Eat like an athlete: taking lessons from the experts

Top performing athletes know that nutrition is king when it comes to gaining an edge over their competitors. However, no matter what your goal is – couch to 5km, carving out your six-pack, taking on a marathon – key to your success is what you put on your plate. Core to any training plan is food – it’s more than calories in and calories out, it’s fuel.

The right foods increase your energy, promote muscle growth and help muscle repair after hard sessions. The wrong ones set you back. So what are the lessons that can be learned from this lifestyle that can help us kick our bad food habits?

Eating enough food

“They eat a lot more because they understand the importance of being fuelled for performance and recovery. It’s not so much that the types of food are different,” explains David O’Hara, strength and performance coach and personal trainer at EDR Fitness in Dún Laoghaire, south Dublin.

“Diet is as important as your training for any goals. If you want to increase your strength, fitness, performance or stamina, it is hugely important – 99 per cent of the people I train, including some athletes, just need to eat better.

“Quite often, food is the easiest thing to get an advantage in. Anyone I train for a competition, I push them on food because chances are 90 per cent of the people they are up against are not working on their food properly.

“Most people just need standard improvements such as making sure you eat carbs before you work out; making sure you eat carbs and protein after training; and if you are a competitive athlete, then protein shakes are appropriate.

“It’s the simple stuff that really helps and we need to stop trying to find the quick fix or the ‘secret’ to successful training and weight loss, it doesn’t work. You shouldn’t be rushing to get results.

“If you want results yesterday, you’re probably not going to get them. It is better to work on the medium- to long-term approach. That’s where you’ll find success.”

Having good exercise nutrition

However, the definition of exercise nutrition has become very ambiguous with so many theories being preached by various gyms, nutritionists and exercise gurus.

While there are many schools of thought, one aspect of it has everyone in agreement and that is that to get the most out of the calories consumed, you must ensure they are the right calories for you and your goals.

According to Sarah Keogh, a dietitian with the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, what an athlete needs to eat depends on the type of athlete they are.

“If someone is body building, they are going to need a lot more protein; if someone is running, they will need more carbohydrates; and if they are doing ultra-running, they actually need a bit more fat,” she explains.

“When we think about athletes, we think of them as being fit without being extreme. Processed foods are almost entirely gone from most athletes’ diets; it is about real, natural foods.

“They may use some supplements, but they are very careful about making sure their body gets the nutrition it needs.

“When you eat a lot of processed foods, there tends to be lower levels of vitamins and minerals.

“If you are cooking from scratch and eating whole, unprocessed foods, then you are getting better nutrition and that is one thing that is common to anyone who is an athlete.”

Protein-rich diets are the most popular trend in the past two years, mostly because of the increase in the amount of people doing weight lifting as part of their exercise regimes.

“You really have to look at nutrition as a whole. I’ve seen a lot of men, in particular, who go to the gym a lot and have great muscles but still have a belly. That’s because they are overdoing the protein shakes or protein in general.

“What a lot of people don’t realise is that you do need protein to build muscle, but the body can absorb only a certain amount of it at a time, so if you eat a huge amount of it, the body takes what it needs and the rest is turned into fat.

“Part of that is spreading it out over the course of the day and not just having a lot of meat for your dinner. Perhaps have nut butter or eggs on toast for breakfast, beans or lentils for lunch and then meat at dinnertime.

“If you’re eating eight eggs or six rashers, you are wasting your time.

“It’s all about balance. I see people spending a lot of money on protein supplements, bars and shakes and they are not getting benefit from it because they are eating more protein than they actually need.”

Avoiding a quick fix

“What you get from a pastry is fat, sugar and white flour. In terms of nutrition, you are not getting what your body needs – there is no fibre to help clear you out and you’re missing an opportunity to pick up minerals like zinc, iron or selenium.

“If you were to have a wholegrain cereal in the morning, you are getting lots of those vitamins that are essential. If you add fruit, you get antioxidants too. That’s a huge difference from just making that small change in the morning.

“If you are eating like an athlete, you’re thinking that every mouthful you take is really giving your body something good. A lot of us live on white flour and sugar and we’re not really looking at the nutrition. People waste their calories on food that is not really feeding their body.

“You can see people who are a lovely weight, but their body is not actually healthy because they are getting their calories from foods that are not good for them.

“We have a situation in Ireland where one in four children is obese. They don’t eat enough vitamin A, iron, calcium, so we actually have malnutrition in the middle of an obesity problem.

“To get the most out of the calories we consume, look at the nutrient density of what you’re eating.

“Fruit and vegetables are important, but so are protein foods. I see nuts and seeds as nature’s multivitamins.”

Sarah’s tip

“Write down how many foods you eat each day that have sugar in them and halve it. Not dairy or fruit, I mean junk food. How much sugar are you adding to your cereal in the morning? Could you have porridge with honey instead? It’s an easy one to look at. There is a fact sheet on the INDI website (indi.ie) about sugar and how to measure how many teaspoons, etc are in food.”

Keep it simple

“If you have a healthy, well-balanced diet, you’ll be fine. Most people understand what they should be eating. Getting them to do it, that’s the hard part – getting them to break the bad habits of eating junk food, and to eat wholesome food instead.

The biggest mistake people make is they overcomplicate it because they think it’s a special diet or they listen to someone else who says some diet worked for them, when really it comes back to just finding that balance.

“If you do that, your performance in training will go up too and it’ll all become cohesive.

“If you’re trying to get the most out of your training, you really need to focus on what you’re eating before, during and after your session. Lots of people ignore that because their focus is weight loss, but if you are trying to improve your performance or you have an event coming up, whether it’s a sports match, a 5km run or a triathlon, you want to make sure that you have your body well fuelled so you can recover as quickly as possible.”

David’s tip

Keep it simple. Eat plenty of wholefoods and restrict, or ideally remove, junk food from your diet. Also try to limit your consumption of alcohol. Eat to exercise and to recover. Break the association between exercise and weight loss, it is more about diet and weight loss than it is exercise and weight loss.

Eat, think and train like an Olympic athlete

With the Rio 2016 Olympics now well underway, many of us are left gawking at the TV screen wondering ‘how do they do it?’ Well, with the help of a Team GB nutritionist and an expert trainer, we reveal the secrets of an Olympic athlete’s workout, that you can use.

Let’s face it, Olympians are basically super humans, but actually, you’ll be surprised to know that there are a few basic tips and tricks of Olympic training that we can steal and use to boost our own workouts.

With the help of Team GB’s Head of Nutrition, Kevin Currell and Olympic and Paralympic trainer, Dr Gary Brickley, we reveal some of the most useful secrets to help you train like an athlete.

Jess Ennis at Muller Anniversary Games

Commitment is everything

It’s probably one of the more obvious secrets, but that doesn’t take away the truth that’s behind it – being committed plays a huge role when it comes to working out and is one of the major factors that contributes to being successful.

‘It takes commitment to the task that you’re going to perform in,’ explains Dr Brickley, ‘whether you’re racing throughout the year or racing for a big competition, it requires numerous things – timing, planning, a focus on nutrition, the psychology of the sport and body awareness.’

It’s true, there’s no point in starting something if you’re not committed to it – we wouldn’t start a `TV series on Netflix and not finish it, would we now?

It’s the same with working out or training. If your aim is to lose weight or build muscle or swim 50 lengths of the pool, or complete the London marathon, in order to see results, you have to be committed and stick with it.

It is about self-motivation and trying to rationalise why you’re trying to achieve those things, whether it’s for your own personal benefits, ego orientated or being able to tell others what you have achieved

‘It is about self-motivation and trying to rationalise why you’re trying to achieve those things, whether it’s for your own personal benefits, ego orientated or being able to tell others what you have achieved,’ says Dr Brickley, ‘it does take personal motivation.’

