My day on a plate: what Olympic athletes really eat
By Stuart Marsh
Chris Morgan (on the far left) needs a lot of calories to support his brutal training plan.
Harry How/Getty Images
What do you see when you picture in your head the diet of an elite Olympic athlete. Green juices, activated nuts and alkalinised water? As we found out, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Chris Morgan is an elite who’s competing in the double scull rowing event at the Rio Olympics, and Eloise Wellings is a track and field superstar who’s qualified for both the 5K and 10K events over in Brazil.
High performance demands high calories.
When it comes to choosing what foods to fill their plate with, both Morgan and Wellings focus on one thing: eating enough calories to recover properly.
“Due to the volume we have to eat, it is mostly about getting in the calories. However, getting those calories becomes a lot harder if you don’t enjoy what you are eating,” Morgan tells Coach.
“I don’t stick to a rigid diet for this reason, and try to eat more of whatever appeals to me at that moment in time.”
For Wellings, whose sport requires her to have enormous amounts of energy and minimal amounts of body fat, nutrition is more about reaping the correct vitamins and minerals than simply consuming outright calories.
“Food is fuel, and my nutrition revolves around what training/races I have done or have coming up next,” Wellings tells Coach.
“With the help of my dietitian and also my past experience I have planned nutrition around level of energy I’m expending that day, and also what nutrients and elements of food I will need to recover as best as possible before the next training session.”
Even elite athletes splurge sometimes.
If you’re tucking in to another day of pre-prepared chicken meals and oatmeal smoothies, take heed: because even elite athletes let themselves eat for pleasure every now again.
For elite rowers like Morgan – who need as many calories as they can get to fuel their intensive training – decorating their diet with something sweet is pretty much a prerequisite.
“I keep a supply of my favourite foods like chocolate or creme caramels because I can eat them consequence-free while I’m training at the top level,” says Morgan.
For Wellings, her time to splurge is strictly relegated to after running events, so as not to interrupt her training too much.
“For 24 hours after a race I allow myself to eat for taste and eat whatever I want. After winning my last race in Holland I had a big plate of nachos at the track and then an ice-cream when I got back to the hotel,” says Wellings.
“It’s important for me to have tiny windows like this where I let my hair down and relax – and then it’s straight back to training/nutrition routine the following day.”
The athletes’ number one tips for eating healthily.
For us mere mortals who don’t (and frankly, wouldn’t be able to) train all day every day, eating healthily can be a real struggle, especially in the age of Instagram #foodporn.
So when it comes to tips on how to stick to a squeaky clean diet, we’re keen to see what the Olympians think.
“My number one tip would to make sure you’re organised and plan ahead. The main thing for me was to be organised with meals — if going out, take healthy snacks and protein shakes so I know I’m meeting my nutritional requirements and not starving my body of what it needs in order to thrive,” says Wellings.”That way, it’s not as much of a struggle because I’m not feeling deprived.”
For Morgan, it’s more about having a diet that requires as little willpower as possible to follow – that way, you drastically reduce your chances of falling off the bandwagon and eating a whole packet of Tim Tams while watching Sex and the City.
“My number one tip is simplicity. If something takes effort to do, you are less likely to do it, or need to be more motivated to do so,” says Morgan.
“It’s also important to have variety, so you don’t get bored and can eat what you’re in the mood for. This is why it’s handy to find as many healthy foods and recipes as possible.”