Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) won gold in the Olympic men’s road race in 6:10:05. Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) took silver and Rafal Majka (Poland) took bronze. 140+ riders started the race on the 237.5 km (146-mile) course.
Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) won gold in the women’s race (141 km, or 88 miles) in 3:51:07. Emma Johansson (Sweden) took silver and Elisa Longo Borghini winning bronze for Italy. 68 riders competed in the race.
What did riders in the pelotons eat each day to support their training and racing? More than just a few energy bars and drinks!
“Nutrition plans need to be personalized to the individual athlete to take into account the specificity and uniqueness of the event, performance goals, practical challenges, food preferences, and responses to various strategies.” This is from the 24-page Nutrition and Athletic Performance 2015 Position Statement by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
“Personalized to the individual athlete” is the key recommendation. According to British dietitian Gabrielle Maston, “A lot of athletes [at the Olympics] are on stringent nutrition programs and they do have dietitians on board,” to meet this recommendation. (Daily Mail Monday, Aug 8th 2016)
Olympic Village Dining Hall – 460,000 Pounds of Food Daily
The dining hall in the Olympic Village spans the length of four Olympic swimming pools (200+ meters). It feeds 18,000 people and serves 460,000 pounds of food a day! The food and drink are free! Standing at odds with what the dietitian Gabrielle Maston just said, the centerpiece of the dining hall is a vast McDonald’s, which has been an Olympic sponsor since 1976.
Greg Shaw, who has worked at the Australian Institute of Sport since 2008, is the lead nutritionist for the Australian swimming team. Shaw says of the Olympic Village dining hall (McDonald’s notwithstanding), “It is this amazing food environment. Think of it as a food court on steroids. There are multiple cuisines available, and often the athlete has difficulty narrowing the choice. It can be really detrimental to their performance.” (USA Today, August 3, 2016)
Australian dietitian Fiona Pelly has helped to determine the food choices for six Olympics, including 2016. She pays attention to detail so that diets can be personalized. For example, the dining hall serves almost 10 types of yogurt (fruit flavored, fat free, soy, Greek, goat’s milk, etc.). She says, “You really have to account for every different type of athlete’s nutritional needs.
“So cyclists and marathon runners, for example, need to eat a lot of carbs so they’re fueled up before their events.” However, despite all the attention paid to proper nutrition, Pelly says the most popular items are pizza and pasta. (espnW.com, August 1, 2016) Olympic athletes really are just like us roadies!
For athletes without a personal dietician, the dining hall in the Olympic Village has a nutritional information kiosk staffed by qualified nutritionists to assist with specific queries. A database lists all menu items with their corresponding nutritional information, including allergens, fat content, carbohydrate amounts as well as vitamin and mineral information. A diverse range of ethnic food options is available.
Team USA Provides Specific Details, Recommendations
Team USA has put together detailed fact sheets for Olympians with different days: easy, moderate and hard. Team USA also provides specific sports nutrition fact sheets including details on topics such as caffeine, recovery, hydration and travel.
Team USA recommends athletes:
Tailor food intake to training load. Team USA provides three sample menu plates for:
- Easy recovery day or during the taper: calories tailored to the athlete’s energy expenditure composed of about 50% of the calories from vegetables and fruits, 25% from whole grains and 25% from lean protein, with only 1 teaspoon of oils and fats.
- Moderate day with one or two workouts: again, calories tailored to the athlete’s energy expenditure and composed of about 40% of the calories from vegetables and fruits, 35% from whole grains and 25% lean protein, with only 1 teaspoon of oils and fats.
- Hard day with one or two workouts or competition: calories match energy expenditure, “If your competition requires extra fuel from carbohydrates, use this plate to load up in the days before, throughout, and after the event day.” The hard day includes 50% of the calories from whole grains, 25% from vegetables and fruits and 25% from lean protein.
(Source: United States Olympic Committee Sport Dietitians and the University of Colorado (UCCS) Sport Nutrition Graduate Program.)
Stay fully hydrated. In a four- to six-hour road race, riders can’t drink enough to stay fully hydrated so they are careful to start the race hydrated. The USOC Nutrition Team says, “Fluid needs are very individual. These are general guidelines and a starting point.”
|Before training||2-3 hours before: >16 oz. and 15 minutes before: 8 oz.|
|During training||Enough to limit dehydration to <2% body weight loss|
|After training||16-24 oz. for every pound lost|
Team USA recommends that athletes aim for a morning urine color of pale yellow, a lemonade color. (USOC Sports Nutrition Hydration Fact Sheet)
Practice the 4 R’s of recovery – Team USA recommends:
- Replenish muscle glycogen by eating 0.5 g/lb. of body weight of carbs within 60 minutes after a workout.
- Repair and regenerate muscles by eating 15 – 25 g of high quality protein within 60 minutes after a workout. (Larger athletes eat the higher amount).
- Reinforce muscle cells and immune system with anti-oxidant rich foods. Daily, eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of veggies, as well as whole grains, fish, nuts, olive oil.
- Rehydrate with fluid and electrolytes based on sweat loss in training (3 cups fluid/lb. of sweat loss). Before training the urine should be pale yellow.
(Source: USOC Sports Nutrition Recovery Fact Sheet)
The Team USA nutrition website has 20 different fact sheets and over 70 recipes including dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan options.
How Do the Athletes Consume the Nutrition?
Eat breakfast daily. While sleeping, the body is fasting, and after waking up athletes break this fast with a breakfast that is primarily carbohydrates along with some protein.
Eat small, frequent meals. Dan Benardot, Ph.D., is a registered dietician and Fellow of the ACSM and has worked with Olympic teams for over 10 years. In Advanced Sports Nutrition he recommends eating six times a day to stay in energy balance. You should eat so that at any time during the day there are no large differences between calories consumed and calories burned, i.e., you need to eat enough just before, during and after a workout to equal the calories burned during the ride.
Hydrate throughout the day: Olympians carry a water bottle at all times to increase water consumption throughout the day. (If you watch swimmers in the “ready room” just before an event, nearly every one of them is sipping from a water bottle.) In addition, ahtletes aim to drink at least 2 cups of water at every meal. They also drink 100% fruit juice for breakfast, snack on oranges, berries, melons, pineapple or a fruit smoothie and drink a glass of milk after training or before bed.
What Should Recreational Roadies Do?
As a roadie (somewhat older and, um, less capable than an Olympian), what can you apply to your riding? Remember, you’re still an athlete!
I have each new client complete a 3-day nutrition log of everything that the client eats and drinks. One day is a weekend riding day and the other two are weekdays. I then analyze each food log.
What I’ve found is that 90% of my new clients don’t meet all of the above general recommendations!
I make individualized recommendations on how the client should modify what he or she eats to support training and riding, as well as recommendations depending on the client’s specific needs, e.g., managing weight.
Most roadies can improve both your riding, and your health, by following the simple recommendations above. No pills, supplements or sports nutrition are necessary!
Next week, based on Dan Benardot, Ph.D.’s, recommendations, I’ll describe in detail a daily diet for a roadie.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.