What it takes to eat like an Olympic athlete

It's an exciting time of year watching elite athletes compete to win a medal at the PyeongChang Olympics.  Numerous hours of training coupled with proper nutrition is the cornerstone of any elite athlete's success, but what does it take to eat like an Olympic athlete?

Most athletes eat about 3,000-4,000 calories a day, not the rumored 10,000 calories.  According to a U.S. Olympic nutrition consultant, athletes don't eat all that differently from non-athletes. Nutrition needs vary from sport-to-sport, but all athletes have the same goals of maintaining an appropriate weight and enhancing sports performance.  For example, endurance athletes such as cross-country skiers, require more calories and may need to carb load before competitions compared to short-ski event competitors.  No matter the sport, the challenge remains ensuring athletes make appropriate food choices for training, performance, and recovery.

What Olympic Athletes Eat
What does an  Olympic athlete eat?  Silver medalist Chris Mazdzer, competes in the luge which requires countless hours of weight lifting and coordination drills for peak performance.  He starts his day with eggs, avocado, and plain yogurt with chia and hemp seeds.  On the other hand, cross-country skier Sophie Caldwell, dines on salad, pasta, meat, soup, bread and dessert. The common theme among their diets is very basic.  Most athletes don't focus too much on calories, but eat a combination of carbohydrates (carbs), proteins, and healthy fats at each of their meals and snacks.

The Athlete's Plate
You don't have to be an elite athlete to eat like one.  All athletes need to balance eating and hydration for training.  Team USA's Athlete's Plate is a simple approach to help understand how much to eat from the different food groups, depending on the intensity of training.  Greater emphasis on filling half of your plate with carbohydrate-rich whole grains is important for intense training days compared to easier ones.  Adjusting eating based on training intensity can assure you're getting enough energy for recovery and subsequent training.


Eating Frequency
Athletes cannot fit all of the calories, nutrients, and hydration needed for training in just three meals a day.  Eating more frequently, is necessary for athletes to get enough energy for their training.  Training multiple times during the day or training longer than an hour requires additional snacking during and after workouts or competition for recovery.

Healthy snacks during activity should be higher carb, low fat, and low in dietary fiber which include:

  • Dried fruit
  • Handful of pretzels
  • Banana
  • Low fat granola bar
  • Sports drink
  • Carb chews, gels or chews

Recovery snacks after a hard workout should include carbs plus protein:

  • Chocolate milk
  • Nut butter sandwich
  • Yogurt parfait
  • Protein smoothie

Eating on the Road
Olympic athletes have to adjust their eating and training schedules when traveling and have the advantage of working with a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.  When non-Olympic athletes face the same issues, there are resources available to them such as Eating on the Road, by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Athletes who travel need to plan ahead, pre-pack foods, and keep their eating goals consistent to maintain peak performance.