Eat like an Olympian

You may have heard of the extreme eating habits of gold-medalist Michael Phelps eating up to 12,000 calories a day or sprinter Yohan Blake scarfing down 16 ripe bananas every 24 hours. Unfortunately, eating like those Olympians is probably not the best idea unless you work out for 10 hours a day.

For the average Olympic athlete eating a clean diet of organic fruits, vegetables and lean proteins is the key to the gold and we can learn from their good habits.

According to the Olympic Committee Factsheet, there are six key ways Olympic athletes stay healthy from the inside out. Whether you're an athlete or just getting into a healthier life style, these tips will get you on the right track.

  • 1) Stay hydrated. Your body is more than 60 percent water and your muscles depend on water to function properly. A dehydrated body cannot train or compete at its peak.
  • 2) Fuel up before training. Focus on eating lean proteins, fruits and vegetables and whole grains to ensure that your body is prepared for training. Try not to go into a training session with an empty fuel tank. Eat a meal every 3-4 hours or a snack 1-2 hours before exercising.
  • 3) Boost your immune system. Choose foods that are high in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, to help keep your immune system healthy and reduce the amount of free radicals your body builds up during high intensity training. Choose more colorful fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, strawberries, kiwis, oranges, broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
  • 4) Limit fats. Saturated and trans fats can cause inflammation which is the exact opposite of what elite athletes need. Stay away from foods that are processed or fried, and higher fat meats like chicken wings, bologna and pastrami. Choose non-inflammatory unsaturated fats such as olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, and salmon. Olympic BMX Bronze medalist Donny Robinson says he thinks some people are under the impression that because they work out, they can eat anything they want and that eating poorly or too much won't negatively affect them.
  • 5) Eat to recover. Choose carbohydrate-rich foods with some protein within 30-60 minutes of finishing a training session to help your body recover faster. Good choices after workouts include: a peanut butter sandwich (half or whole), carton of chocolate milk, or a bowl of cereal with milk or yogurt. Olympic triathlete Sarah Haskins says she makes sure to fuel properly pre/during/post workout. She has also learned the importance of recovery drinks immediately after a race or tough workouts to improve recovery.
  • 6) Sport products. Sports bars, gels and drinks do have their place in an elite athlete's eating program. Be sure to not over-use these types of products, however, as they can deter body weight goals and can replace more beneficial calories from whole foods. Use sports products before, during or immediately after practice depending on your sport needs and goals.

While workouts help tone the body, each medal winner also tells WebMD that diet plays an integral role in maintaining muscle stamina, particularly in warm-weather competitions. Surprisingly, however, each of the Olympic athletes has a radically different way of jet-fueling his or her ability.

For beach volleyball player Holly McPeak, a self-confessed "snacker," the secret to her strength, she says, comes from eating at least six times a day and snacking on healthy whole foods whenever possible.

"Right now I have fresh fruit, crackers, Fig Newtons, nuts, a bottle of Aquafina and a protein bar - just to get me through the afternoon," says McPeak, a three-time Olympian. Her postgame recovery meal is always a protein and carbohydrate mix, but she says for real energy she's a protein eater all the way. She says because she doesn't eat enough vegetables, she supplements with wheat-grass smoothies.

"I don't take supplements, but I do believe in the wheat-grass smoothies, which I think is important if you're not going to eat a lot of vegetables," McPeak says.

For Olympian Kerri Walsh, the answer lies in just one food supplement: flaxseed oil.

"It's something that one of our trainers highly recommends. And I've found it helps my metabolism, and it helps in the recovery process. I saw a big difference after I started using it in terms of stamina and in terms of healing quicker from injuries," Walsh says.

The athletes say they avoid heavy eating before a game, but don't hesitate to snack on high-protein bars and fruit during a match.

"I've always got a protein bar in my bag and I will frequently stop and grab a bite when I feel my energy dipping," says McPeak, who adds that doing so helps keep her blood sugar stabilized as well.

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