When it comes to planning out a daily diet, Olympian athletes have a few more things to consider than we do. From cardio-intense workouts that happen several times a day to certain sports that require a weight requirement to compete, the top-of-the-top in their field know a thing or two about nutrition. But they also know how to indulge (and we do mean indulge) when the time is right. As you watch these highly trained (and incredibly inspiring) athletes take the stage in Rio, give them an extra shout-out for all the attention they put into their epically healthy, balanced lifestyle—not to mention their epic cheat days. Here’s what Olympians really eat:
Michael Phelps, swimmer
Four years ago, you likely heard all about swimmer Michael Phelp’s 12,000 calories a day diet. And nope, that wasn’t a typo: That’s more than 10 times the daily recommended intake for men his age. But hey, if you’re going to do that much cardio in the water, you must need it. He shared everything he eats in a day with the New York Post, and it’s pretty incredible. (We’re jealous.) Here’s the breakdown:
Breakfast is "three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise." Next comes "two cups of coffee, a five-egg omelet, a bowl of grits, three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar and three chocolate-chip pancakes."
Lunch? "Phelps gobbles up a pound of enriched pasta and two large ham and cheese sandwiches slathered with mayo on white bread – capping off the meal by chugging about 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks. For dinner, Phelps really loads up on the carbs – what he needs to give him plenty of energy for his five-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week regimen – with a pound of pasta and an entire pizza." As for the final lap: "He washes all that down with another 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks."
Gabby Douglas, gymnast
By now, Douglas is a household name, and for (an incredible) reason: in 2012 at the Beijing Olympics, she became the first African-American woman to take home the gold in individual all-around gymnastics. She’ll be tumbling again in Rio, and she told Real Simple that the morning of practices, she’ll keep it light with oatmeal and a banana: “This gives me the energy I need to get through the first hours of training,” she said. But when she has a day off? She’ll opt for something more savory and filling, like scrambled eggs with cheese, kosher beef bacon and waffles. Breakfast is a big deal for Douglas and she made sure to add: ““Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! You can’t expect to perform at your best if you don’t take good care of your body.”
Ryan Lochte, swimmer
He’ll be taking a dip for the Gold in Rio this year, but not before he consumes around 8,000 calories a day. Since swimmers burn so many calories doing laps and building endurance, Lochte makes sure to pack in the food to keep his stamina strong. But while he eats healthy most of the time, this swimmer knows how to balance the good-for-you with the indulgent. He told the Charlotte Observer that every Friday night since he was 9 years old, he’s had one binge tradition: pizza, chicken wings and Mountain Dew.
Usain Bolt, sprinter
If you don’t know this Jamaican sprinter’s name, you won’t be able to forget him soon: not only is he the first man to win six gold medals in sprinting, but he fuels all of that fancy-and-fast footwork with none other than… McDonald’s chicken nuggets. According to his autobiography, he said: “At first I ate a box of 20 for lunch, then another for dinner,” he wrote. “The next day I had two boxes for breakfast, one for lunch and then another couple in the evening. I even grabbed some fries and an apple pie to go with it.”
Nicole Barnhart, soccer player
While she’s not competing in the Olympics this go-round, this goalie’s diet sounds pretty refreshing. Why? It’s totally manageable. According to an interview with Epicurious, Barnhart starts her day with an (awesome-sounding) smoothie of bananas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, mango, pomegranate juice, coconut, milk, almond milk, flax seed, whey protein, Trader Joe's peanut butter, and Vega Sport energy powder; 2 slices Trader Joe's low-fat zucchini date loaf; and Emergen-C.
For lunch, Barnhart will take her black bean and cheese tacos with a side of milk and half of a grapefruit, she tells Epicurious. Dinner involves even more Trader Joe’s: “2 sushi rolls made with brown rice, honey, rice vinegar, cream cheese, eel sauce, avocado, cucumber, carrot, mango, sesame seeds, panko bread crumbs, tuna, salmon, soy sauce (gluten-free), ginger, wasabi; 6 Trader Joe's chicken gyoza; 1/2 grilled artichoke with herbed goat cheese and lemon mayonnaise; seaweed salad; Emergen-C; hot green tea.” Regardless of whether she’s on or off the field, this is what she typically eats in a day. Why? Because she likes it. As she said in the Real Simple interview: “The way I eat, in general, doesn't really change too much whether I'm in training or not. I don't like sweets or chocolate, so I don't have to worry about eating any of that stuff ever, and I'm really not a big greasy-food eater."
