmer Michael Phelps. They also eat different levels of macros: power athletes requiring a sudden burst of strength (like the high jump) and require fewer carbs and more protein than an endurance athlete, like a distance runner, who needs more carbs.

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GAME DAY STRATEGIES

Nerves and stress can affect digestion and breathing during a competition. Diet can help here. Many athletes eat 3-4 hours before the event to decrease the chances of digestive issues and vomiting. And they often have well-tolerated energy sources on hand to keep fueled, like sports drinks, nuts, dried fruits, and bars. 

 

NOURISH YOUR SOUL AS WELL AS YOUR BODY

If you pay attention to interviews with olympic athletes, when they’re asked about what they eat, they almost always talk about some special food that they enjoy, and usually there is an emotional connection. Comfort foods, “good luck” foods, foods that loved ones prepared for them… athletic success is as emotional as it is physical.

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ONE DIET DOES NOT FIT ALL

Some athletes eat “clean,” others eat fast food, others are vegan, while others use liquid supplements for a lot of their calories. Some take approved performance aids while others do not. The eating style will always vary but what stays the same is this: when you find a strategy that works for you, stick with it and hone it. We are all unique and can find our inner olympian in our own way.

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HYDRATION, HYDRATION, HYDRATION

Never the sexiest topic, it still bears repeating: hydration status can make the difference between the gold and the bronze. Performance can suffer with as little as two to three percent of weight loss from sweating. Hydration plays a substantial role in performance, including optimal regulation of temperature and heart rate, faster recovery, minimized muscle cramps, enhanced mental function and motor control, and a strengthened immune system. Intensity, duration, and frequency of training all impact the amount of water needed for an athlete. His or her size, fitness level, and surrounding conditions (humidity, weather, altitude, etc.) also determine water needs. It can take a whole day to regain fluid balance, so it’s super important to prevent dehydration in the first place. Monitor your status by checking the color of your urine and weighing yourself before and after training. 

Here are general guidelines for fluid intake during training, according to the United States Olympic Committee:

hydration guidelines 

THE ONLY CONSTANT IS CHANGE.

As you train, you are making changes. Not only are you stepping up your game, but you’re changing your habits, your body composition, and quite likely other things over time like sleep, stress, and your environment. Pro athletes know that eating the same thing day after day won’t work in the long run. It’s kind of like training: you wouldn’t do only one exercise that targets triceps; you incorporate dips, extensions, kickbacks, etc. Change up your diet as you would your workout. Proper diet is indispensable for optimal performance, so adjust as you go and always strive to improve.

 

References:

http://www.teamusa.org/~/media/Sport-Performance-Fact-Sheets/Hydration-Fact-Sheet-2015.pdf?la=en

 

by Dina Aronson, MS, RDN

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