“It’s crazy — Olympians eat five thousand calories a day.” You’ve probably overheard that sentence, or one like it, relayed incredulously as the Olympics get closer. Every time the games roll around, people get to gossiping about the strange and extreme dietary habits of their favorite athletes. Tons of carbs. Mountains of spaghetti. Did you hear that Ryan Lochte loads up on Mountain Dew?
If you believe the buzz, you probably think Olympians are absolute tanks. But that’s not always true.
According to Dr. Mike Israetel, former U.S. Olympic Sports Nutrition Consultant, Olympic athletes don’t eat as much as you might think. Dr. Israetel used to work with Team USA skiers and athletes competing in South Korea, coaching them on their dietary habits and preparedness. While some skiers carb-load before a big event, others don’t eat abnormally at all.
“Short-event skiers don’t eat too differently from non-athletic folks,” Israetel told The Daily Meal. Long-event skiers, on the other hand, need to eat more to fuel their endurance-focused training, and “will often consume 1.5 times as many calories as regular folks their size, and sometimes even more,” Israetel explained.
That amounts to close to 3,000 calories per day — which is a lot, but nowhere near the outrageous calorie counts rumored at home.
Even more surprising is that the athletes often don’t even want to eat all the food they need to. If they do have to carb-load before competing, it’s not always a ravenous indulgence in their favorite foods.
“A big challenge for many such athletes is, in simple terms, getting in the food they need, even when they don’t want to eat,” Israetel explained. “When athletes get into very hard training from phases of easier training, it can sometimes take their appetites a while to catch up.”
To supplement their training during these times, many athletes will drink nutritional shakes or chocolate milk. Chocolate milk is often a more appealing option than force-feeding themselves bagels or something in order to get their calories when they’re not hungry.
“Some athletes just don’t have very big appetites to begin with, and they’ll tend to risk losing too much weight during such hard training times,” Israetel added. “Losing weight could impede their recovery and performance.”
Israetel explained that the ability to force-feed through reluctance is often what separates a champion from the rest.
“After a long, hard day of training, most athletes want to just hit the bed and pass right out,” he disclosed. “The truly elite will eat before they do, even if they’d rather be sleeping.”
You, on the other hand, probably don’t need to worry that much about your diet if you’re an average exerciser. Just avoid these foods before you hit the gym and you’ll be all set.