At Brown Bag, we believe that you are what you eat, so you should be eating healthy (and delicious!) food. For most of us, it’s not too hard to fuel our bodies with good food; we just try our best to make healthy decisions at snack and meal times. But what if you’re an elite athlete? What do they need to fuel their one big chance at the Olympics? Most of us, including those of us here at Brown Bag, think athletes load up on carbs, right? That’s the stereotype. But what we’ve found out is that food as fuel is pretty specific to each sport because each sport (and each body, really) has its own requirements.
For instance, if you’re a cross-country skier, carb loading is a good idea. You need as much fuel as possible to make that trek in good time (3 to 5 hours prior to race time is optimal), and still, sometimes that’s not good enough; glycogen in muscles becomes depleted and the athlete’s performance takes a nosedive. In an article on NPR’s website, Nanna Meyer, senior sport dietitian for the U.S. Olympic Committee and a professor of sports nutrition at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, gives an interesting look into feeding Olympic athletes.
According to Meyer, feeding those cross-country skiers is tricky business (as you can imagine), but other sports are complex as well. In some sports, athletes body sizes and shapes need to conform to certain standards; for instance, wrestlers have to maintain a specific weight to stay in their class, and ski jumpers don’t want to be weighed down (literally, lighter flies farther). An athlete (and/or their dietician) needs to be aware of the demands of their sport, whether aesthetic or endurance related.
There’s a dark side to body weight/shape that affects not only the average Joe, but Olympic athletes as well. According to Meyer, more and more elite winter athletes are trying to maintain lean, muscular physiques (and even low body weights), and this can lead to problems like eating disorders. Training and performing taxes bodies enough, but add to that an eating disorder and you’ve got a recipe for eventual disaster. So, as a sports dietician, you’ve got your work cut out for you, Meyers asserts that today (versus when she trained as a Swiss alpine skier 35 years ago), there are so many more choices to help athletes get what they need while maintaining healthy body weight and fueling to fit their sports.
Last week, we blogged about the many benefits of beets, and they’re just one of the things that trainers are utilizing as juices to quickly give athletes vitamins and minerals that they need while rehydrating them and switching up their normal meal and snack routines. There are so many combinations of fruits and veggies to use in juices to change the taste and/or the nutritional qualities needed. While years ago, athletes and their trainers and dieticians may have only had sports bars and drinks available as quick fuels to power up a performance, today athletes have all sorts of quick, processed foods, such as energy bars (with high carbohydrate or protein contents), gels with concentrated carbohydrates (some with caffeine), Shot Bloks (gummi cubes that replace carbohydrates and electrolytes; some also contain caffeine or extra sodium, AND they’re organic!), protein bars designed for recovery, and powders for during and after performance. In between events, in those long months of training, maintenance relies on good decision making, planning and creativity (because who wants to eat the same thing every day?).
We may not be fueling Olympic athletes at Brown Bag everyday, but keeping our food fresh and healthy for you is a top priority. We try to make your breakfast and lunch decisions easy by offering a menu full of nutritious, delicious choices that will keep you at your best all day. You can order one of our original sandwiches, salads or noodle bowls from the menu or you can tailor your meal to your individual needs and tastes by creating your own—it’s up to you! Feel free to eat like an Olympian, if you want, we love seeing what combinations our patrons come up with!