Goals, goals, goals

Setting goals is a must – and an athlete’s secret that you should grab hold of and never let go. Whether it’s 20 minutes on the treadmill without stopping, completing a 5k run or even just getting your butt down to the gym on a Monday morning, setting goals can help you to figure out what you want to achieve and help you improve.

Michael Phelps with his Gold medal

‘I like the athletes to set their own goals, then I sit down and modify those goals and see if they’re achievable and what’s needed – whether that’s training, nutrition, equipment or other factors.’ explains Dr Brickley.

‘An athlete might have a goal of breaking the world record and then you have to think, how can you get to breaking the world record, what have you got to do at the start, how much have you got to change your muscle mass, how many blocks of training have you got to do to achieve that goal.’

There are so many factors to consider and although breaking a world record might be a little far fetched for an everyday person who lifts weights in the gym, that doesn’t mean that you can’t set your own personal goals, or get a personal trainer to set some for you – it could be as small as beating your personal best or reaching a certain distance on the bike.

Dr Brickley explains that all goals are personalised but more than often, people follow broad guidelines that don’t work for everyone. 20 minutes of high intensity exercise, three times a week might not work for you, so you have to look at what you want to achieve and structure it according to your ability.

‘You have to look at each individual and think ‘what does this person need’,’ do they need to improve their endurance, do they need to improve their technique to enable them to achieve their goal, is this going to take one month or one year to turn things around?

Everyone’s got their goals that they’re trying to achieve

‘Everyone’s got their goals that they’re trying to achieve. It’s about breaking down that goal in to small segments to try and achieve that goal,’ he says.

So all you have to do is start small and then work your way up. Identify your end goal and then set the little goals that you need to achieve along the way. Before you know it, you’ll be making your dream goals come true.

Match your food to your exercise

Basing your food around the type of exercise you do can really benefit you

One of the ways you can feel like you’re training like an athlete is by matching your foods to your exercise. Understanding which foods can benefit you during particular exercises is a great skill that you can have and use to your advantage.

‘You’ve got to really understand what it takes to winning that event, and then fit the food to that’, explains Kevin Currell, Team GB’s Head of Nutrition.

‘So 100 metres, you’ve got to be fast and powerful out of the blocks. The event’s over in less than ten seconds, so you’re going to try and match the food to that event.’

Currell explains that when it comes to quick and powerful sports, you will want to feel light before you start, so having stodgy foods before you perform is probably not going to be your best bet.

‘On the flip side, if you’re going to go and run the marathon or do a triathlon – it’s around a 2-hour event – you know you’ve got to fuel the body, so carbohydrates are going to be king at that point,’ he said.

Porridge is a good example of a light carbohydrate

He goes on to explain that you should be looking for good quality, easily digestible carbohydrates that will provide you with enough nutrients to perform, such as porridge and bagels. These carbs should be consumed in the build up to your event – a few days before – and then two or three hours before you actually compete.

So, while it’s all and well and good knowing how to link your foods to your performance, Currell also has a second principle that we should follow.

Don’t do anything that’s going to harm your performance

‘Don’t do anything that’s going to harm your performance,’ he says.

While nothing is completely off the menu for athletes – even junk food – it’s about making sensible choices. Poor quality, processed, junk food is going harm your ability to train, so it’s best to leave it out, at least until you’ve reached your goal.

Junk food stresses the body, and to win an Olympic Gold you have to put your body through a huge amount of stress already.

‘If you stress your body on top of that by making poor food choices, you add an extra level of stress to the body and you don’t need to do that, ‘cause you’re stressing it enough with training,’ he said.

We might not be out here winning Olympic golds, but if you want your workouts to be effective and ultimately achieve your desired goals, it might be beneficial to keep the burgers, chips and takeaways on hold.

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The before’s and after’s

You’ll be happy to know that calorie counting and strict diets aren’t so much of a thing as we first thought. But just like matching your food to your exercise, knowing what to eat and drink before and after is really going to help boost your performance.

According to Dr Brickley, the best time to exercise (especially if you want to lose weight) is in the morning, before you’ve consumed any type of food.

‘There are some key things that can be passed over that I’ve learned from working with athletes,’ he says, ‘things like training early in the morning in a faster state works very well for burning fat more efficiently and for some people that can help for weight loss, as well as efficiency in exercising.’

Dr Brickley explains that as soon as you consume carbohydrates or glucose, the body would prefer to use that as a fuel. So, if you’ve eaten a heap of toast and cereal and start to exercise, instead of burning fat, your body will burn carbohydrate, because theres more carbohydrate available at that point.

So, if losing weight is one of your set goals, remember to try to not eat before working out in the morning.

Working out in the morning before eating burns fat quicker

However, if you’re looking for that energy or performance boost, Kevin Currell suggests having a shot of beetroot juice before exercising.

‘Beetroot juice has been well researched in the last few years and in some events, there’s good evidence that it could help your performance.

‘As long as it’s on top of good training for the months before, a good general diet and you’ve got plenty of carbohydrate and protein in your diet to help you, then they’re like a cherry on top of the cake.’

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And as for eating after exercise, both experts suggest protein, carbohydrates and hydration are key.

According to Dr Brickley, the whole lifestyle of an athlete is very heavily based on recovering from each exercise and the key factors of recovery are protein and hydration.

‘We know after you train, the body’s in a good state to absorb all the nutrients into the muscle that you take on board,’ said Kevin, ‘so protein after training certainly is key.’

So if you’ve just finished a 45 minute spin class or been out cycling for a few hours, it is important to get carbohydrates back in to your body, whereas if you’ve just had a quick weight lifting session at the gym, you won’t need to worry as much.

There are no excuses

There are no excuses when it comes to training

Those infamous, ‘I’ll start tomorrow’ and ‘I don’t have time’ excuses won’t get you very far with an Olympic athlete’s trainer, because when it comes to training like an Olympian, there are no excuses.

According to Dr Brickley, the most common excuse used is ‘lack of time’, alongside lack of commitment, focus and facilities, monotony of training and doing things without variation.

‘People will find numerous excuses but if you look at the people at the top, they will just get on and train’ he said.

People will find numerous excuses but if you look at the people at the top, they will just get on and train

‘Sarah Storey, who I work with, has got a young child and has been breastfeeding for a long period, yet she still goes out to training and is winning world championships and taking her daughter with her everywhere she goes, so there’s no real excuses,’ he explains.

So, forget the ‘I’m too tired’s and the ‘I don’t have time’s, if you’ve really got what it takes to train like an athlete, you’ll have no excuses.

Prepare to re-assess and be a risk-taker

Simone Biles at the Rio 2016 Olympics

Believe it or not, professional athletes are human and experience failure as much as we do, but it’s how they overcome that failure that counts. Their secret – to re-assess and take risks.

As Dr Brickley explains, there’s no point in continually failing as that’s going to keep knocking you back. That’s where assessing and re-assessing comes in. In order to do that, you need to make sure you tick certain aspects off of your list of goals, acknowledge them and move on to the next level.

‘So, if you’re constantly achieving your goals, maybe they’re a little bit too easy and you need to have a few more dream goals, and you may have to think about how you can break down the goal you’re going to achieve,’ Dr Brickley explains.

Once you’ve figured that out, you might need to occasionally take more risks in order to push yourself a bit further, otherwise, you could end up spiralling downwards.

‘It might be that you’ve got to re-assess and try something different,’ said Dr Brickley, ‘not everyone is motivated by the gym so it may be you’ve got to work outside a bit more, take on a different venture, do something a bit more risky or take someone with you to help you achieve those goals.’

Additionally, Brickley explains that working with a coach or someone who’s input you respect can help push you to the next level.

‘It’s re-assessing and then at the top end, it’s more about taking higher risks,’ he said

‘You shouldn’t give up, you should re-assess.’

