Olympic athletes’ surprisingly simple diets

(WISH Photo)
(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The spotlight is on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the overall fitness of Team USA. While watching the alpine skiers or the competitors on the luge, it’s easy to think the diets of the competitors would be entirely too restrictive for lowly, non-athletes like us here at home.

“I’m sure people think, ‘gosh, an Olympian must be eating the wildest stuff that you can only find at these specialty shops,’” says Registered Sports Dietitian, Lindsay Langford with St. Vincent Sports Performance. “But, truly from my experience working with some of the Olympians, it really is normal stuff that we all should be eating.”

As a dietitian, Langford consults with the Indiana Pacers and Butler Basketball. Her work at St. Vincent Sports Performance has also led to working with Olympic athletes from USA Diving, USA Track & Field, USA Gymnastics, and USA Football. Langford contends simple, holistic approaches to nutrition are best.

“I feel, even as a dietitian that we over-complicate nutrition a lot of times,” says Langford. “It’s really about the simplicity of nutrition, getting down to the basics, having a good source of carbohydrates, having some lean protein, and having an unlimited amount of fruits and vegetables.”

In a recent interview with Glamour Magazine, four-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso detailed exactly what she eats during training, including homemade shakes and simple meals of fish or chicken with green vegetables and brown rice.

The simplicity of Mancuso’s meals seem to be in direct contrast to the perception of Olympians’ diets. Take Michael Phelps for example — the U.S. swimmer with 22 Olympic medals to his name. During the summer games in 2012, you might have seen the report that he ate 12,000 calories a day. Phelps said later in an interview with Ryan Seacrest that the report was just a myth and he consumed 4,000 calories a day.

“All of these foods are things that you should have in your diet at home,” says Langford. “They’re all heart-healthy, high antioxidant, and cancer fighting; you just might adjust the serving sizes of things based on your activity level.”

To incorporate an Olympic diet into your own eating, Langford suggests looking for three components at breakfast, four components at lunch, and three components at dinner.

Breakfast

Langford’s 3 Components: carbohydrates, protein, fruit

“Breakfast really should be one of your highest carbohydrate meals to set you up for the day to have that energy,” says Langford. “When I say carbohydrate, I’m thinking of steel cut oatmeal, wheat toast, maybe a whole grain cereal, even.”

Langford points out that steel cut oats have a lot of fiber, which will provide long-lasting energy source, along with the protein in the oats. Consider adding blueberries for anti-oxidants and raw nuts for healthy fats.

“The natural fat from the nuts is going to help you feel full,” says Langford.

Lunch

Langford’s 4 Components: lean protein, carbohydrates, vegetable, fruit

“Components of lunch, to me, are that we have some kind of a protein source, I want a carbohydrate source again and then a fruit and a vegetable,” says Langford. “You can really never eat too many veggies.”

An example of lunch might be a spinach salad with chicken breast, nuts, dried fruits, orange wedges, and whole wheat crackers.

Dinner

Langford’s 3 Components: lean protein, vegetables, carbohydrates

“Dinner is typically back to 3 components,” says Langford. “We need a protein source, a vegetable for sure, and usually a carbohydrate.”

Langford chooses salmon, with quinoa and green beans as an example of a balanced dinner, and also points out the amount of carbohydrates you consume at night depends on your activity level. For people who become less active in the evening, she suggests tapering your carbohydrate intake for your final meal.

“[The Olympians] are still eating a lot of whole foods — grilled chicken, salmon, a lot of high quality protein sources,” says Langford. “And that’s how we all should be eating.”

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