How Athletes Fuel for Olympic Competition

Posted 03/07/2014 | By HealthCorps

It’s so typical to talk about calories when it comes to losing weight or trying to keep a stable weight.  Focusing only on calories and portion sizes can be somewhat daunting and you can eat a lower calorie diet that is not necessarily packed with healthier foods.   Dieticians and nutritionists often try to get clients to focus on food as fuel, taking a page from athletic playbooks.  If we put nutritious fuel into our bodies, chances are we will eat less junk food, feel satisfied and satiated thanks to the fiber and quality of the foods we are choosing to eat, and ultimately lose weight.  Well imagine if you are an Olympic competitor.

Following precise dietary formulas is crucial to performance, but “all athletes and competitions are not created equal.”  In some cases, a bigger meal before a particular sport makes sense; in other cases, holding at a specific goal weight (wrestlers) or minimizing how much food is in your stomach before competing (ski jumpers) is the goal.  All competitors calorie count, but they also focus on nutrient-rich foods.  Recently, NPR spoke to Nanna Meyer, a senior sport dietician for the U.S. Olympic team, and a past alpine ski competitor, before the events in Sochi.

Here’s a synopsis of the “fitness diet” recommended to specific Olympic competitors.  It’s pretty eye-opening, and may help you to set your own healthier goals.  Surprisingly, carb-loading is not the go- to approach for many of the athletes.  Not surprising, is trying to find specific foods to sustain long distance cross country skiers, who compete for hours.  Obviously, men competitors usually consume more calories than their female counterparts.

  • Ski jumpers consume between 1800 and 2500 calories daily
  • Figure skaters consume 1800 – 3000 calories daily
  • Snowboarders consume between 220 and 3200 calories daily and have a “moderate carbohydrate” meal before competition
  • Speed-skaters (long track) consume between 2800 and 4000 calories daily, and also do a moderate carb-load before competition
  • Ice hocky players consume between 2800 and 4000 calories daily and consume a high carbohydrate meal before competition

The overall research shows that in recent years, winter Olympians have been striving for leaner bodies, which can also put them at risk of eating disorders.   The move has been to steer athletes away from fast food and sugary drinks, suggesting choices like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and plant-based proteins,  and easy-to-eat less processed snacks like nuts.  Recovery snacks after competition often include protein bars and powders.  We should model similar behaviors.

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