Olympic athletes manage their diets with the same precision as the rest of their training. Learn what the women athletes eat to prepare for their events.
The Games of the XXXI Olympiad are due to take place in Rio. Thousands of athletes from around the world will each embark on a quest for the gold. In anticipation, Women Olympians are busy training in the pool, on the field, in the gym, and on the court. To stay in tip-top shape and maintain their energy during long workout sessions, these strong competitors need constant fuel. One thing they all agree is key to their conditioning: protein. Peanut butter seems to be the favorite source. What other habits do the Olympians have to win? Find out!
10 Tips from Olympic Nutritionists
Don’t Skip Breakfast!
“One of the biggest mistakes athletes make is heading out for a run in the morning without eating anything first,” says Dan Benardot, PhD, RD, director of the Laboratory for Elite Athlete Performance at Georgia State University in Atlanta, who works with Olympic distance runners (10,000m and up) and oversees the nutrition program for U.S. Figure Skating. Your blood sugar is already low when you wake up, so you should have something carb-laden to eat, like half a bagel or some toast, as soon as you get out of bed. That way, 30 to 45 minutes will have passed before you actually head out the door. If you’re not used to eating in the morning, start small, says Benardot. Drink a glass of apple juice before your workouts until your stomach adjusts, and then add in a piece of toast. Mixing in protein (cream cheese, peanut butter, yogurt, etc.) is fine, but it slows down your gastric emptying rate, so you’ll need more time between when you eat and when you hit the road.
Stay Hydrated 24/7
Drinking water while you work out is great, but if you start your race on empty, you’re never going to finish as strong as you want. Athletes should be consuming .5 to 1 ounce of H2O per pound of body weight every day, says Amanda Carlson-Phillips, vice president of nutrition and research for Athletes’ Performance in Phoenix, Arizona, who regularly consults with Olympic contenders and pros. You also shouldn’t wait until race day to see how your body responds to whatever beverage they’re handing out along the course, says Benardot. Sip on the same beverage during your training runs to stay hydrated and save yourself from any future tummy troubles.
Boost Your Immunity
One of the best things you can do to better your performance is to stay healthy, which means that you need a good amount of antioxidants and superfoods in your diet. Beth Duryea, head soigneur for the Specialized-lululemon women’s cycling team, says she encourages all of the riders, including Olympic contenders Evelyn Stevens and Amber Neben, to incorporate whole-grain carbs, lean proteins, and colorful fruits and veggies into their snacks and meals every day. The more color on your plate, the better, she says. Duryea also recommends taking a daily multivitamin, such as First Endurance Multi-V, which is designed specifically for endurance athletes. Carlson-Phillips also suggests stocking up on Greek yogurt, which is high in probiotics, as another stay-healthy tool. Sprinkle some walnuts and fruit or flax seeds on top for a bonus antioxidant boost.
Lift Some Iron
According to experts, it’s quite common for female athletes (yup, even the pros) to be deficient in iron, which could slow you down and increase your risk of injury in any sport. So be sure to include plenty of iron-packed products, such as oatmeal, fortified cereals, red meat, and spinach, into your meals, says Scott.
Olympic athletes have to travel all over the world to compete, and being on the go makes it tough to maintain a routine. They have to do a lot of planning to stay in shape, says sports dietitian Alicia Kendig, athlete performance lab coordinator at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Kendig, who works with all of the athletes who come in and out of the training center but spends a lot of time with members of the USA Triathlon team, including Sarah Haskins and Gwen Jorgensen, recommends you do your weekly meal prep on Sundays. Put together some healthy snacks and meals that you can easily grab throughout the week. And keep an individual-sized blender, such as the Cuisinart Compact-Smoothie Blender, around so that you can prepare high-protein recovery drinks whenever you want.
“The biggest nutrition mistake I see female athletes make is reducing and/or limiting their caloric intake in an attempt to be lean,” says Scott. “This causes reduced stores of carbohydrates in your body, which are essential for training and performing, and can then lead to muscle breakdown, as your body eventually starts to use protein as an alternative fuel source.”
Crank Up the Carbs
If you wait until the day before your race to carbo-load, you’re too late, says Carlson-Phillips. “You need to focus on your nutrition every day, and then the night before is a good time to simply top off your fuel stores,” she says. Plus, notes Benardot, when you consume too many carbs at once, your body can’t use it all, so it stores any excess as fat, which will do you no good come race day. To ensure you’re not eating too much the night before, simply replace one protein or veggie portion of your plate with another serving of carbs.
For race morning (if your event lasts more than an hour), have a high-carb, low-protein breakfast, like a bowl of cereal with a little milk or half a bagel, a couple of hours before the start, says Kendig. (Note: Now is not the time to try anything new!) Continue to drink fluids, like water and electrolyte drinks, until about 15 minutes before go-time.
