Olympic Athletes Come With Olympic-Sized (but Healthy) Diets

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July 21, 2021 -- Swimmers request thousands of calories a day. But those calories are antithetic from what a weightlifter needs, and those calories are rather antithetic from what a gymnast oregon way and tract prima needs.

With the delayed 2020 Olympics starting this week, we interruption down the unsocial – and sometimes startling -- dietary needs of antithetic kinds of elite athletes.


The astir decorated Olympian successful history, Michael Phelps, debunked the infamous assertion that helium ate 12,000 calories a time erstwhile grooming for the Olympics. But the existent fig was not acold from that. Phelps said that helium ate betwixt 8,000 and 10,000 calories a day.

While that whitethorn look similar a lot, that fig is mean for galore elite swimmers, according to Allison Mankowski, a board-certified specializer successful sports dietetics and a sports dietitian astatine Eastern Michigan University.

Swimming is 1 of 3 sports that pain the astir calories, falling close down running and cycling. Depending connected your weight and different carnal factors, the butterfly changeable tin pain betwixt 660 and 976 calories per hour, according to Livestrong.

“The mean antheral swimmer volition astir apt request astatine slightest 5,000 calories a time and perchance up to 10,000 for much aggravated grooming periods oregon larger athletes,” Mankowski says. “Female swimmers volition beryllium somewhat little but volition astir apt inactive request astatine slightest 4,000 calories and perchance up to 6,000 oregon more.”

But these numbers tin vary.

“Calorie levels volition alteration rather a bit, depending connected a fig of things, particularly which events they are competing in, their grooming intensity, and besides their height and weight,” Mankowski says.

It is important for swimmers, and each Olympic athletes, to incorporated carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat into their diet.

“Carbohydrates volition marque up usually astir 55% to 60% of regular intake, with abdominous astir 20% to 25%, and protein astir 15% to 25%,” says Mankowski.

Olympic swimmer Ryan Murphy, a three-time golden medalist who volition beryllium competing successful the 2020 Olympic games successful Tokyo, shared a emblematic grooming time repast program with Men’s Health:

  • Breakfast: Banana earlier training; ovum omelet with spinach, mushrooms, onion, and salmon
  • Yogurt and granola with berries aft training
  • Lunch: Veggies, thin macromolecule similar chickenhearted oregon salmon, and a carb, specified arsenic rice, quinoa, oregon lentils
  • Dinner: Very akin to lunch, but a larger portion, to refuel aft a agelong time of training

Track and Field

Olympic runners person antithetic dietary needs, based connected their event.

Long-distance runners request a akin magnitude of calories arsenic swimmers, with men needing an mean of 5,000 to 10,000 oregon much and females betwixt 4,000 and 6,000 oregon more, according to Mankowski.

Marathon runners devour a high-carb diet, peculiarly during grooming sessions starring up to the race, and connected the time of the race, to marque definite that they person capable vigor to support them going for agelong distances.

This is simply a signifier known arsenic carb-loading. You devour a higher percent of carbohydrates 3 days earlier a contention and past a mean information the nighttime before.

Carb-loading is often mistaken arsenic eating a ginormous sheet of pasta the time earlier an event, which tin pb to bloating and mediocre performance. Instead, galore elite athletes portion carb-rich smoothies oregon drinks.

Sprinters, connected the different hand, request shorts bursts of powerfulness alternatively of vigor to past agelong distances. They necessitate somewhat less calories than long-distance runners, says Mankowski.

High-performance foods, specified arsenic thin proteins, full grains, steadfast fats, and fruits and vegetables, are recommended to each Olympic athletes, she says.

She besides says it is important to support fueling up passim the day.

“These athletes volition request to beryllium eating often to marque definite they tin get successful each of the calories they request to perform,” Mankowski says. “Often, this means eating each 2 hours oregon so, and refueling during longer workouts.”

Olympic way prima Usain Bolt, who inactive holds the title of the fastest antheral connected earth, toldBritish GQ a grooming time repast looks similar this:

  • Breakfast: Egg sandwich
  • Lunch: Pasta and corned beef
  • Throughout the day: Mango, pineapples, apples
  • Dinner: Jamaican dumplings and roasted chicken, yams, veggies


A high-carb, low-fat diet, with a mean magnitude of protein, is recommended for gymnasts, according to USA Gymnastics. Most gymnasts should devour a minimum of 2,000 calories per day.

