Debbie Nicholson

Nutrition key to success at the Olympics for US athletes

The nutritionists and dietitians at the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) play a joint role when it comes to making sure the athletes’ nutritional needs are met on and off the field. Concentrating on service, education and research the sports nutrition experts at the USOC adhere to a three-pronged approach to helping athletes achieve \excellence. By incorporating the expertise from the USOC’s sports medicine division and strength and conditioning team, sports nutrition experts utilize science as the foundation of performance enhancement. The team also makes use of dietary supplements to treat those with nutrient deficiencies.

Allen Tran is a high performance chef for the US Ski and Snowboard Association and this year's US Olympic ski and snowboard teams in Sochi. In an interview with, he commented about the nutritional needs of the US team. “When it comes to nutritional needs, athletes definitely need to incorporate a combination of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and nutrient-dense fruits/veggies. That's the nutritional base for many of my meals.”

Chef Trans sample menu includes oatmeal, Greek yogurt with fresh berries for breakfast and veggie and beef Texas chili and spinach salad with avocado for lunch according to the director’s blog.

Kelly Anne Erdman, MSc, R.D., former Olympic cyclist, 1992 Barcelona Games, helps organize the nutrition programs for Canada's top athletes at the Canadian Sport Centre in Calgary. She commented in an article from Weight Watchers, "We're looking at high-quality sources of protein—beef, pork, eggs, turkey. That's their main recovery meal, which is generally after their midday weight-and-resistance training." Whole-grain rice and pasta as well as fresh vegetables round out the athletes' diets.

The general nutrition guidelines for the USA team include;

Consume a low saturated fat diet, (less than 7 percent of total calories. No more than one gram of saturated fat per 100 calories. Consume more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as oily fish, leafy greens, almonds, cashews and avocados. Eat foods with plant sterols and sterols which are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds and com­mercially prepared butter-like table spreads.

Optimal hydration supports daily training and recovery. Suggestions to help increase fluid intake at training or competition include drinking cool fluids (59 degrees) in hot weather and warm fluids in cold weather. Sodium is critical for optimal cellular rehydration and should be included in drinks when athletes do not have the opportunity to consume electrolytes naturally found in food. Also recommend is flavored sport drinks that could improve hydration. Low fat milk and flavored milk have also been shown to be effective rehydration solutions.

Several physiological consequences occur as a result of hard exercise. The recovery nutrition protocol includes the 4 R’s of recovery nutrition; rehydrate with fluids and electrolytes, replenish muscle glycogen stores with carbohydrates, repair and regenerate muscle tissue with high quality protein and reinforce the immune system with nutritious fresh foods such as fruits and whole grains.

Consume sport drinks before, during and post training sessions and competition. The sport drinks help to fuel the muscles and brain, provide electrolytes to increase fluid uptake, retention and it also helps with salt replacement in heavy or salty sweaters.

Besides sport drinks other nutrition products include energy bars to provide athletes a compact source of calories, carbohydrate and protein before, during or after training sessions when other solid foods are not well-tolerated or available. Also allowed are energy gels that are semi-solid forms of mostly carbohydrate that help to maintain blood sugar levels during training and competition.

Vegetarian athletes need zinc found in foods such as whole grains, nuts and seeds. Vitamin B 12, since it is found only in animal products, vegan athletes should look for foods fortified with B-12 or consume a multivitamin that contains B-12 and other needed nutrients that include iron, calcium, omega 3’s and protein.


Slideshow; Minerals and Elite Athletes