Refuel during your race to finish as fast (or faster) than you started. Depending on your event, you should be taking in about 30 to 60g of carbs per hour to replenish your glycogen stores and continuously consume fluids. “I see a lot of triathletes overdo it on calories and underestimate the value of hydration,” says Kendig. “But if you’re not hydrating along with those calories, then it will lead to an upset stomach.”
Immediately after you finish a high-intensity and/or endurance activity (within 30 minutes), you should consume something made with a mix of protein and carbs, like a glass of chocolate milk or a whey protein shake. “This will help reduce muscle soreness and aid in your muscle recovery,” says Benardot. Duryea says that the members of team Specialized-lululemon have a solid, post-race recovery routine to kick start the restoration of their muscle glycogen stores and prep for their next session: Within five minutes of finishing, they will have had water or an electrolyte drink. Within 15 to 20 minutes of finishing, they’ve consumed a recovery drink that contains 20g of a high-quality protein blend and at least 60g carbs. And within one hour of finishing, they’ve consumed a whole-grain sandwich with lean meat or egg, cheese, and salad filling. “Even when you’re not racing, you should be making choices that will help your body recover faster,” says Carlson-Phillips. Avoid processed carbs, which increase inflammation, and opt for anti-inflammatory foods, like cherries, walnuts, and kale, instead.
On the eve of the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics when the eyes of the world will be focused on women’s sports and the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, the inaugural “Women Sports Film Festival” celebrating female athletes and storytellers through documentary film will be held on July 28-30, 2016 at the New Parkway Theatre in Oakland, CA. The film festival will screen nine documentaries and eight short films featuring female athletes from four continents participating in eleven different sports over three days. Festival passes or individual passes are available at www.womensportsfilm.com or at the door. Visit the website for a complete schedule of events. “This festival is in response to the ongoing conversation about equity in female sports and filmmaking – our mission is to create progress on both fronts when awareness of women’s sports is at an all-time high,” stated Festival Director, Susan Sullivan. “This inaugural event creates a venue for showcasing women athletes achieving extraordinary feats as told by talented documentary filmmakers.”
Festivities kick off with a free Indie Lens Pop-Up screening of T-Rex: Her Fight for Gold on Thursday, July 28. On Friday, July 29, a look back at the trailblazing journey of legendary tennis player, Althea Gibson in the award-winning film, Althea, is scheduled. Saturday, July 30, features a full day of films and post-screening discussions with film subjects and filmmakers, live and via Skype. The festival closes with Keepers of the Game which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. All screenings take place at the New Parkway Theater in Oakland, CA.
“Stronger Than My Fears,” a very special festival trailer featuring the music of the band, SHEL, highlights powerful clips from the documentaries to be showcased at the festival. Click here to view the trailer. Jennifer Matt, Executive Producer of the Festival, commented, “We are humbled and honored that SHEL would allow us to use their incredible song, ‘Stronger Than My Fears,’ for our inaugural festival. It’s as if they wrote this song just for our us.”
SHEL’s Eva Holbrook added, “I cried the first time I saw this collection of films capturing a brief glimpse into the lives of so many strong and beautiful women. Nothing could express the heart of our song better than their stories of struggle, determination, and victory.”
Susan Sullivan is the Founder and Festival Director of the Women Sports Film Festival. She is the director of the award-winning short film, First Clue and the recipient of a 2014 National Mediamaker Fellowship from the Bay Area Video Coalition. Jennifer Matt is the Executive Producer; she is a technology entrepreneur and a Huffington Post blogger writing about women sports issues.
The Women Sports Film Festival is proud to screen the following films:
Festival Films and Directors:
Althea – Rex Miller
An Equal Playing Field – Rebekah Fergusson, Gwendolyn Oxenham
Equal Footing – Dan Holz, Eric Elofson, Kaare Iverson
Inside the Mind of Sachi Cunningham – Beth O’Rourke, Jeff den Broeder
Keepers of the Game – Judd Ehrlich
Lift Like a Girl – Allie Sultan
Light Fly, Fly High – Susann Østigaard, Beathe Hofseth
Luchadora – River FInlay
New Generation Queens – Megan Shutzer
Operation Moffat – Jen Randall, Claire Carter
Speed Sisters – Amber Fares
Strong! – Julie Wyman
T-Rex: Her Fight for Gold – Zackary Canepari, Drea Cooper
The Other Shore – Timothy Wheeler
The Will to Fly – Katie Bender, Leo Baker
Wasfia – Sean Kusanagi
Winners: Ayesha McGowan – BBC World Service