With the 2014 Winter Olympics already in full swing, scores of the world’s best athletes are going head-to-head to satiate their appetites for gold.

And speaking of appetites, have you ever wondered what these fierce competitors eat to maintain their energy during long workout sessions, or to increase their chances of winning gold?

In 1952, at the Melbourne Olympics, Australian sprinter John Landy gobbled a couple of meat pies and washed them down with a chocolate sundae two hours before breaking the world record. And during the 2004 Athens Olympics, Australia’s marathon runner Sisay Bezabeh would eat a bowl of raw minced beef for dinner every evening.

We’ve come a long way since then, and most sports nutritionists will now frown upon Landy’s and Beabeh’s diets. Right now, there’s a greater focus on creating a dietary balance that benefits the individual sportsperson.

Whether we’re looking at speed skating, luge, alpine skiing, curling or Nordic combined, there are some things that virtually all Olympians include in their diets: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

Did you know?

    • A sports diet is based on what type of training you do, and what kind of body you have.

    • Endurance athletes in heavy training need extra protein – so do adolescents who are still growing.

    • If you want muscle bulk, you need extra protein during the first stages of your training, and less as muscles adapt.

    • Athletes like archers and shooters don’t need as many carbs and protein as other disciplines.

    • Unlike their male counterparts, female gymnasts avoid snacks high in fat content.

What the experts recommend

Olympic athletes train up to 6 hours per day, 6 days per week – significantly more than the average person. With their intense training schedules, they need to really bulk up on food.

If you’re not training for the Games, you shouldn’t eat quite so much – but you can benefit from a diet with a similar balance of foods.

In Cooking Light, an American food and lifestyle magazine, these three world-renowned Olympic nutritionists had this to say about sports diets for the average person:

    • Sports dietician Tavis Piatolly, who works with Trinidadian Olympic sprinter Kelly-Ann Baptiste, recommends a varied diet of lean protein and complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain bread, oatmeal, fresh fruit, eggs, Greek yoghurt and whey protein, as well as healthy fats. She says the only difference between Olympic athletes and the general public is total caloric intake, which will be less for the average person. Try to eat every 3 to 4 hours and after training to enhance recovery. And remember to always stay hydrated.

    • Research scientist Steve Hertzler, who worked with American Olympic weightlifter Holley Mangold on her nutrition plan, encourages a post-workout chocolate peanut butter shake. Blend 1 cup skim milk, 1 banana, 1 scoop of chocolate protein powder and 2 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter together.

    • Adam Korzun, a sport dietician for the US ski and snowboarding teams, says you should obtain omega-3 fatty acids, in moderation, through fish that’s grilled and not fried. He says you can incorporate healthy ingredients into comfort foods you really enjoy. Then you won’t feel like a health nut.

REMEMBER: Good nutrition will always enhance performance. Never let poor nutrition be a limiting factor.

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