Have you been watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi? The Olympics is such an athletic inspiration to me. I love that I am able to watch amazing athletes compete at a high level, break records, and strive for gold. It amazes me what our bodies are capable of and how far they can be pushed. Makes you feel like anything is possible, right?
— U.S. Olympic Team (@TeamUSA) February 13, 2014
Of course, you cannot get to this level overnight and there is a lot of hard work involved and daily commitment to continue to get better. Training does not stop at developing skills and gaining strength. It also includes how we fuel our bodies. Ultimately “we are what we eat” and this can have a profound effect on weight, health, and performance. We should all start eating like Olympians! (OK, OK maybe we don’t burn as many calories..) This means that we need daily dedication to make great food choices and establish healthy patterns.
What exactly should a gold medalist eat?
Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel during exercise, especially in high intensity and endurance workouts. When carbs are eaten, they are broken down to a smaller sugar called glucose. Our bodies need a steady supply of glucose to function well and to sustain exercise. If the glucose from our food is not used right away, it is stored in the muscle and liver in the form of glycogen. Glycogen can be used during your workouts when the body needs more energy and glucose in your blood is already used. It has been found that adequate glycogen stores really make a difference in performance. An example of this is in a study where some hockey players given a higher amount of carbohydrate in their diet while others continued to eat a diet with lower amounts of carbohydrates. The group that ate more carbs had higher glycogen stores, skated farther, skated longer, and at a higher speed than those with lower carbohydrate diets.
A variety of foods contain carbohydrates, with some taking longer to digest than others. A carbohydrate can be complex with slower digestion that is a prolonged source of energy or simple with quick digestion and a rapid source of energy.
There is an ideal time for each of these carbs and we will dive into that next month, but generally you want to include higher fiber foods at meals such as:
– Whole grains : whole wheat bread/pasta, oats, brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet
– Beans and Lentils
An athlete needs to include carbohydrate into their daily diet to meet caloric needs and make sure glycogen stores are being replenished after training and competition. Eating adequate amounts of carbohydrate per day will not only give you energy but also spare protein in your diet for building muscle.
Requirements vary by individuals and by the frequency and type intensity of training, but a good starting point that is recommended is between 3-4.5 grams per pound a day for most team sports.
Check out your food label for amount of carbohydrate.
And for those foods that do not have a label www.myfitnesspal.com (disclaimer: It’s free, and I have no affiliation) is a great database to see nutrition info for the amount that you are eating.
Proteins are the building blocks of muscle and allows for growth and repair. It is an important element of the diet during muscle recovery. Protein is found in foods such as beef, poultry, seafood, pork, egg, dairy products, grains, beans and other legumes, soy, nuts and seeds. There are also many commercial products where protein is found as powders, bars, gels, shakes…even protein water! There are many options to get your protein fill, but I would always advise to use food first.
Athletes often consume protein in excess and many can meet needs with meals and snacks alone without help of commercial aids. As a guide, aim for 1 gram per pound a day.
The list below states protein content of some familiar foods. This is not necessarily how much you need to eat, but remember to multiply by the amount that you are eating! For example if you eat 4 ounces of chicken breast, you will be consuming 28 grams of protein. (4 ounces x 7 grams protein per ounce = 28 g of protein)
1 ounce of meat, poultry, fish = 7 grams
1 egg = 7 grams
1/2 cup Beans = 7 grams
1 ounce of cheese = 7 grams
8 oz glass of milk = 8 grams
2 tablespoons of peanut butter = 8 grams
*Protein has become so important that it making Olympic headlines! US Athletes denied Greek Yogurt
While we tend to concentrate on the above two parts of the athletes diet, fat is also an important part. Fats are a great source of calories to help meet calorie needs and provide fat soluble vitamins. It is also what makes your food taste so darn good! You want to avoid sources of trans-fat and limit animal based saturated fats in general and look to include plant based fats into the diet. Fats are found in nuts and seeds, natural nut butters, avocado, olives, oils. You should consume a minimum of 20% of calorie needs and some athletes may be up to 35%.
Get on the Right Track
Include each of these components into your meals and next time we will dive into the importance of the timing. Until then, why not try these Russian Borscht to stay in the Olympic spirit?
Questions? Any nutrition topics you would like to learn more about? We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or Contact Us
Jessica Hickie, RD, LD, CNSC is an integrative Registered Dietitian specializing in improving health, well-being and physical performance. She provides group and individual counseling and is currently the sports nutrition consultant for Dartmouth Men’s Rugby Team.