I’m definitely not the only one who has been glued to the TV for the past week and a half watching the human body do spectacular things at the Olympic games. Seeing these amazing achievements by the athletes makes me think about all their preparation and training, including their nutrition. I’ve read some great sports nutrition articles and I’ve read some less than accurate ones. So, I thought we could play a little game of fact or myth – the Olympic edition (shout out to my colleagues who came up with this idea for an assignment).
Do athletes have a faster metabolism compared to us mere mortals?
MYTH – kind of. So here’s the deal with metabolism. There is three main components to it the resting metabolism which we have very little control over, it’s simply based on the number of cells we have which makes up about 50-70%. Then there is the component of metabolism which produces heat when we eat food, this is just the energy required to digest our meals which makes up about 10-15% of our overall metabolism. Now, the last component which is the only one we can really change is activity – and this is where Olympians require more energy from their diet simply because they are using up more energy every day with their intensive training. Whilst we are doing our 9 to 5 at a desk, they’re running, lifting weights and swimming in preparation for their event. So nobody’s metabolism is naturally “faster” than anybody else’s. However, most athletes (depending on the sport) will have a lower body fat mass and higher lean tissue mass (or muscle mass) and these are more metabolically active than fat cells, therefore their diet may account for this in terms of protein and carbohydrate targets.
Are athletes allowed to eat from any food group they like?
FACT. Surprising, isn’t it? Athletes are people too and having some balance can keep you sane in a long preparation for an event such as the Olympics – although an all out Macca’s binge after your campaign is not really recommended either. Unless allergies get in the way, they are encouraged to eat grains and cereals and dairy foods – despite the common diet trends telling us to be gluten-free and dairy-free. Grains are an important source of carbohydrate to restore muscle stores and also allow athletes to reach their higher energy needs. Dairy foods are a source of protein and carbohydrate and are also high in calories and is important in any nutrition plan. Every sport is different and will have different nutrition preparation depending on the length of the event and the type of event and whether it involves bursts of exertion such as weight lifting and the 100 m sprint events, or endurance such as a marathon. It is important to include whole foods as well as specialised sports products to achieve nutrition goals and maintain optimal health.
Does Michael Phelps really eat 10,000 calories a day?
FACT. Apparently so. That is 5 times the recommended amount for a normal adult! But remember, he is using up a lot of this energy with about 6 hours of training a day both inside and outside the pool. A lot of this energy will come from protein and carbohydrate in order to build muscle and also replenish the loss of muscle energy stores after hard exercise. Fats are also important to increase the calories just to meet his very high energy needs, but choosing the right fats in the form of oily fish, olive oil and avocado is important. Quality is just as important as quantity in these cases, as it is possible to slim on the outside and fat on the inside (that is your organs have fatty deposits due to dietary choices).
The Rio games have definitely got me inspired to be more active and think about sports nutrition and all the happenings behind the scenes to get these athletes onto the world stage.