If this seems debased successful examination to different Olympic sports, it whitethorn beryllium due to the fact that gymnastics, an aesthetic sport, burns overmuch less calories than an endurance athletics similar swimming.

For 30 minutes of gymnastics, you tin pain astir 120 to 168 calories, depending connected your weight, according to Harvard Health Publishing. But a athletics similar moving burns betwixt 240 and 671 calories, depending connected your value and the velocity of your run.

A study successful the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutritiondefines aesthetic sports arsenic “those which necessitate well-developed carnal capacities (power, speed, endurance, flexibility) arsenic good arsenic method accomplishment and artistry. In specified sports, elite performers typically grounds a low-fat mass, and/or a debased assemblage weight.”

Gymnasts tin often beryllium expected to travel a stricter diet, compared to athletes successful different sports. But antithetic forms of gymnastics person antithetic dietary needs.

For example, successful powerfulness tumbling, building muscle, speed, power, and endurance are large priorities and tin necessitate much vigor successful the signifier of calories.

But rhythmic gymnastics is centered connected aesthetics, flexibility, and agility. These gymnasts thin to absorption connected having a tiny frame, and they devour tiny meals passim the day.

Women’s gymnastics, aerobics, and acrobatics usually autumn determination successful the mediate and necessitate a balance.

Due to specified dietary restrictions, eating disorders tin beryllium communal successful gymnastics, on with bony density nonaccomplishment and delayed oregon missing periods, according to USA Gymnastics.

Many Olympic gymnasts commencement grooming astatine a young age. This tin origin delayed maturation and improvement and is often cited arsenic the crushed wherefore elite gymnasts thin to beryllium shorter and smaller than their peers.

“In galore cases, our puberty is delayed owed to the physicality required for grooming and the constricted calorie intake,” says Dominique Dawes, a three-time Olympic gymnast and Olympic golden medalist. “As you tin imagine, we are burning an tremendous magnitude of energy, but we bash not devour a large magnitude of calories.”

She says that Olympic gymnasts purpose to support their vigor up by snacking and staying hydrated.

“Gymnasts strive to enactment fueled passim the day,” Dawes says. “It is not uncommon to snack connected high-protein foods to prolong the agelong grooming sessions.”

Two-time Olympic golden medalist Gabby Douglas toldCosmopolitan that grooming time meals look similar this:

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal and banana, and tea
  • Lunch: Chicken breast, grilled asparagus with balsamic vinegar, and acheronian chocolate-covered almonds
  • Dinner: Grilled salmon, sauteed ail greenish beans, and pasta
  • Dessert: Homemade gingerbread


While the athletics of weightlifting doesn’t pain a important magnitude of calories erstwhile compared to immoderate Olympic sports, athletes inactive devour high-calorie diets successful bid to physique musculus mass.

On average, an aggravated 30-minute weightlifting league burns betwixt 180 and 252 calories, depending connected an athlete’s weight, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

Meagan Nielsen, a board-certified specializer successful sports dietetics and squad dietitian for USA Weightlifting, says the fig of calories a weightlifter eats depends connected things similar their value goals, existent assemblage weight, assemblage composition -- the magnitude fat, bony and musculus successful your assemblage -- and grooming plan.

“Our smallest weightlifters mightiness devour astir 1,800 a day, depending connected wherever they are successful respect to contention day,” Nielsen says. “Larger weightlifters, oregon adjacent those trying to summation weight, tin devour betwixt 4,000 and 5,000 calories a day.”

Nielsen says vigor from carbohydrates is cardinal for weightlifters successful helping some show and recovery, on with proteins and fats.

“Protein is important to physique and support the musculus wide that the athletes utilize successful absorption training,” she says. “Healthy fats are besides important to support their hormonal health, support their bodies arsenic they determination dense weight, and support their brains and hearts healthy.”

Nielsen says that staying hydrated is besides essential, fixed that dehydration tin pb to decreased absorption clip and cardiovascular strain.

Tim Swords, manager to Sarah Robles, an Olympic weightlifter who volition vie this twelvemonth successful Tokyo, says that her absorption is simply connected making smart, steadfast choices.

“Her happening is commonsense nutrient choices, staying hydrated, doing things you request to bash to rehab, and eating whole foods,” helium says.

Olympic weightlifter Morghan King told Elle mag that connected remainder days, she eats less carbs:

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