You shouldn’t give up, you should re-assess

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INSIDER TIP: JESSICA ENNIS’ SECRET FOR RIO 2016

Jess Ennis-HIll is taking Elemis to Rio 2016

Olympic champion, Jessica Ennis-Hill revealed she’ll be taking the Elemis Aching Muscle Super Soak to Rio. The deep heat aroma remedy is fantastic for overworked, tired and aching muscles. It uses extracts of birch, juniper, clove, alpine lavender, wild thyme and blue chamomile and sea salt to warm muscles and recharge the body.

Kevin Currell

Dr Kevin Currell has been the Head of Performance Nutrition at the English Institute of Sport since 2013. He is also the Lead Performance Nutritionist for British Athletics and GB Short Track.

Dr. Gary Brickley

Dr Gary Brickley is a senior lecturer in exercise physiology at the University of Brighton. He has coached numerous cyclists to Paralympic gold medals from 2004 to present. Dr Brickley also coaches in swimming and triathlon. He has a PhD is muscle metabolism and an MSc in cardiology. He has published widely on cycling, swimming and cardiology

1. Load Up on Carbohydrates

Carbs are an athlete’s main fuel. Your body changes them to glucose, a form of sugar, and stores it in your muscles as glycogen.

When you exercise, your body changes glycogen into energy. If you exercise for under 90 minutes, you have enough glycogen in your muscles, even for high-intensity activities. But if your workout is longer than that, use these strategies:

  • “Carbohydrate loading for 3 or 4 days before an event can help top up your glycogen stores,” says sports dietitian Joy Dubost, PhD.
  • Eat a diet that gets about 70% of its calories from carbohydrates, including breads, cereals, pasta, fruit, and vegetables, to achieve maximum carbohydrate storage.
  • On the day of a big event, eat your last meal 3 to 4 hours before exercising, to give your stomach time to empty.
  • Avoid eating sugary or starchy foods within 30 minutes of starting an activity; they can speed up dehydration.
  • Replenish carbs, minerals, and water during long exercise sessions. Eat a snack and drink fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. Refined carbohydrates (with sugar or flour) pass quickly into the bloodstream, where they fuel working muscles. Many athletes prefer sports bars, sports drinks, or gels, since they’re so convenient. But fruit and fruit juice are also excellent choices.
  • Reload on carbohydrates after intensive exercise, too. “Since you don’t need quick energy, it’s best to choose less refined carbohydrates” such as a whole-grain bagel or carrot sticks, which provide both carbohydrates and a rich array of nutrients, Dubost says.

The 14 Best Foods Athletes Should Be Eating

Food is the fuel that helps athletes perform their best. Without it, endurance, strength and overall performance will be down. If you want to get the most out of your workouts and athletic capabilities, your diet should be a top priority in your fitness efforts.

As your body puts out energy through exercise and training, you need to replenish those lost nutrients, which can be done by choosing the right foods. Here are 14 of

the best foods for athletes to optimize their performance at the gym or on the field.

Berries

Blackberries, raspberries and blueberries are just a handful of the delicious berries that are rich in antioxidants, which need to be replenished after physical activity. Darker berries contain phytochemicals and other protective elements that prevent oxidative stress that occurs in the body during strenuous activities. They also preserve muscle strength as you age, so they’re good for the long term.

Salmon

This oily fish is packed with lean, muscle-building protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which reduces the inflammation that can happen with continual athletic activity. It is also a natural artery cleanser, helping to prevent heart disease, which can affect even the most active people. Get creative and enjoy salmon in burgers, salads or pastas to get the recommended eight ounce serving per week.

Beans/Legumes

Vegetarians and meat eaters alike can get their fill of plant-based protein by eating beans and legumes. Black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, lima beans… the varieties are endless! You can add them to a salad or cook them into a stew or chili. Unlike meat, beans and legumes don’t have saturated fat and contain fiber, which will help you feel fuller longer.

Pasta

Not all carbs are bad! In fact, they’re an important part of the athlete’s diet. While the body burns fat and protein, it must first convert them into carbohydrates, making the body work harder. Straight carbs act as a fuel for the active person. Keep in mind that pasta contains fiber, which can cause gastrointestinal stress, so don’t overdo it before a big event where you’ll be competing or playing. Whole grain pasta typically contains less sugar than white pasta, which can also help athletic performance.

Bananas

Bananas are a low-calorie, excellent source of natural electrolytes, which need to be replaced after a workout or sporting event. They’re also high in potassium, which makes them the perfect post-event snack. Eating one banana will help you regulate your fluid intake (since you’re drinking more water before, after and during physical exertion). It will also protect you from muscle spasms or cramps.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale, as well as broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to boost your athletic abilities. They also contain high levels of vitamins A, K and B6, and calcium and iron, all of which protect the body against inflammation. Iron also means more oxygen being supplied to working muscles. Kale contains carotenoids and flavonoids, two power antioxidants, and fiber, which helps lower cholesterol.

Nuts

Nuts are high in protein and healthy fats, making them a mainstay in athletes’ diets. Eaten with carbs, they help level out your blood sugar and sustain the carbs over a longer period of time, rather than burning them off right away. They’re also easier to digest and don’t upset your stomach. Another plant-based protein, nuts are rich in fiber and antioxidants like vitamin E. The anti-inflammatory nutrients found in nuts makes them great for bone health, which is needed by every athlete. They also lower the bad cholesterol, which is good for heart health.

Milk (Even Chocolate Milk!)

Milk is loaded with carbs and protein, which makes it a great post-workout drink for muscle recovery. The caffeine found in chocolate dilates the blood vessels, helping them to relax after a workout. Interestingly enough, when carbs and protein are consumed together, muscle tissues repair themselves more quickly than they do when consumed separately!

Hydrating Foods

Radishes, watermelon, bell peppers, spinach, celery, dates and oranges are just a handful of the refreshing foods you can eat to replenish your lost fluids. If you’re tired of downing water bottles (not that you shouldn’t), opt for one of these snacks to feel refreshed after exercising.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins A and C, both antioxidants that remove free radicals from your body. They lower blood pressure, which is important for athletes to their heart health when participating in sports. They’re high in vitamin and mineral content and contain the levels of potassium, iron, manganese and copper athletes need for healthy muscles.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is an excellent source of energy carbs for athletes and is high in fiber, helping you feel fuller, longer. It’s 100 percent whole grain, helping to lower your risk of heart disease. If you’re looking to gain weight, oatmeal is a delicious way to help you achieve your goal weight. Be sure to choose steel-cut oats as opposed to instant oats. The instant oats have a higher glycemic index, which will cause your insulin levels to spike, causing you to end up storing the carbs as fat.

Whey Protein

Whey protein contains the essential amino acids. Quickly absorbed by the body, it lacks fat and cholesterol, which makes it an ideal formula for athletes to consume. Whey contains the levels of protein and amino acids necessary to rebuild muscles and protects against muscle breakdown.

Flaxseed, Olive and Coconut Oil

The monounsaturated fats found in olive oil have anti-inflammatory properties, which athletes need when putting so much stress on their bodies. Flaxseed oil contains omega-3s, which is also anti-inflammatory, to help recover quickly with bumps and bruises. It also contains fiber and protein. Coconut oil is filled with medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which can help with your endurance during a grueling workout. The MCTs in coconut oil can also help with metabolism and energy from fat.

Cherries

An antioxidant-filled fruit, cherries aid in preventing muscle pain after running. It reduces inflammation, which is what causes such striking pain. Many athletes consume cherry juice as another way to lower exercise-based muscle damage, which can help reduce soreness.

Poor eating habits will eventually lead to poor performance. As you can see from the foods mentioned, athletes benefit most from foods high in protein, vitamins and fiber to enhance their performance. Whether you’re a recreational or competitive athlete, your body needs the right nutrients to fuel itself during high-intensity activity. These foods provide the restorative, energy-boosting properties necessary to stay healthy while putting your body through exercise or other endurance activities.

