Hopeful athletes from around the world have been competing in the 2012 Olympic trials for a spot on their country’s team. With the Opening Ceremony just two weeks away, we’ve been wondering exactly what Olympians eat to keep up their energy during all of that intense training. Even though they’re not eating 12,000 calories a day like we thought Michael Phelps was doing four years ago, they do need more calories than the average athlete—anywhere from 1,000 to 8,000 more, to be exact, depending on their training routines. But we can still learn from their eating habits to boost our own athletic performance. Granted, Olympians aren’t 100 percent healthy all the time (Ryan Lochte’s weekly menu includes pizza, fast food, and alcoholic drinks), but most of their diets have these key components:
A balance of carbs, protein and fats
Your body needs all three in order to get the nutrients you need for physical activity. It’s important to make sure that you’re getting enough of each, and that you don’t completely eliminate any of them from your diet. This nutrient calculator is a good place to start in figuring out what proportions of carbs, protein and fats you need per day.
Foods containing complex carbohydrates like whole wheat bread/pasta, brown rice, whole grains, and fruits are important for storing and releasing energy throughout the day. It’s best to have them in the morning when your glycogen stores are lowest. Try to avoid refined or processed carbs like white bread, since they have a high glycemic index and could cause a sugar spike (and crash) later in the day.
Fish, poultry, pork, low-fat dairy, eggs and beans are all great sources of lean protein. It helps with muscle gain/recovery and raises your metabolism to burn more calories. Some Olympians have been following the 80-10-10 raw vegan diet, which only allows 10 percent of their daily intake to be protein. However, without a sufficient amount, your body may not be able to operate at its peak performance levels.
Fats have gotten a bad reputation in recent years: “low-fat” and “fat-free” everything is available in grocery stores and restaurants, and people always seem to steer clear of anything with a lot of fat. The truth is, unsaturated fats like olive oil, avocado, and nuts are actually good for your heart and help you maintain a healthy weight. This is especially important for athletes, who need their heart in top condition for training
Water, water, water!
We can’t stress enough how important it is to stay hydrated. More than half of your body weight is water, and it’s essential to keeping all of your systems working properly and efficiently. The average person needs about 8 full glasses of water per day, but athletes need even more because of the amount they lose through sweat. Sports drinks like Gatorade will help replenish lost electrolytes, but it’s better to drink water and regain electrolytes through salty snacks.
Smaller, more frequent meals
When you’re training for several hours a day, your body needs to digest and absorb nutrients as efficiently as possible. As you might imagine, a big, heavy meal takes longer to break down and may leave you sluggish or worse, lead to cramping and discomfort during your workout. Eating 5 or 6 smaller meals every few hours will alleviate these problems because your body will be able to process the food before your next workout.
Antioxidants, vitamins and minerals
This is less about boosting performance and more about making sure you stay healthy. If your immune system is weakened from a lack of vitamins, you’re much more likely to get sick, which will really hinder your ability to work out. Antioxidants help fight illness and minerals like iron will keep you strong and prevent injuries. Luckily the foods you should be eating on a healthy diet (like fruits and veggies!) are already packed with these, but you can take a daily multivitamin if you’re not sure that you’re getting enough.
Most of us will probably never compete in the Olympics, but it’s still important for anyone leading an active lifestyle to get the proper nutrition. And hey, you never know. Keep up the training and healthy diet and we just might see you in the 2016 games.
Check out the daily diets of these five Turkish Olympic hopefuls on Buzzfeed!
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Do you have any tips for maintaining a healthy diet as an athlete?