Next week sees the 2012 Olympics finally kick off which means it’s the culmination of years of rigorous training for the 10,000 or so athletes descending on London to compete. But it’s not just a strict training schedule that makes an Olympian success story. Adhering to a good diet is also an essential part of an athlete’s training and, when all other factors are equal, can spell the difference between triumph or failure. So what do Olympians actually eat? We took a look at the diets of runners, swimmers and gymnasts.
A decent intake of iron is needed for runners as iron produces the hemoglobin in the red blood cells needed to carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles. Runners often suffer from low iron levels as it’s a mineral that’s lost when they sweat, therefore eating foods such as lean beef, pork, lamb, dark poultry meat and seafood all helps in replenishing it. Spinach, broccoli and asparagus are other foods rich in iron whilst orange juice is great for iron absorption. 50 per cent of a runner’s diet should be from healthy carbs and that amount can rise to 70 per cent in the days preceding a competition. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables therefore are a key part of most runner’s diets.
American Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who won a total of 16 medals in Athens and Beijing in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, famously claimed that he put back on average between 8000 and 10,000 calories a day when training. We’re not sure that’s the case for every Olympic Swimmer but it’s fair to say that the athletes that expend the most calories require the most, and swimmers are certainly up there when it comes to energy burning. Most spend up to 5 or 6 hours a day training in the pool which means a large dose of complex carbohydrates are needed to provide the body with energy. The best are brown rice, oats and whole grains. High-quality protein foods are also essential as they maintain and repair tissue and muscle, therefore swimmers are most likely to be found gorging on eggs, poultry, lean red meat and fish.
Eating exactly the right amount at the right time is key to a gymnast’s performance as they have to constantly support their own weight therefore a kilo can make all the difference. The optimal diet for a gymnast is around 60 percent carbohydrates, 15 percent protein and 25 percent fat. Calorie needs range from around 1,500 to more than 2,500 daily. Protein may be the most important nutrient for an Olympic gymnast. Lean and low-fat proteins encourage muscle development but are low in calories, making it easy for athletes to maintain a lean, muscular figure and avoid weight gain.
Most gymnasts try to get between 60 percent and 70 percent of their calories from proteins (like meats and cheeses), the rest from carbs (like whole-grain pasta, fruits, vegetables) and fats (like oils from peanuts).
Want to eat like an Olympian? Check out our rather splendid infographic explaining what foods can help you shape up!
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