Nutrition for Athletes

As an athlete, your physical health is key to an active lifestyle. You depend on strength, skill, and endurance, whether you’re going for the ball or making that final push across the finish line. Being your best takes time, training, and patience, but that’s not all. Like a car, your body won’t run without the right fuel. You must take special care to get enough of the calories, vitamins, and other nutrients that provide energy.

Path to well being

Every person’s needs are different. The amount of food you need depends on your age, height, weight, and sport or activity level. In general, you need to replace the number of calories you burn each day. Calories measure the energy you get from food. Most people need between 1,500 and 2,000 calories a day. For athletes, this number can increase by 500 to 1,000 more calories.

Talk to your doctor about your or your child’s nutrition needs. They can help you determine a healthy daily calorie count. Over time, you will learn how to balance your intake and outtake to avoid extreme weight gain or loss.

Calories come in different forms. The main types are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

  • Carbohydrates (carbs) are your body’s biggest source of calories. Simple carbs are easier for your body to break down. They provide quick bursts of energy. Complex carbs take longer for your body to break down. They are a better source of energy over time. Complex carbs in whole grain products are the most nutritious. Examples include: whole-grain bread, potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, and kidney beans. Doctors recommend that 55% to 60% of your daily calories come from carbohydrates.
  • Fat is another important source of calories. In small amounts, fat is a key fuel source. It serves other functions, such as supporting good skin and hair. Do not replace carbs in your diet with fats. This can slow you down, because your body has to work harder to burn fat for energy. Fats should make up no more than 30% of your daily calories. When you can, choose unsaturated fats, like olive oil and nuts. These are better for your health than saturated and trans fats. Too much fat or the wrong kinds can cause health problems. It can raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol level and increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Protein should make up the remaining 10% to 15% of your daily calories. Protein is found in foods like meat, eggs, milk, beans, and nuts. Some athletes think they should consume large amounts of protein. While protein does help build muscle, high doses won’t help you bulk up. Over time, too much protein can be harmful to your health. The digestion process can put strain on your liver and kidneys.

Athletes need the same vitamins and minerals as everyone else. There are no guidelines for additional nutrients or supplements. To stay healthy, eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet. It should include foods full of calcium, iron, potassium, and fiber. You also need key vitamins, such as A, C, and E. Try not to be tempted by junk foods, which are an empty source of calories. Instead, focus on lean meats, whole grains, and a mixture of fruits and vegetables to fuel your body.

Know when to eat and rehydrate

For athletes, knowing when to eat is as important as knowing what to eat. Try to eat a pre-game meal 2 to 4 hours before your event. For a race, this could be dinner the night before. A good pre-game meal is high in complex carbs and low in protein and sugar. Avoid rich and greasy foods. These can be harder for you to digest and can cause an upset stomach. You may find it helpful to avoid food the hour before a sporting event. This is because digestion uses up energy.

Staying hydrated is the most important thing athletes can do. This is especially true on game day. Your body is made up of nearly 60% water. During a workout, you quickly lose fluid when you sweat. Thirst is a sign of dehydration. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. A good rule of thumb is to take a drink at least every 15 to 20 minutes. But, don’t drink so much that you feel full.

Water is the best way to rehydrate. For short events (under an hour), water can replace what you lose from sweating. For longer events, you may benefit from sports drinks. They provide electrolytes and carbohydrates. Many experts now recommend drinking chocolate milk after exercise. The protein in milk helps with muscle recovery. It can have less sugar than sports or energy drinks, and contains many vitamins and minerals. Avoid drinks that contain caffeine. They can dehydrate you more and cause you to feel anxious or jittery.

Things to consider

Athletes require a lot of energy and nutrients to stay in shape. Because of this, strict diet plans can hurt your ability and be harmful to your health. Without the calories from by carbs, fat, and protein, you may not have enough strength. Not eating enough also can lead to malnutrition. Female athletes can have abnormal menstrual cycles. You increase your risk of osteoporosis, a fragile bone condition caused in part from a lack of calcium. Get medical help if you and your coach think you need to lose weight. Be sure to talk to your doctor before making major nutrition changes.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How many calories does my child need to eat each day?
  • Are there any supplements they should take?

Resources

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition, Nutrition Resources for Collegiate Athletes

U.S. Department of Agriculture, ChooseMyPlate.gov

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, & Nutrition

Photo, Getty Images.

Calling all weekend warriors – if you’re training for a marathon, biking regularly or are a Crossfit fanatic, you need a different diet to fuel up. Endurance athletes need significant amounts of carbs to let them train longer, and protein to help build muscle and boost metabolism. It’s also important to eat regularly to keep your energy up and help you recover from workouts, so we’ve included snacks.

A note on serving sizes: You shouldn’t be hungry on this meal plan. If you are, add plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to meals and snacks. And make sure you drink plenty of fluids as well.

MONDAY
Breakfast
Breakfast-on-the-go shake with 1 scoop protein powder.

Lunch
Barley sushi salad with nori.

Barley sushi salad with nori.

Snack
Celery sticks with 2 tbsp natural peanut butter, topped with dried cranberries.

Dinner
Black rice and edamame salad.

Black rice and edamame salad.
Photo, John Cullen.

Snack
“Chocolate mousse”: Stir 3/4 cup unsweetened yogurt, 2 tsp cocoa powder and 2 tsp coconut sugar together and refrigerate for at least 30 min.

TUESDAY
Breakfast
2 omega-3-enriched eggs, sliced fresh tomato and Jalapeno pan fries.

Jalapeno pan fries.
Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Lunch
Spicy black bean burritos.

Spicy black bean burritos.
Photo, Masterfile.

Snack
1 cup sliced fresh fruit and berries topped with 1/2 cup Greek yogurt.

Dinner
Ginger chicken stir-fry with greens on rice.

Ginger chicken stir-fry with greens.

Snack
3 cups plain popcorn drizzled with olive oil, salt and fresh or dried dill, plus 1 cup milk or soy milk.

WEDNESDAY
Breakfast
Homemade apple-cinnamon instant oatmeal.

Homemade apple-cinnamon instant oatmeal.
Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Lunch
Mediterranean lentil salad with feta.

Snack
Homemade trail mix: 2 parts whole-grain cereal to 1 part dried fruit and 1 part nuts.

Dinner
Lemony packet-baked salmon, with maple-glazed squash and steamed snow peas.

Snack
Greek yogurt topped with fruit and granola.

THURSDAY
Breakfast
1 cup high-fibre cereal with low-fat milk and 1/4 cup slivered almonds.

Lunch
Cirtus, chicken and spinach toss.

Citrus, chicken and spinach toss.

Snack
Apple with 2 tbsp seed or nut butter.

Dinner
Herbed chicken meatballs with spaghetti, served with a green salad.

Herbed chicken meatballs with spaghetti.

Snack
Plain popcorn drizzled with olive oil, salt and fresh or dried dill, plus 1 cup milk or soy milk.

FRIDAY
Breakfast
Sliced banana with 2 tbsp peanut butter, rolled in whole wheat pita.

Lunch
Roadside fish tacos.

Roadside fish tacos.
Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Snack
1/4 cup hummus and 1/2 8-inch whole-grain pita, cut into triangles.

Dinner
Spicy peanut, tofu and spinach stir-fry.

Spicy peanut, tofu and spinach stir-fry.

Snack
Decaf latte with a serving of fruit.

SATURDAY
Breakfast
Fresh vegetable omelette with lentils.

Fresh vegetable omelette with lentils.

Lunch
Pita pizza with hummus and mint.

Pita pizza with hummus and mint.
Photo, Michael Graydon.

Snack
1 cup sliced fresh fruit and berries topped with 1/2 cup Greek yogurt.

Dinner
Asparagus and brown rice risotto.

Asparagus and brown-rice risotto.
Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Snack
Homemade trail mix: 2 parts whole-grain cereal to 1 part dried fruit and 1 part nuts.

SUNDAY
Breakfast
Ricotta-oat-bran pancakes

Ricotta-oat-bran pancakes with maple-raspberry sauce.
Photo, John Cullen.

