This Is How Olympic Athletes Actually Eat, According to a Team USA Nutritionist
As I continue to watch coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics, the thought that seems to surface the most is simply… how?! How do those skaters trust each other enough to know that their partner will catch them as they twirl through the air? How do the alpine skiers barrel down the side of a mountain at 65 miles per hour like it's nothing? And truly, how does one even entertain the idea of skeleton?
Natural-born talent, painstaking practice, general badassery—these are all valid answers, I know. But we also can't underestimate the less grandiose daily rituals of these world-class athletes—down to the way they fuel up for training. And since I don't see myself plummeting head-first down an icy track anytime soon, eating like an Olympian seems like a decent compromise of vicarious living.
For that, I turned to Mike Israetel, Ph.D., former primary nutritionist of the U.S. Olympic team and the head science consultant and co-founder of Renaissance Periodization. Below he shares how Olympic athletes actually eat—and some gold medal tips to borrow at home.
Olympic athletes don't eat that differently from us.
"The Olympic athletes actually eat many of the same foods we all eat, just in different quantities and with more strict timing," says Israetel.
Unsurprisingly, there's an emphasis on whole foods that are rich in nutrients and protein. "When many people think of 'Olympian nutrition,' they tend to assume it's all protein shakes and special formulas," he says. "While that's definitely part of the diet for such athletes, the majority of their diets are whole foods like lean meats, veggies, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive oils and nut butters."
Protein is paramount.
It's crucial for carefully building and maintaining the muscle tone needed for world-class endurance, speed, and precision. Israetel offers this simple rule of thumb for your ideal protein intake: "About a gram of protein per pound of body weight per day will keep you leaner, less hungry, stronger, and very healthy. So if you weigh 150lbs, shoot for around 150g of protein per day and you're going to benefit," he says.
Don't fear carbs.
Athletes depend on them for optimal energy and performance, says Israetel. "Carbs are the number one fuel for performance. Veggies, fruits, and whole grains should be the cornerstone of your diet after you get your lean proteins in. Keep your fats on the lower end (but not at zero) and you'll have tons of energy for your performance."
Aim for this ideal balance of macros.
Knowing your ideal proportion of carbs, fat, and protein can feel like a tricky numbers game, but Israetel says it's simple. "A gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, about 0.3g of fat per pound of bodyweight per day, and the rest in delicious carbs," he says. "The reasons for eating like this are to support muscle mass, power high physical and psychological performance, and stay healthy."
Crunch your numbers once, and you'll have a general guideline to aim for on a daily basis.
Watch your portions.
Even if you're looking to build muscle and gain weight, you don't need to be consuming hundreds of calories more than you already are—it's a balancing game that involves tweaking your intake (and focusing on your macros) to fit your goals. "If you're losing weight and are low on energy and want to perform at your best, eat slightly more," says Israetel. "If you're looking to lose weight and lean up, eat a bit less."
In other words: No drastic changes necessary. (And consider consulting your doc or a nutritionist before making any major alterations to your diet.)