Athletes prepare for years to attend the Olympics. The preparation usually includes endless hours of exercise and adherence to a strict diet. Arj Thiruchelvam, an expert nutritionist, reveals all the colorful details of Olympic athletes’ nutritional demands.
Generally, in the world of sports, there are no universal nutritional guidelines. Keeping fit and maintaining a balanced diet are usually the cardinal principles one should adhere to. But when a fraction of a second makes the difference between winning and losing, nutrition science for professional athletes becomes more sophisticated.
To improve their personal best time and attain optimum performance, the Olympians require a specific mix of macronutrients, micronutrients, and dietary supplements.
Therefore, the Olympic athletes’ diets may reach up to a whopping 8,000 kcal a day. And this is only to fuel their frequent strenuous training sessions. For example, heavyweight boxers, wrestlers, and lifters require a high daily calorie intake to support their weight and practice before the competition.
However, not all sportspeople require such an astronomical number of calories. Other athletes, like gymnasts and marathon runners, adhere to different dietary practices.
Runners don’t require much fueling immediately before the race. Some caffeine before the race is more than enough to get the alertness and energy levels on point.
However, in marathons, nutrition timing is crucial. Contrary to popular belief, marathon runners don’t need to load themselves with carbohydrates days before the event.
Thiruchelvam explains that only the day before the marathon should be rich in carbohydrates, with 10 g per kg of body weight. On the day of the event, 2–4 hours before the race, the athletes should have an easy-to-absorb breakfast of simple carbohydrates low in fat and fiber. As the race approaches, they should slowly consume 500 ml of a carbohydrate drink.
Once the marathon begins, athletes can take 60–90 g of carbohydrates in the form of gels and beverages, as well as 200 mg of caffeine (equivalent to two shots of espresso) to energize.
This strategy enables a constant supply of glucose to the muscles, which prevents “hitting the wall.” When the race is over, it’s imperative to rebuild the muscle tissue by rehydrating with electrolytes and consuming carbs.
Furthermore, protein is especially significant for the recovery process, besides being an excellent muscle builder. For this reason, the daily protein requirement for an Olympian is between 1.6 and 2.5 g per kg of bodyweight.
Leucine-rich meals (dairy, poultry, and whey) are the most beneficial protein sources for performance athletes. It’s important to note that plant-based protein alternatives for vegans are also available.
Finally, if the athletes are in a calorie deficit, exercise hard, or don’t consume enough veggies, they may require multivitamins and other supplements. However, these should be taken with caution as they can cause positive doping test results.