Lunch
Avocado tuna wrap

Avocado tuna wrap.

Snack
Apple with 2 tbsp seed or nut butter.

Dinner
Grilled steak with baked potato and grilled asparagus.

Snack
1 cup sliced fresh fruit and berries topped with 1/2 cup Greek yogurt.

Click here for a printable version of this meal plan.

Tristaca Caldwell-Curley is a registered dietitian and Chatelaine Health Advisory Panel expert.

Health and Wellness

  1. Make a plan to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. The goal is to eat at least five servings per day, and include varieties of fruit and vegetable color. One serving is approximately the size of a baseball. Fruits and vegetables are filled with the energy and nutrients necessary for training and recovery. Plus, these antioxidant-rich foods will help you combat illness like a cold or the flu.
  2. Choose whole grain carbohydrates sources such as whole-wheat bread or pasta, and fiber-rich cereals as power-packed energy sources. Limit the refined grains and sugars such as sugary cereals, white breads and bagels. You’ll benefit more from whole-grain products.
  3. Choose healthy sources of protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, peanut butter, eggs, nuts and legumes.
  4. Stay hydrated with beverages, as a two percent drop in hydration levels can negatively impact performance. Options include milk, water, 100 percent fruit juice and sport drinks. However, realize that sport drinks and 100 percent fruit juice tend to be higher in overall sugar content and, in the case of fruit juice, lack many of the health benefits present in its whole food counterpart. Also, be sure not to confuse sports drinks such as Gatorade with “energy” drinks such as Red Bull and similar beverages.
  5. Stick with whole food options as much as possible as opposed to highly processed foods.

Planning a Nutritious Meal

Without adequate calories from the healthiest food sources, you will struggle to achieve your performance goals. Plan a nutritious meal by choosing at least one food from each category.

Carbohydrates

Protein

Healthy Fat

Fruit

Whole eggs ( white and yolk)

Avocado

Oatmeal

Greek yogurt

Peanut butter

Starchy vegetables (sweet/white potatoes, squash)

Milk

Nuts and seeds

Non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, leafy greens)

String cheese

Olive or canola oil (the latter, if baking)

Whole-grain bread or crackers

Lean red meats

Coconut oil

High-fiber, non-sugary cereals

Poultry

Flax seed (add to baking or cooking)

Quinoa

Fish

Brown or wild rice

Hummus

Hydration

Adequate hydration is a key element in sports performance. Most athletes benefit from developing a personal hydration plan. A general rule for training is to consume a minimum:

  • Two cups of fluid prior to training
  • Four to six ounces of fluid every 15 minutes of exercise

Your post event/training hydration needs are impacted by your overall pre- to post-fluid losses. To properly assess, weigh yourself immediately prior to and after a workout. For every pound of weight lost, replace with 16 ounces of fluid. Best hydration choices include water, low-fat milk or 100 percent juice. Sports beverages are best reserved for competition, where quick hydration and electrolyte replacement are necessary.

Game Day Nutrition

There are a few golden rules when it comes to eating on game day:

  • Remember, proper nutrition for the “big tournament/race/meet” does not happen on the day of the event alone. It happens the days, weeks, and months leading up to the competition
  • Never experiment with a new dietary/supplement protocol on game day. First, try it out prior to a practice/training session to make sure you tolerate it well.
  • As you get closer to the game/competition, make your meals smaller. Additionally, you may want to limit dairy, fat and fibrous carbohydrate sources during the last one to one and one-half hours pre-event/practice, as these may cause GI issues.

On-the-go Eating

Peak performance during competition means eating nutritious food while traveling. Relying on the concession stand for food during competition is an almost certain failure. Players (and parents) should prepare by packing a variety of food and beverages.

Choose energy-packed foods such as whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese, tortilla wraps with veggies and lean meat, hard-boiled eggs, vegetable or bean soups, small boxes of non-sugary cereal, fresh fruit, mini-whole wheat bagels with peanut butter, pita bread with hummus or pasta with grilled chicken. Pair any of these options with fruit/vegetable and milk and you’ve got a great meal.

Healthy Food Choices

Not-so-healthy Food Choices

Grilled chicken, turkey or fish

Fried chicken and fish

Lean beef or pork

Burgers, sausage, bacon

Fruits, vegetables, salads,

veggie-based soups

French fries, fried rice, alfredo or cheese sauce

Nuts, trail mix, seeds or peanut butter

Chips, cheese curls, pork rinds

Eggs or egg substitutes

Omelets loaded with cheese, hash browns and sausage

Whole grain breads, rice and pasta

Highly-processed white bread, rice and pasta

Dairy products

Dairy products with excessive added sugars, like ice cream

  • As you get closer to the game/competition, make your meals smaller, removing fats and dairy products. Fibrous carbohydrates can be beneficial as these tend to cause GI disturbances.
  • The key thing with “pre-event” nutrition is making sure that you’ve tested it out before game day. Try the pre-meal/snack protocol in advance to make sure you tolerate it well.

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Reach your race-weight goals and take the guesswork out of fueling with this smart seven-day meal menu.

Photo: Sue Fan and John David Becker

Reach your race-weight goals and take the guesswork out of fueling with this smart seven-day meal menu.

As a hard-charging triathlete, you probably spend a big chunk of your time planning (and anticipating!) your next meal or snack. Having a food plan that is time-efficient and can healthfully satiate your appetite is key. This seven-day plan takes the guesswork out of mealtime and can help you happily eat your way to an ideal race weight.

The Meal Plan

This seven-day plan is designed for one person, but it’s easy to adjust to the number of people eating. Meals were envisioned with leftovers in mind to save you time and money on ingredients for successive meals. The portions can vary from person to person but are estimated for someone who is about 130–160 pounds. The idea behind this meal plan is to fill you up with large portions of seasonal produce, making that at least half your plate in most cases. The other half is made up of protein and carbohydrates. If you need larger portions, try adding more produce or protein first, and if you need less, take away small amounts of the carbohydrates and/or protein.

Day 1

Breakfast
– 1 cup quinoa breakfast cereal
Cook 1½ cups quinoa with 2½ cups unsweetened almond milk, 2 tablespoons agave and 1 teaspoon vanilla (makes 2 servings).
– ½ cup Greek yogurt
– 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

Lunch
– 1 turkey burger
Grate 1 onion into 20 ounces 93 percent lean ground turkey, with 2 tablespoons ketchup, 1 tablespoon each cumin and chili powder, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper (makes 4 servings).
– 1 cup sautéed chard
– 2/3 cup brown rice
Dinner
– Turkey tacos
Crumble one turkey burger into 2 corn tortillas, top with sautéed chard, fresh salsa and avocado.

RELATED: The Benefits Of A Big Breakfast

Photo: Sue Fan and John David Becker

Day 2

Breakfast
– 1 cup quinoa breakfast cereal (use other serving from Day 1)
– ½ cup Greek yogurt
– Sliced persimmon and 1 T nuts

Lunch
– 1 turkey burger on whole-wheat bun or bread
– Top with whole-grain mustard and pile high with favorite veggies.

Dinner
– 5 ounces baked salmon
Place two 5-ounce pieces salmon into foil with sliced lemon and orange, wrap tightly and bake 15–20 minutes at 400 degrees (makes 2 servings).
– 2/3 cup quinoa
– ½ cup each roasted carrots and broccoli rabe

Tip: If you simply don’t have the time to prepare the whole menu fresh, fill in with store-bought items, like pre-made brown rice, already prepared chicken or fish, or grilled veggies from the deli. Don’t be afraid to modify or swap ingredients—the menu is just a guideline for the general amounts of macronutrients recommended.

RELATED: Breakfast Quinoa Recipe

Photo: Sue Fan and John David Becker

Day 3

Breakfast
– Turkey scramble wrap
Scramble 2 eggs with remaining turkey burger (crumbled), and ½ cup seasonal veggies. Serve in whole-wheat or corn tortillas.

