The majority of us probably have the Olympic fever by now. We're rooting for our countries and keeping an eye on just how many medals we can bring home. But have you ever stopped to think about what athletes need to fuel their bodies with in order to bring home the gold?
A few years ago, we all heard that swimmer Michael Phelps was chowing down on 12,000 calories a day, which made headlines everywhere, including BrainJet, where we published a video highlighting everything he ate in one day. While he dispelled that as nothing more than a rumor, he admitted that he still ate anywhere from eight to ten thousand calories a day. While not everyone is working to get that much into their body, a lot of athletes do have to follow diets.
What an athlete eats really depends on the kind of sport they're playing. An article by Vox included an infographic breaking down what Olympians ate in a day depending on their sport. If you were to look at different sports including ski jumping, figure skating, biathlon, and cross-country skiing, the results vary exponentially.
On the lower end of the spectrum would be ski jumping and those athletes' caloric intake ranges from 1,300 - 2,500. Though, if you were to take a look at the opposite end, a cross-country skier needs to consume anywhere from 4,000 - 7,000 calories a day.
The reason for this is because different sports will obviously require a different level of physical need. In the same Vox article, one of the senior dieticians for the United States Olympic Committee, Susie Parker Simmons, said that for those involved in sports like figure skating or ski jumping need to clock in at fewer calories because "they come from a large height, come down, and fly as far as they can, so they have to weigh extremely light. The lighter you are, you fly farther." She added that when it comes to cross-country skiers, they need to be able to use their entire body to help them plow through the terrain, so they need to eat more.
Seven female Olympians talked to Cosmopolitan about what they ate in a day, and they revealed everything they consume based on their sport and needs. For example, hockey player Brianna Decker said that because she only stands at 5'4, she needs to be able to train her body to defend herself against other players and keep up with the stamina needed for the sport. A lot of her diet consists of eggs, veggies, and meat.
Snowboarder Kelly Clark was another athlete who disclosed her diet and she talked about how she has eggs, toast, bacon, and coffee for breakfast. She usually has a protein bar when she needs to give herself more energy during a workout, even if she's not hungry. She added that she drinks chocolate milk as a recovery drink because her nutritionist said that it has the "right balance of fats, carbs, and proteins." Lunch is tacos or a turkey sandwich while dinner is either chicken or beef.
A lot of other athletes need to stack up on healthy fats to keep their diet balanced.
Alpine skier Resi Stiegler told ABC News that she keeps away from sugars while paying more attention to eating lean proteins. "She has also found that eating fats helps her skin and hair stay healthy while training in a cold-weather sport," they reported. Stiegler also said that she focuses more on getting the right nutrients into her body rather than calorie counting.
If you pop over to snowboarder Chloe Kim's Twitter you'll see that she talks about what she eats, even if it's not something technically "good" for her.
It's not only Kim who mixes in a few high-fat items with her diet.The Globe and Mail reported that racewalker Evan Dunfee shoots back shots of butter if he needs to get fat into his body. "You just get used to eating packets of butter. It kind of becomes part of what we do to keep our fat intake up. During 40K long (training) walks, we will eat cheese and peanut butter cookies," he said. "So it's radically different to anything any of us are used to. I don't think anyone would ever recommend eating cheese when you're three hours into a training session."
Of course, it's different for athletes than it is for others. They're not only mixing in other healthy foods, but they're not stocking up on high-fat items without spending tons of time training. It's also crucial to remember that pumping yourself full of butter packets or churros isn't the answer to building muscle or gearing up for a triathlon. Author and biochemist Sylvia Tara told The Daily Beast that "while carbohydrates account for the majority of energy during short-duration exercise, fats make up the majority of energy during longer or more intense workouts." She said that in order to ready yourself for a high-performance workout it's better to lower your carb intake if you're going to heighten your fat intake. "The combination of few carbohydrates and a lot of fats teaches an athlete's body to utilize fat, which, in theory, should provide longer-lasting, more consistent energy. But that shift takes time," they wrote.
There are lists available if you're interested in what your favorite athletes eat on a day-to-day basis, but for the most part, it's important to remember that even if Phelps is downing eight thousand calories a day, you might wanna keep away from those levels unless you're planning on competing in the Olympics.