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HOW DO OLYMPIC ATHLETES EAT?

Posted by Matt Fitzgerald on 8/8/2017

Those among us who are athletes ourselves not only draw inspiration from the performances of these men and women but also seek to learn from them. How do they train? What do they eat? If we could only emulate some of their methods, perhaps we could raise our own performance to a higher level.

I am fortunate. It is my job to study the training and nutrition practices of the world’s best athletes—endurance athletes specifically—and pass them along to folks like you. Recently I completed work on a second edition of Racing Weight, a book about weight management in endurance sports. The six-step program detailed in the book is not something I made up—it’s based on what people like Ironman world record holder Chrissie Wellington and two-time Olympic marathoner Ryan Hall really do.

One thing that struck me when I talked to these athletes about their eating habits is that few of them—very few—follow what I call Diets With Names. A lot of non-elite athletes follow diets such as veganism, the Paleo Diet, and gluten-free diets that forbid the eating of certain categories of foods. For example, on the Paleo Diet one cannot eat grains, dairy, or legumes. But Chrissie Wellington, Ryan Hall, and most other top athletes eat everything; they just eat a lot of the best stuff (fruits and vegetables) and not a lot of the worst stuff (sweets and fried foods).

The practices that are most common among the best athletes are by definition the practices that work best. So it seems that a diet that is free of artificial restrictions yet is heavily weighted toward the highest-quality foods is the best diet for endurance athletes. If you have lactose intolerance or gluten intolerance or you are morally against eating meat, that’s one thing. In the absence of such real restrictions, however, it’s probably best to include all categories of natural foods in your diet—vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, lean meats and fish, whole grains, and dairy—eating the first of these most frequently and the last of them least often. Low-quality foods—refined grains, fatty meats, sweets, and fried foods—should be eaten sparingly (but even they need not be totally proscribed).

Trust the example set by the athletes who are currently dazzling us in London. A high-quality “no-name” diet where nothing is forbidden will not hurt you—or stop you from winning a gold medal!

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