Lunch
– Salmon bowl
Combine other serving of salmon with 2/3 cup brown rice, ½ cup each roasted carrots and broccoli rabe, and 2 tablespoons favorite Asian sauce.

Dinner
– 5 ounces herb grilled chicken
Marinate four 5-ounce pieces of chicken breast with chopped parsley, rosemary, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill or roast chicken (makes 4 servings).
– 1 cup roasted butternut squash
– 1 cup roasted Brussels sprouts

RELATED: Are You Sitting Too Much?

Photo: Sue Fan and John David Becker

Day 4

Breakfast
– Granola parfait
Layer ½ cup granola with 1 cup Greek yogurt, kiwi and pomegranate seeds.

Lunch
– Fig salad
Toss 2 cups mixed greens with 2 fresh figs (sliced), 2 tablespoons goat cheese and 1 tablespoon pecans. Top with 1 leftover chicken breast; serve with whole-grain roll.

Dinner
– Kale pesto
Combine ¼ cup prepared pesto with 1 cup sautéed kale in a blender. Toss with 2 cups cooked pasta and 1½ cups choice of roasted/steamed vegetables, and top with sliced leftover chicken breast (makes 2 servings).

RELATED: 10 Essential Foods For Endurance Athletes

Photo: Sue Fan and John David Becker

Day 5

Breakfast
– Sweet potato hash
Sauté 1 cup diced sweet potatoes/yams with ½ cup each diced carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, salt and pepper. Then scramble with 4 eggs and toss with freshly diced green onion (2 servings).

Lunch
– Remaining serving of kale pesto from Day 4

Dinner
– 5 ounces grilled sirloin
– 1 cup baked sweet potato or yam fries
Give your yams or sweet potatoes a good scrub, then cut them lengthwise into ½-inch fry-like pieces. Toss with olive oil and salt, bake on a sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray at 425 degrees for 10 minutes per side.
– 1 cup sautéed carrots, mushrooms, broccoli and chard (or choice vegetable mixture)

Tip: Train in the morning? A hearty breakfast ensures you use those necessary calories to fuel your effort. A post-workout snack is integral for recovery and satiating hunger. Taper your lunch and then dinner, as fewer calories will be needed during those meals.

RELATED: How To Eat Like A Nutritionist

Photo: Sue Fan and John David Becker

Day 6

Breakfast
– Remaining serving of sweet potato hash

Lunch
– Rotisserie chicken, cranberry and kale wrap
Toss 1 cup kale with juice of 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons prepared low-sugar whole cranberry sauce, and let sit 20 minutes. Serve in a whole-wheat wrap with ½ cup rotisserie chicken breast.

Dinner
– Farro, cauliflower and cranberry bowl
Combine 2 cups roasted cauliflower, 1 cup chopped kale and 2 cups cooked farro. Toss ¼ cup prepared cranberry sauce, juice of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley and 1 tablespoon olive oil with remaining rotisserie chicken breast. Add this to the farro, veggie mixture (makes 2 servings).

RELATED: Training To Be Lean

Photo: Sue Fan and John David Becker

Day 7

Breakfast
– 1 cup farro porridge
Cook ½ cup farro with 1 cup unsweetened almond or coconut milk, 2 teaspoons real maple syrup and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon.
– ½ cup plain or Greek yogurt
– 2 T nuts

Lunch
– Remaining serving of farro, cauliflower and cranberry bowl

Dinner
– Fish pocket
Place 6 ounces white fish (such as halibut, tilapia, sea bass) on a large piece of foil or parchment paper. Cover with 2/3 cup sliced fennel and leeks, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fold sides of foil or parchment up and pour ¼ cup white wine in for steaming. Cover completely and bake at 400 degrees for 15–20 minutes.
– 1 cup turnip purée
Boil 1 small (peeled and diced) turnip and rutabaga until soft. Drain in colander, pressing any remaining water out. Combine (in food processer or blender) with 1 tablespoon light sour cream, 1 teaspoon olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Serve fish and broth over the top.
– ½ cup choice steamed veggies

RELATED: Farro Recipes And Nutrition Benefits

Photo: Sue Fan and John David Becker

Snack Smart

What to eat between meals

– Cut up jicama and cucumber, squeeze fresh lime juice and sprinkle salt and chili powder on top.
– Make deviled eggs by combining hard-boiled egg yolks with a dollop of Greek yogurt, capers, dill and chives.
– Keep smoked salmon on hand to nosh on with cut-up veggies or rice crackers.
– Soften half an apple or pear in the microwave for 90 seconds to 2 minutes and top with Greek yogurt, cinnamon and a sprinkle of nuts.
– Try one of the new nitrate- and/or gluten-free jerkies or savory meat bars.
– Grill a batch of veggies to keep in the fridge (try zucchini, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli rabe/rapini).
– Make a tray of persimmon, grape, feta and basil skewers for a refreshing sweet-savory snack.
– Whip up chia pudding by combining ¼ cup chia seeds with 1 cup almond milk and 2 percent Greek yogurt (each), and choice of sweetener. Let sit overnight, divide by four, and top with pomegranate seeds, kiwis or persimmons, and nuts.
– Satisfy a salt craving with a serving of stone ground or blue corn chips with fresh salsa and a ¼ cup guacamole.
– Slice up fresh figs and pair with a dollop of part-skim ricotta and a drizzle of honey.
– Toast an English muffin and top with almond butter, banana and agave.
– Curb hunger with a brown rice sushi roll.
– Make your own trail mix with your favorite assortment of nuts, dried fruit and dark chocolate chips.
– Use whole-wheat tortillas to make turkey/roast beef and cheese roll-ups.

RELATED: The Importance Of The Post-Workout Snack

Sections

Have you heard about what Tom Brady and Gisele eat? Or what about vegan athletes like Venus Williams? It was a conversation that came up at For The Win last week, as we all munched on the junk food sitting around the office and sipped our coffee. So six FTW staffers took a challenge: Pick an athlete’s diet and stick to it for two days. Here’s how we did:

1. The Todd Bowles diet

USA TODAY Sports Images

Brandon Marshall shared the diet on his Instagram account last month after he lost 19 pounds on it.

Dieter: Charles Curtis

What I ate:

Day 1 breakfast: Two eggs over easy, blueberries and raspberries
Day 1 lunch: Chicken cutlet, broccoli
Day 1 dinner: Flounder, bok choy, quinoa … and a lite ginger/soy sauce (oops!)
Snacks: Salted chickpeas, black beans, protein drink after a workout
Day 2 breakfast: two eggs over easy, blueberries and raspberries … two slices of bread (ugh)
Day 2 lunch: Chicken cutlet, avocado, broccoli
Day 2 dinner: Salmon, roasted Brussel sprouts

Preparation: I looked at Marshall’s posts on the diet and tried my best to recreate the dishes. Bok choy replaced cabbage because ew, steamed cabbage.

Did I cheat? Yes, yes I did. And I’m not proud of it, but I felt it was impossible to write while my stomach consumed itself. I needed bread. I wanted a little flavor on my fish. Don’t athletes have “cheat days” too? I failed you, Brandon Marshall.

General thoughts: I had respect for pro athletes’ dedication to staying in ridiculous shape, but now, I have even deeper respect. Until I consumed carbs, I was pretty exhausted even though I pushed myself to do a workout to further simulate the experience. But I simply got a taste of the experience and cheated a few times – how could guys like Marshall do it day in and day out without cheating? That’s dedication.

2. Jamie McMurray, NASCAR driver

USA TODAY Sports Images

McMurray shared his diet with For The Win earlier this year.

