With the London 2012 Olympics fast approaching, Delivery Hero got curious about what top athletes eat. At the Melbourne Olympics in 1952, Australian sprinter, John Landy, scoffed a couple of meat pies and a chocolate sundae less than two hours before breaking the world record. Hard to imagine that lunch being ok’d by sports nutritionists these days! Over the past 20 years there’s been a little bit more of a focus on getting the dietary balance right so that each athlete can get the best out of their training and performance. This means carbohydrates, protein, fat and sugar. Yes, even fat and sugar.
But do Olympic athletes really need to eat differently to us mere mortals? The simple answer is yes, because they need to pay close attention to how their body responds to nutrition and training. But it does depend on what type of sport they’re doing and what kind of body type and body mass the person has. Everything has to be customised. So for example endurance athletes in heavy training and adolescents who are growing do need extra protein. On the other hand strength athletes who want to gain muscle bulk need extra protein at the beginning, but as their muscles adapt, they need less. Obviously some athletes like archers and shooters don’t need to hit the carbs and protein as hard as other disciplines. While female gymnasts have bit of a tough time balancing body weight with energy requirements, especially when they’re going through puberty. They have to adhere to pretty strict nutrition plans and avoid snacks that are high in fat like chips, chocolate and pastries.
To run around on a soccer field for 90 minutes soccer players need a lot of carbs, which on a daily average means between 5-8 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. According to the Australian Institute of Sport, players who don’t get enough carbs “may suffer mid-week slumps and progressive fatigue over the season”. Within 30 minutes of finishing training, soccer players should start “recovery nutrition tactics”. That’s a fancy way of saying: eat some more carbs.
If you’ve ever had aspirations of competing in the Tour de France, there’s one thing you should know: when you’re not cycling, you’ll be stuffing your face with food. Cyclists burn 3,500-4,000 calories on a single stage, that’s in addition to the 1,500-2,000 calories their bodies need just to function (the same as us mortals). This means top cyclists must eat 6000 calories a day – almost 3 times as much as a normal person! To put that in perspective, it’s the same as eating over 2.7 kilos of steak each day. Obviously they don’t eat that much steak. But for breakfast cyclists will eat eggs, cereals and toast, plus some rice and pasta. While they’re powering up the mountain, they’ll be downing juice, energy bars/drinks/gels, and snacks like brownies. (Yes, they’re allowed to eat brownies sometimes). And then there’s more carbs for lunch and dinner, plus lean protein and vegetables. This is one sport where eating is also an endurance test.
If you really want to just eat everything in sight, then the best Winter Olympic sport to pick up is freestyle skiing and snowboarding. (For gymnasts who are tired of the strict diet regime, this is an opportunity to break out and still use their acrobatic skills). So let’s get down to business. The Australian Institute of Sport says that good food choices for snowboarders and freestyle skiiers include cereals, pancakes, crumpets, eggs, and baked beans. Snack choices during and immediately after training sessions include: bananas, sports and breakfast bars, sports gels, fruit buns/bagels/cookies, dried fruit and nut mixes, sandwiches, lollies, and hot chocolate/Milo. Yes, if you’re an Aussie snowboarder, Milo is encouraged.
While snowboarders should also keep an eye out to avoid foods high in fat, the lunch options are pretty sweet. They can tuck into soup and hot bread, rolls/sandwiches, pasta with a tomato-based sauce, baked potatoes (just go easy on the sour cream and cheese), stir fries with rice, pizza with low-fat toppings, and burritos/wraps.
But at the end of the day even though most top athletes are pretty conscious about nutrition and avoiding excess fat and sugar, there’s always a weakness, whether it’s hot chips, a brownie here or there or a glass of Milo. Long-distance swimmer, Chloe Sutton, says she eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of orange juice every morning. And she’s not the only one.
If you’ve ever been in training we want to find out what was your favourite pre and post training snack? Can you feel the difference when you don’t eat the right food?