Olympic Lifestyle Lesson: Eat for Your Workout

Even the best athletes need to eat fruit.

At the Sydney Olympics, the world looked with shock and awe at the diet of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. I watched in disbelief as news anchors revealed that gallons of ice cream, plates of pasta and entire pizzas provided Phelps with his reported 8,000-12,000 calories per day. Even knowing he was burning approximately 1,000 calories per hour of practice per day, 12,000 calories a day is hard to fathom.

What should athletes eat? Sports nutrition is the newest facet of nutrition research. But we know this: you will feel better and perform well if you prepare your body for your activity using appropriate nutrition.

Dive Off! I took this photo for a friend today...



For many small bursts of high intensity exercise–think sprinting, volleyball, football, or baseball–your body goes into anaerobic metabolism, its mechanism to fuel the muscles when low amounts of oxygen are available. It needs fast energy: glucose. The body prepares itself for this type of activity by storing quick energy in the muscles. Olympians of this type must prepare their muscles beforehand with some energy and have quick sources of glucose–like honey–at hand if needed.

For everyday athletes, keep in mind to eat some natural sources of glucose before workouts of this type. Fruit is an excellent option.


For extended periods of movement–think long distance swimmers, rowers, or marathon runners–the body will need to use aerobic metabolism which provides a higher amount of energy, but depends on oxygen. Complex carbohydrates (in whole grains and fruits) and fats are the main fuel for this type of metabolism, while protein can be used if needed.

Athletics at the 1900 Summer Olympics – Men's ...

Men’s Marathon, 1900 Summer Olympics

If you’re a sprinter and need ready energy we recommend simpler meals, for instance a piece of whole grain naturally sweetened banana bread (complex carbohydrates and natural sugars). For longer distances, we recommend keeping your diet easily digestible if you are eating about an hour before a training session. As a long-distance runner myself, I use SP Whey Pro Complete in a fruit smoothie before I run in the morning. 2-3 hours before long distance training an athlete could eating a breakfast of oatmeal and scrambled eggs (complex carbohydrates and fat/protein).

Soccer, swimming, field-hockey, lacrosse, water-polo, and many others–and even certain periods of most of the above mentioned sports–use both types of metabolism.

During training seasons, it is important to know which way to fuel oneself for a specific practice.

The most important sports-nutrition reality for non-professional athletes is that workouts often do not require as much fuel as we think. Though it varies depending on the body, one mile of walking or running burns approximately 100 calories or fewer. Over-eating is a common issue among college-level athletes, and, honestly, in the U.S. in general. Instead of a large breakfast of eggs and oatmeal before a 3-5 mile jog, just one of the two will work. Trade out the banana bread for a lower calorie fruit smoothie before a 30 minute pick-up basketball game.

For high level athletes, up to 3,000-6,000 calories may be needed during seasons of intense training. During the off-season a typical 1,800-2,000 calories per day for women or 2,000-2,500 calories per day for men is sufficient.

Even with the Olympic-level training, if the reported 8,000-12,000 calories is true, it is likely Michael Phelps was over-doing it.

WebMD explores the logistics of Michel Phelps’ diet here, and “Lifting Revolution” has a great article on it here.

Want to know specifically how several athletes in the London 2012 Olympics changed their diet?  Olympians Carlos Greene, Cleopartra Borel, Shanntol Ince, and Jarim Solomon share here.

If you have any questions, feel free to email drclaps@clapschiropractic.com or comment below!

Resources for exercise nutrition information:





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~ by danclaps on August 20, 2012.

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