Dieter: Nate Scott

What I ate:

Day 1 breakfast: Coffee, yogurt with blueberries
Day 1 lunch: Beef brisket sandwich with cole slaw and pickles, plus a side of baked beans and mac &cheese
Day 1 dinner: Steak
Day 2 breakfast: Coffee, yogurt with blueberries
Day 2 lunch: Big Mac and an order of french fries
Day 2 dinner: Ordered fish on an airplane, regretted it, ate pretzels

Did I cheat?: I honestly don’t know how anyone could cheat at this diet, but I had some pretzels, which he didn’t specifically mention as something he eats.

Why did I cheat?: I wanted some pretzels.

General thoughts: I’ll ride with McMurray any day of the week.

3. Venus Williams, raw food vegan

Getty Images

Dieter: Ted Berg

What I ate: Tons of fruits and vegetables, some nuts and seeds, a couple of vegan protein bars from a health-food place around the corner that I had never been to before in four years of living here, and one bag of particularly disgusting “Blueberry Hemp Snacks.”

Did I cheat? Over the two days, I drank four cups of iced coffee — which I think is a no-no. I had all four of them with milk, which is most definitely a no-no. I know from past experience that giving up coffee would have meant giving up being able to focus on a computer screen, so I had to compromise. And coffee sucks without milk.

Overall thoughts: I mostly chose Venus Williams’ diet by working backwards. When I’m not eating sandwiches or Taco Bell, I try to eat mostly meats, fruits and vegetables, and so I knew following the diet of some paleo athlete would mean only some minor adjustments and a couple days’ worth of dedication to not cheating. I thought this post would be funniest and most interesting if I found a diet as far from my own as possible, so I settled on this one because meat means so much to me. I even pre-wrote in my head parts of a bleak and desperate post about going two days without juicy, delicious meat and how hard it was.

Only then I tried it and found out it really wasn’t so bad. I mean, yeah, I felt hungry a lot of the time, but I typically feel hungry at most times besides the hour after I’ve eaten a giant meal anyway. I missed meat, certainly, and found myself salivating at the sight of the burgers being enjoyed in restaurants’ outdoor-seating sections near my apartment. But fruits and vegetables, even raw, can be fairly tasty on their own, and limiting myself to them for two days just wasn’t terribly difficult. If anything, I learned that a bunch of my otherwise cool and smart co-workers have weak constitutions and pampered sensibilities, as I found them whining about not being able to eat cookies when meanwhile I’m out here giving up meat.

Roadblocks: The big thing is the cost. I can fill up on about two dollars’ worth of chicken, but it costs more than twice that much for a little thing of blackberries that hardly accounts for a whole meal.

4. Jordan Burroughs, Team USA wrestler

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Burroughs shared his diet with For The Win earlier this year.

Dieter: Nina Mandell

What I ate:

Day 1 breakfast: Banana, peanut butter, spinach, berry and Greek yogurt smoothie.
Day 1 lunch: This juice

After this I was really hungry and having the most trouble focusing, so I emailed a spokesperson for USA Wrestling to ask Jordan how he did this. Jordan, it turns out was kind of busy because of the Olympics, where he will be competing and likely will win another gold medal. So after whining a bunch to my co-workers, I quit, really for the sake of everyone’s sanity. Sorry, diet challenge.

Did I cheat? Yup. A lot.

Preparation: I made a smoothie the night before and bought those ridiculously expensive juices from Whole Foods.

Overall thoughts: I picked badly when it came to this diet challenge and hope that for his sake Jordan left a lot out when he was telling me what he ate earlier this year. Also, that juice was surprisingly good.

5. Tia Blanco, pro surfer

View this post on Instagram

Eat Veggies Not Animals ❤️😊 @activeculture /// love this message, thank you @inthesoulshine /// pc @lexxgovegan

A post shared by TIARAH👑 (@tiablanco) on Mar 21, 2016 at 3:20pm PDT

Blanco posts a lot about her diet on Instagram, which was really helpful.

Dieter: Hemal Jhaveri
What I ate:

Day 1 breakfast: Coffee
Day 1 lunch: Grilled vegetable Panini, potato chips and a pickle.
Day 1 dinner: Traditional Indian food. Basically, a vegetable side dish and roti, plus rice.
Snack: Figs, almonds, and rice crackers.
Day 2 breakfast: Coffee
Day 2 snack: Watermelon juice and four figs
Day 2 lunch: Vegetable soup
Day 2 dinner: Same traditional Indian dinner: vegetable, roti, a mustard green soup and rice.
Day 2 post-dinner: rice crackers and tea

Did I cheat? Hell yeah. I didn’t skip my morning coffee with milk, which is really the only thing I eat before noon. There ended up being some budget-level grated parmesan on my grilled panini, but since that was mostly artificial stuff anyway, I figured it doesn’t really count.

But otherwise I was pretty good. The only time I had to make a real decision to sacrifice was when I skipped eating an ice cream sandwich Tuesday night.

Roadblocks: I’m already a very strict vegetarian so going vegan for a couple of days wasn’t a huge deal, but I cheated enough to know that I would never really make the full sacrifice of not eating dairy. Like, cheese just tastes way too good. Sorry, guys.

Preparation: I told my sister, who does the cooking in my house, “Hey, I have to go vegan for a few days” to which she replied, “You’re so dumb.” But she did pack me very vegan friendly snacks for work.

Overall thoughts: I would be a very good vegan if I could cheat every so often. But I wouldn’t give up cheese in my burritos, or cream in my coffee, or pizza, so actually maybe I would suck. What I did realize is that I don’t have a ton of dairy in my daily diet. Some cream, a bowl of yogurt here and there and I’m good.

I think that most extreme diets are stupid, but going vegan isn’t really the extreme if you’re already mindful about what you eat. Plus, I went to yoga both days I was going vegan, so I did walk around with a sense of moral superiority.

6. Tom Brady

(AP Photo/Tim Sharp, File)

Brady’s personal chef opened up about the QB’s diet earlier this year.
Dieter: Charlotte Wilder
What I ate:

The saddest meals in America (Brady doesn’t eat sugar, caffeine, wheat, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, eggplants, fruit — except bananas in smoothies—, dairy, cooked olive oil, iodized salt, anything fun).

Day 1 breakfast: Hard boiled egg and a banana (Tom eats bananas in smoothies sometimes and I was desperate already).
Day 1 lunch: Pathetic salad of romaine lettuce, chicken (he only sometimes eats chicken, but that means he does eat chicken, so I went for it), asparagus, and broccoli with only olive oil and balsamic on it.
Day 1 snacks: A few peanuts (I didn’t find anything that said he couldn’t eat those, so I went for it, though he probably can’t).
Day 1 dinner: Leftover salmon and grilled summer squash.
Day 2 breakfast: A sad egg again for breakfast, but no banana.
Day 2 lunch: Same lame salad.
Day 2 dinner: More leftover salmon and summer squash (I made way too much food on Sunday night, apparently).

Preparation: I didn’t. I forgot we were doing this, so I went to the farmer’s market on Sunday and bought these beautiful blackberries, blueberries, a loaf of bread, and huge hunk of cheese, and then on Monday morning (before I ate breakfast, though), I remembered. Fortunately, I’d made an uncharacteristically healthy dinner on Sunday of grilled salmon and summer squash, which resulted in tons of leftovers, so for dinner on Monday the only rule I’d be breaking was that I cooked with olive oil. Otherwise, I was at the mercy of the USA TODAY cafeteria, and couldn’t eat the exciting things in my fridge at home. The situation wasn’t looking great, but neither was Nina’s green juice that she pulled out of her bag that she bought the night before, so maybe prep wouldn’t have saved me anyway.

Did I cheat? Yes. Like, a lot. It turns out that I am terrible at dieting: I had coffee, because I am not a masochist, and three chocolate-covered raisins on Monday morning before I remembered I wasn’t supposed to. I also ate almost an entire bag of Newman’s Own tiny chocolate chip cookies while I watched/wrote about The Bachelorette on Monday night because I was so nervous about who would win. I was also starving and I lack self-control.