David Boudia, diver
Taking the diving platform this year is U.S. diver David Boudia, and his eating method is one you might recognize for yourself if you’ve ever tried to drop a few pounds. Instead of giant meals, he has smaller portions throughout the day to keep his momentum and endurance strong. In other words? This athlete has not one, not two - but three lunches every single day. He shared his typical diet with GQ:
"Breakfast: Protein pancake (egg whites, oats, yogurt, cinnamon, blueberries). Post-workout Breakfast: Smoothie with strawberries, blueberries, oats, spinach, peanut butter protein powder, Zico coconut water. First Lunch: Apple slices with peanut butter. Second Lunch: Turkey slices rolled with cheese. Third Lunch: Carrots and hummus. Dinner: Barbecue chicken and polenta, with sliced avocado, and peaches."
John Orozco, gymnast
Though John Orozco isn’t part of the Olympic team this year thanks to an ACL injury, he’s won Bronze at three Olympic Games and is definitely an athlete to keep an eye out for in the years to come. When he’s in the middle of training, he keeps things light and refreshing, and makes sure to get plenty of protein, too. GQ gave us an insider’s-look into his diet:
"Breakfast: Three eggs scrambled with bacon and grapes. Lunch: Turkey burger and a side of plain, undressed lettuce. Snacks: Banana, yogurt. Dinner: Chicken with side of rice."
Brianna Decker, hockey player
Though Decker won’t be competing at Rio since ice hockey is a winter sport, when she’s in the middle of training, she focuses on lots of protein, vegetables and some healthy carbs to keep her skills sharp, as she told Cosmopolitan. "For breakfast I'll eat eggs with vegetables mixed in, like a scrambler with some type of meat like ham, chicken or steak from the night before. Also some berries or banana. After my morning workout, I'll have a protein shake to recover my muscles from weight training. Then I head straight to practice, and throughout that I'm constantly drinking water and those little gummies, Shot Bloks. Between periods I'll have half a banana and peanut butter or almond butter to tied me over for the rest of the game. For dinner I like chicken with asparagus or any type of green vegetable. Sometimes a baked potato."
Heather PcChie, skiier
Since skiing requires you to be nimble and flexible, along with maintaining your upper and lower body strength, having a diet that focuses on keeping her energy up throughout the day is important for Olympian PcChie. How does she do it? She gave the scoop to Cosmo: “I almost always have oatmeal in the morning — organic slow-cooked oats, which keeps me full for an entire morning. I usually throw in some fruit and some sort of protein like peanut butter or sunflower butter. I'll snack on carrots and hummus. For lunch I'll have a quinoa salad with greens and sunflower and pumpkin seeds. After training I'll have a Luna bar. For dinner I enjoy red meat with cooked broccoli and steamed veggies. And ton of water throughout the day.”
Kelly Clark, snowboarder
If you’re not the biggest fan of green leafy veggies or taking a daily vitamin, like Clark does, juices and smoothies are a way of getting the nutrients you need pre-workout. Depending on whether she’s on the road training or competing or at home, this snowboarder switches up her diet: “When I'm home, I have the luxury of juicing, which I do every day. When I'm on the road, I make smoothies to replace that. I'm getting the bulk of my vitamins and veggies in the smoothie or juice format. Every morning I either have a smoothie or fresh juice and eggs and toast and bacon. A very traditional breakfast,” she told Cosmo.
Erin Hamlin, luger:
When you’re a luger, you actually want to weigh as much as you possibly can, because that way you’ll move faster and have a shot at winning. But it’s not just about eating a bunch of calorie-stuffed foods; you want foods that will help you put on weight without wrecking your performance. As Hamlin told Cosmo, “One of the biggest parts of my training is eating, which can become so painful sometimes because a lot of times I'm just force-feeding myself...I've been doing this since I was 12 so I'm not really sure what my natural weight would be. I may be bigger than the average person, but it's muscle and I'm proud to be a strong female. There are certain things you can't get away with wearing when you have 'man shoulders,' but I'm totally OK with that."
What does she eat? "When I'm training, for breakfast I'll have an array of cold cut meats, two or four boiled eggs, bread of some form, some yogurt with muesli or granola and an orange or a banana. Lunch might be a plate of pasta.... Dinner is similar to lunch, but the portion will be a little bit bigger. I also normally have a protein shake after dinner to give myself some extra calories." But she eats a little differently on race day: "My breakfast will be a lot lighter because I don't want to feel uncomfortable while I'm racing."
Zack Test, rugby player
He’ll fight with his team for the Gold on the rugby field at Rio, but when he’s finished trying his best shot at taking home the top honor, he’ll indulge like the rest of us. While he follows a healthy lifestyle most of the time, when he’s taking a day off and wants to savor some of his go-to’s, this player takes "cheat day" to an impressively high level. Just how high? He gave GQ a glimpse at what he consumes when he’s off the field and in front of Netflix: "Breakfast: Waffles with syrup and jam. Lunch: Cheese pizza with whipped cream. Dinner: Beef brisket sandwich with mac and cheese." Wait, cheese pizza with whipped cream?! Yep, you read that right. Off we go to try it....
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