Olympians are the best athletes in the world, but have you ever wondered how they got that way?
Before the 2008 Olympics, rumors around Michael Phelps’s diet circulated through the media. It was believed that he ate 12k calories a day to fuel his workouts, but that was later debunked by Men’s Health magazine who concluded that Phelps ate between 8-10k per day.
These numbers feel astronomical to the average gym-goer, but not all Olympians eat that much food. Most sprinters and gymnasts eat around 2k calories, but bodybuilders will need much more to compete. Patterns do show up in each competitor’s diet plans, which we’ll discuss here.
An Overview of the Olympian Diet
As stated, energy intakes and needs will vary greatly between athletes because the demands for each sport are different.
Endurance-based sports will require more fuel, while short bouts of activity are needless. Regardless of caloric needs, an Olympian diet consists mostly of whole carbs, lean proteins, and omega-3 fatty acids. Carbs consist of fruit, vegetables, and fiber.
Eating like an Olympian isn’t all about eating kale and sadness, deserts and alcohol are allowed in small portions, just not before the sport. Olympians also tend to make better junk food choices, so they’ll eat nut butter or avocados when they’re craving something high in fat.
Olympians also drink a lot of water throughout the day to retain fluids and electrolytes. Top-performing athletes are also fond of eating smaller, frequent meals instead of the typical 3-a-day. They eat a lot of snacks that contain a combination of protein and carbohydrates.
Why you Should or Shouldn’t Eat Like an Olympian
It’s important for all of us to choose healthier foods over junk, but is it necessary for all athletes to eat a significant amount of calories? Maybe, it depends on what you’re using that fuel for. Olympians typically eat healthy 80% of the time (90% close to competition), so you need to ask yourself if you can commit to that strict regimen without extra help from sports dietitians.
Olympian Eating Tips for Olympian Gains
Whether you choose to eat a 12k calorie diet or you want to incorporate some Olympian wisdom into your personal health and fitness goals, these tips should help you stay motivated.
1. Plan Your Meals
A typical Olympian meal plan contains the three macronutrients, protein, carbs, and fat, in different increments depending on the sport and the athletes specific caloric needs:
- Carbohydrates take up the biggest amount (55-60%) and include healthy, usually plant-based, ingredients that contain antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients.
- Protein can take up the second or third largest amount (15-25%), but protein often takes the second spot. This section includes lean animal or plant-based proteins.
- Fat is the final macronutrient, but still important, as fat protects your organs. Athletes eat primarily healthy fats, followed by saturated fats in small amounts.
Meal prep in advance by cooking your meals and putting them in the fridge to eat the next day. Sticking to a meal prepping schedule will prevent impulse buying and eating out.
2. Always Eat Breakfast
Breakfast is the best meal of the day, so don’t skip it. If you have a hard time waking up in the morning, keep a menu of easy-to-make breakfast foods ready while you adjust to your new lifestyle. Eggs, greek yogurt, coffee, oatmeal, chia seeds, berries, and nuts are some of the healthiest breakfast foods you can have, and they’re all easy to make and cheap to buy.
3. Eat to Repair and Fuel
One of the mistakes dieters make is they don’t go into it with the right mindset. You’re not eating healthy to make your life miserable; you’re doing this to fuel your body.
As you adjust, think about what you need to eat for your sport. Do you need to train to increase muscle mass, endurance, flexibility, or are you for the all-around approach? Then, fill in the blanks with:
- Smoothies and post-workout shakes
- 11 to 15 cups of water per day
- Vitamins and supplements
- Small, frequent meals
If you find your eating plan works for you, stick with it, especially if you aren’t experiencing gastric upsets. It’s a bad idea to throw unknowns in your diet as you could unintentionally reverse your progress. Not because it’s junk, but because your body isn’t used to it.
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