Roadblocks: Psychological ones. I do not understand how you can live like this. The diet made me really angry at Tom Brady, and I technically didn’t even follow it. You can’t eat anything on this stupid regiment, so the only way you could do this without wanting to put yourself in a blender is if you have a personal chef who’s willing to make “cheese” out of ground up cashews and trick you into eating lentils for dessert.

Which, to be fair, Brady does have. But I, a mere mortal, do not. What I did possess, when I was able to stick to not eating normal foods, was a very bad mental state and a sense of being virtuous for eating all those vegetables. But virtuosity has nothing on chocolate chip cookies, so this was not worth it. Also, this diet won’t even make you good at sports — I threw a football before and after I ate like Tom Brady, and it went the exact same distance both times.

10 Athletes With Insane Diets

Arguably one of the biggest draws of becoming a professional athlete is the seemingly limitless amount of food one can consume after finishing a day’s worth of strenous workouts. When your job relies on your physical strength, every calorie counts.

While it’s undeniable that professional athletes are at their peak fitness levels, not every player achieves this status by heeding a diet of kale and kombucha. Some have chosen looser regimens, making things like McNuggets the center of their post-workout meals. But either way, the sheer volume of food intake truly blows us away. Here are 10 of the most insane athlete diets.

Matt Kalil

Minnesota Vikings Offensive Lineman Matt Kalil knows where to get his supplements! #nfl #mattkalil #vikings #supplements

A photo posted by Nutrishop Corona (@nscorona_eastvale) on Jan 22, 2013 at 1:13pm PST

Sport: Football
Average calorie count: 7,000 calories
Despite losing twenty pounds after coming down with pneumonia, the Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle maintains his 315-pound frame by indulging in a diet rich in junk foods. Back in 2012, his meal plan included a breakfast consisting of bacon, eggs, fruit, cottage cheese, toast, and sausage. Sounds harmless enough, but come lunchtime Kalil would indulge in pizza, burgers, and sloppy joe’s. In more recent years, his 7,000 calorie NFL diet includes high-calorie protein shakes, pasta, and plenty of snacks.

Michael Arnstein

Biggest jackfruit ever!! Bringing this monster to the Woodstock Fruit Festival!

A photo posted by Michael Arnstein (@the_fruitarian) on Aug 13, 2015 at 6:46am PDT

Sport: Marathon runner
Average calorie count: 4,000-6,000 calories
Long-distance runner Michael Arnstein, who has nicknamed himself the Fruitarian, lives off the 80/10/10 diet consisting of mostly raw foods. Arnstein has competed in over 50 marathons and attributes his successes to his 6,000 calorie raw vegan diet. The switch helped him shave 17-minutes off his race time. Every ten days, Arnstein purchases 500-lbs of fruit to feed not only himself, but also his four other family members.

Michael Phelps

#tbt what amazing memories!!!

A photo posted by Michael Phelps (@m_phelps00) on Jan 23, 2014 at 10:53am PST

Sport: Swimming
Average calorie count: 12,000 calories
The most decorated olympian of all time has a diet nothing short of impressive. The swimming superstar pounds a whopping 12,000 calories per day, most notably while training for the 2008 olympics. His diet consists of a pound of pasta, an entire pizza, three fried egg sandwiches, grits, and french toast to name a few. After going viral, the Michael Phelps diet sparked a the “Michael Phelps Challenge” where people attempt eat for an entire day like the swimmer.

Nick Hardwick

A photo posted by Nick Hardwick (@hardwina) on May 7, 2015 at 8:40pm PDT

Sport: Football
Average calorie count: ~5,000 calories
After retiring from the San Diego Chargers, the ex-lineman transformed his NFL diet and dropped 85-pounds in five months. Prior to retirement, the previously 300-pound player consumed nightly pints of Ben and Jerry’s before bed, and 700-calorie protein shakes. Today, Hardwick sticks to a Paleo diet consisting mostly of whole foods.

The Rock

Grilled buffalo meat, baked potato fries, “Ballers” magazine with some handsome bald tattooed sumbitch on the cover… but the real star of the show is… a mound of Rice Crispy treats with my fork planted in the middle as if to say “It’s all mine baby”. #MyVersionOfTheMileHighClub #WhereFunIsHad #AndDaddyDontShare #GetYourOwnRiceCrispyTreats

A photo posted by therock (@therock) on Aug 29, 2015 at 5:52pm PDT

Sport: WWE Wrestling
Average calorie count: 5,000 calories
Can you smell what The Rock is cooking? Turns out it’s lots of brown rice and fish. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson consumes a diet so dense in seafood that his yearly intake of cod amounts to 821-pounds of the fish per year. Understandably, a diet so routine can easily become monotonous. That’s why Johnson indulges in legendary cheat days. If you feel like you might like take on The Rock’s diet for yourself, watch Complex very own Sean Evans attempt a day in the life of The Rock and fail miserably.

Jon Call

A photo posted by Jon Call (@jujimufu) on Jun 23, 2015 at 5:54am PDT

Sport: Acrobolix
Average calorie count: 3,400 to 4,500 calories
The inventor of “Acrobolix”—the cross between anabolic (tissue-building) and acrobatics—gets his jacked figure from consuming over 100 pounds of chicken per week. Once a week, Call will prep his meals, which includes 15-pounds of potatoes and 12 cups of rice. Call’s “Deep End Omelettes” are the stuff of legend.

JJ Watt

A photo posted by JJ Watt (@justinjames99) on Jul 30, 2015 at 9:45am PDT

Sport: Football
Average calorie count: 9,000 calories
The Houston Texans defensive lead started “crushing avocados” after he learned his body was in need of some extra fuel. To increase his body fat, the player upped his daily intake of sweet potatoes and fell in love with brunch. A typical JJ Watt brunch meal includes stuffed french toast and a potato pancake omelette.

David Carter

#repost from @plynnphotos It’s kinda fun having a photographer as a #wife #vegan #veganathelte #vegansofig #the300lbvegan #veganmuscle #plantpower #crueltyfree #justflexinandeatingbroccoli

A photo posted by David Carter (@the300poundvegan) on Jun 25, 2014 at 10:21pm PDT

Sport: Football
Average calorie count: 10,000 calories
Despite being a 300-pound football player, David Carter has been able to maintain his size while simultaneously eating a strict vegan diet. The 300-pound defensive lineman consumes 10,000 calories per day consisting of greens, rice, quinoa, nuts, and beans. According to GQ, Carter is “eating every two hours, and eating hard. He starts each morning with a huge batch of the bean smoothies in his Vitamix blender (enough to total 100 grams of protein) which he divvies up for the course of the day.”

Riff Raff

PEACH PANTHER

A photo posted by RiFF RaFF JODY HiGHROLLER (@jodyhighroller) on Jul 26, 2015 at 9:39pm PDT

Sport: WWE Wrestling
Average calorie count: ~4,000 calories
Although Riff Raff may be first and foremost a musician, his transition into a 240-pound neon animal proves that Jody High Roller is a serious athlete. With the help of Hulk Hogan, Riff Raff consumed late night pizzas, burgers, shrimp, and plenty of barbecue in order to reach his versace goal weight and join the WWE. This is one of the craziest diets we’ve ever seen.

Usain Bolt

I did say I don’t think limits..Anything is possible.. So why so surprised at my cooking skills in the kitchen..#ChefBolt #savebydata #multitalented #Boltmenu @Digicel #SeriousFace #Mothergrowmewell

A photo posted by Usain St.Leo Bolt (@usainbolt) on Nov 6, 2014 at 4:34am PST

Sport: Track and Field
Average calorie count: 5,500 calories
While most people would advise against daily trips to McDonald’s, Usain Bolt thrived on it. The olympic medalist consumed over 47,000 calories worth of Chicken McNuggets at the 2008 Beijing Olympics—and has the medals to prove they did him some good. According the The Huffington Post, Bolt consumed nuggets and fries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with an apple pie for a snack.

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