An Olympic Diet

Speedskater Maria Lamb will contest the 5,000-meter distance in Vancouver (she also raced in Turin in 2006). Her team’s nutritionist, Nanna Meyer, shared a typical food diary, and her nutritional analysis, with us. Here’s what this 24-year-old Olympian ate one Tuesday in July while in off-season training:

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Breakfast: Oatmeal: 1 cup rolled oats cooked in water with ¼ cup raisins, cinnamon, sea salt, and 1 teaspoon of honey. Banana smoothie: 1 medium banana, ½ cup skim milk, ½ cup low-fat plain yogurt, 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal, and ice

Workout nutrition (during 2½-hour roller ski session): 2 Clif Shots (energy gels)

Lunch: Sandwich: 2 slices whole-grain mountain rye bread and 2 tablespoons hummus. Soup: 2 cups of carrot cilantro soup. Smoothie: 1 medium banana, ½ cup nonfat plain yogurt, 1 scoop soy protein powder, 1 teaspoon virgin coconut oil, cinnamon, water, and ice. Fruit: 1 apricot, handful of cherries

Snack (midway through her noon-to-4 shift at Home Depot): Medium apple

Snack (at end of shift): Clif Nectar bar, cherry pomegranate flavor

Workout nutrition (during 2½-hour strength training session): ½ Clif Bar, banana nut bread flavor

Recovery nutrition (after workout): Other half of Clif Bar, medium banana

Dinner: Pasta: whole-wheat pasta tossed with sautéed zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, corn, onion, garlic, oregano, fresh basil, and olive oil. One egg. Glass of milk. Handful of almonds

Snack: ¾ cup homemade granola (includes rolled oats, rye, whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, buckwheat groats, flaxseed meal, soy protein powder, walnuts, cinnamon, salt, honey, vanilla, and applesauce)

Total: 4,067 calories, including about 141 grams of protein, 685 grams of carbohydrates, and 102 grams of fat. (Numbers may be rounded.)

(Story From US News)

Dr. Court’s Comments

The Winter Games are now in full swing in Vancouver and it got me thinking about just what it takes to be an athlete on this scale.  It truly is amazing.  What also amazes me is the diet programs these athletes must follow.  Many events at the Olympics are timed events and when the difference between winning a medal and standing in 4th may be just a tenth of a second, every advantage must be taken.  This includes a good diet plan.

Above I posted the diet plan of Maria Lamb, a speed skater for the US.  Her main event is the 5,000 meter.  This is an endurance type of a race and she eats for it.  Her diet consists of a larger portion of carbohydrate than I would recommend for the average person, but she needs it.  She expends so much energy training that replacing that energy is vital.  If she does not replace it, her body will begin to break down.

She also consumes just over 4,000 calories per day.  This is also more than would be recommended for most people.  She is able to do this because her training is so intense that she burns calories extremely fast.

My only issue with her diet is the reduced fat products that she is eating.  I know the goal of the nutritionist is to make a lean, mean skating machine out of Maria.  However, fat does not make you fat.  Carbohydrate in excess does.  Fat is a far better energy source because it contains more calorie than carbohydrate does.  While it is true that carbohydrates are more readily available for energy use, fats like the ones in the coconut oil she consumes are pure energy and are like little power packs.  I think she should add that coconut oil to every shake she consumes.

Also, I would eliminate the soy protein.  Soy is estrogenic (produces estrogen in the body) and it suppresses the thyroid gland.  The thyroid is the energy center of the body if you will.  When it under functions people experience fatigue and an overall feeling of low energy.  In an Olympic athlete I wouldn’t do anything that might suppress thyroid function.  A simple solution is to switch to a whey or rice protein.

Athletes at the Olympic level are truly exceptional.  As this is the case, their diet plans must be exceptional as well.  There is a difference between physiology and exercise physiology.  When a human being is training at that kind of a level diet plans must be altered, but there are several things you can take away from this.

1. There is no fast food on this diet! I recently heard from a woman who was concerned that her daughter was under weight.  She was indeed to thin for her age.  Her pediatrician told her she needed to gain weight and to do so should start eating at McDonald’s!  That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.  How about you try some healthy foods like protein shakes, avocados or eggs.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  That pediatrician clearly knows nothing about health.

2. The carbohydrates she is consuming are generally all whole grains or fruits. I am not a big fan of carbohydrates.  They are the crux of human disease, especially when consumed in large amounts combined with sedentary lifestyles.  However, some carbohydrate is needed.  When it’s consumed it should be in the form of whole grains, fruits and veggies.

3. Protein shakes are a healthy and effective way to get extra nutrition. Protein powders are good for many things.  They not only can improve athletic performance, but they’re good for gut health and can provide a quick and easy way to obtain other essential nutrients.

So there you have it.  The diet of an Olympian certainly is different than the day to day diets of most people, but there are some lessons we can learn from these truly amazing athletes.

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