Utah Eats and Treats: Olympic Athletes

Becky Low, from the Utah Dairy Farmers, headed to the Utah Olympic Oval to find out the favorite foods of the athletes who train there.

For the past 2 weeks we have been glued to the TV watching the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and cheering on our favorite athletes. I wanted to learn more about what Utah Athletes competing in the Winter Games eat. Since many of the US speed skaters train right here in Utah – I went to the Utah Olympic Skating Oval for my research.
Olympic athletes eat much the same diet as you or I should eat – except more of it.

They enjoy foods from all the food groups – dairy, fruit, vegetables, whole grain, lean meats

They concentrate on protein for strength, carbohydrates for energy. And Chocolate milk. Chocolate milk has the right balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat and nutrients needed to replenish glycogen stores and lessen stiff muscles after a grueling training session or competition.

The calories are high ! – not as high as Michael Phelps – but high! For example, food labels are based on 2,000 calories per day diet (average). Speed skaters may burn up to 4,500 calories when training. Our host at the Utah Oval, Parker Vance, has burned up to 5,000 calories in training. Training is their job. They spend hours on and off the ice conditioning and practicing.

While the athletes may consume huge amounts of calories – they also burn them off. Most of us – you and I – do not burn that many calories and so do not need nor should we consume that many. But, it’s still important to get nutrient rich foods for the calories we do burn. So I searched for a recipe with protein and carbohydrates and found a great chicken wrap which originated with Tyson Chicken and the US Olympic Chefs.

The needs of Olympic athletes vary considerably based on the following:

• Sport Type (intensity, duration)

• Gender

• age, body composition, height, weight…

In many cases, the competition phase for athletes represents a period of lower energy demands than at the peak of training. Training often involves longer periods of activity and intensity, while racing is a single high intensity burst for which many athletes have tapered and rested. The values offered below reflect training demands…in most cases, these numbers go down to prevent weight gain during competition phases.

Carbohydrate rich foods (grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, and low-fat dairy) should comprise the backbone of all athletes’ diets. Those athletes competing in longer events should pay extra attention to boosting carbohydrate intake – before, during, and after the event. In the days before competition carbohydrate intake may comprise a relatively larger piece of the diet as total intake goes down.

Pre-Game Meals: Big rule…don’t try anything new. The meal should be high in carbohydrate, low in fat, moderate in protein, and moderate in fiber (especially the meal immediately before competition).

Cross Country Skiers have the highest energy demands of winter sport athletes. Research demonstrates that average intakes (during training) can range from 3500-4500 and up to 7,000kcal/d for male athletes based on the phase, intensity, and duration of training. During competition, these athletes must meet basic metabolic demands plus replenish the energy lost from the activity intensity of each particular race. The following gives you an idea of what a single race may “cost” a Nordic athlete.

• 1km sprint ~95kcal

• 10km race ~715kcal

• 15km race ~950-1200kcal

• 30km race ~2150kcal

• 50km race ~3100-3600kcal

Athletes will fuel these longer races with carbohydrate-rich snacks during the event to prevent the body from running out of carbohydrate (glycogen depletion). Recovering well after the event will help further replenish lost energy. For athletes competing in multiple events over several days, replenishment becomes crucial for optimal performances over the following days.

Athletes involved in shorter, high intensity -duration sports have different calorie needs. Carbohydrate remains important, especially in the few hours before the competition – fuel for shorter bursts of intensity (figure skating, alpine skiing, moguls).

For more information, you can contact TOSH, The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital.

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