Olympians, they’re just like us. Well, maybe not JUST like us — but we can learn a lot from the way Olympians eat. In fact, mirroring some Olympic eating strategies can help you reach your health, fitness, and weight goals. Here are three habits we think you should take home from London.
1) Eat enough: We’ve all heard about the immense amounts of calories that it takes to sustain Olympic athletes like Michael Phelps and Giuseppe Lanzone. It’s estimated Lanzone eats 4,500 to 7,000 calories a day and that Phelps consumed 12,000 while training for the 2008 games. While we’re not going to tell you to eat a pound of pasta alongside two sandwiches for lunch, we will remind you not to skimp on calories. Eating enough is especially important if you’re exercising most days of the week. Not fueling yourself adequately means you won’t have enough energy to optimize your workouts, and that can lead to slower results. Skimping can also slow down your metabolism, which can stall weight loss. We recommend eating no less than 1500 calories each day if you’re looking to lose weight and 1800-2400 for most people that want to maintain weight, depending on your gender and activity level.
2) Timing is really important: When you’re exercising or training for an event, it’s not just about what you eat, but when you eat. Olympians are often on a strict eating schedule in order to time meals and snacks to optimally fuel their performance. The right timing not only helps you feel your best during the workout, it’s important for muscle recovery and keeping your daily calories in check. Many people that start training for a sport add additional food/snacks to their regular diet to fuel workouts. Instead, try timing your regular meals and snacks to work in conjunction with your workout plan. For instance, if you work out in the morning, aim to eat half of your breakfast before the workout and half after. Try to plan a snack for either before or after a workout. If you work out right after the workday, you might plan to have one of your snacks about 30 minutes to an hour before your workout, then have your regular dinner post-workout.
3) Maximize your calories: Not all athletes need thousands of extra calories each day. In fact, most need roughly the same number of calories as the rest of us! That means that every calorie is an important opportunity to pack in maximum nutritional value. You’ve probably heard of the term “empty calories” (calories that provide little nutrition). Focus on maximizing the nutrients in your meal and snack calories so that you realize all of the important benefits (calcium, vitamin D, iron, B vitamins, and more) and antioxidants each day. Think of each meal as an opportunity to do something great for your body. Balance your plate with healthy unrefined carbs like whole grain products (whole wheat bread, quinoa, brown rice) and/or starchy veggies (sweet potatoes or winter squash); a source of protein (eggs, lean meats, fish, tofu, beans), and lots of fruits and veggies. Include treats in your diet in moderation (about 150-250 calories per day), and do so consistently so that you don’t ever feel deprived.
Do you plan your meals and snacks to fuel your workouts? What are some of your energizing eating strategies?