How Much Does an Olympic Athlete Eat?

5 years ago

During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, much was made of Michael Phelps' alleged 12,000-calorie-a-day training diet. ("Never had that been true!" Michael protested recently on Twitter...and he has admitted he doesn't eat that monumental amount of food as he's training for this year's Games.) Hype aside, there's no question that Olympians require special fuel to keep them training and competing at the optimal levels required for international sports competition.

Sarah Robles, an Olympic weightlifter and blogger, shares her recipes and information about how her eating helps her training on Pretty Strong Blog, which she runs with fellow weightlifter Jessica Gallagher. The blog offers an interesting and very honest look into the menu plan of such a high-level athlete.

Credit Image: (Credit Image: © Peter Cziborra/Action Images/

Robles plans her food intake so it best supports her training schedule. "I try to consume most of my carbohydrate-rich foods earlier in the day when I need them most for energy, and focus mostly on protein and recovery at night," Robles explained.

Here's a typical day of eating for Robles as she trained for the 2012 London Olympic Games:

  • Breakfast: Three eggs, orange juice, and what Robles calls "power pancakes." "They are made with applesauce instead of water, chocolate chips, almond slices, ground flax, and sometimes I add some instant ginseng," she said.
  • Post-morning-workout: A protein drink.
  • Lunch: Robles packs a premade lunch that usually consists of couscous, chicken or beef, and a vegetable.
  • Pre-afternoon-workout: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a protein bar, or a protein smoothie.
  • Post-afternoon-workout: A protein drink.
  • Dinner: Mostly protein and vegetables. This is when Robles avoids excessive carbohydrates.
  • Before bed: One last protein drink or bar.

One of the other critical differences between an athlete like Phelps, who has the public visibility that leads to high dollar sponsors, and an athlete like Robles, who participates in a lesser-known, lower-profile sport, is that it's harder to come up with the funding necessary to pay for training, pay for equipment, and, most of all, pay for the good nutrition required to fuel an athlete's body. Robles addressed this issue in a post on Poor Athlete Recipes:

Athletes need high quality food and supplements to help them recover. Nutrition varies from gender, weight, sport, and health conditions. We can easily spend $100+ dollars on supplements for a 1-2 month period. Month costs of food varies from person to person. It can get into the $300+ a month...for one person! Well, how can you fuel an athlete with that kind of nutritional need? It is very difficult.

As a result, Robles has become a bit of a food blogger as she writes Pretty Strong. Along with the broccoli salad recipe included in the Poor Athlete Recipes post I mentioned above, she also has written about recipes from Split Pea Soup to Pesto Burgers. The recipes are simple, use accessible ingredients, and are all priced out per serving so you know how to budget.

Robles has also been able to pick up sponsorships from a local company that makes the protein drink she refuels with several times per day, as well as from a major protein bar company. That helps take the pressure off her own budget, while keeping her fueled and ready to go for gold.

These are the details that don't often make the athlete bio videos that accompany the competition, but they're every bit as important to each athlete's success. Not just Sarah, but every athlete—from every nation competing in the 2012 Olympics—has to give careful thought to efficient and effective nutrition that drives incredible performance.

Genie blogs about gardening and food at The Inadvertent Gardener, and tells very short tales at 100 Proof Stories. She is also the Food Section Editor for BlogHer.

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