August 12, 2016 11:24 am
Updated: August 12, 2016 11:31 am

Rio 2016: 5 notorious Olympic athlete diets

WATCH: Here's what Olympic superstar Michael Phelps eats in a day to fuel his body.


Three fried egg sandwiches packed with cheese, a five-egg omelette, three slices of French toast and three chocolate chip pancakes. And that’s just for breakfast. Is Olympic superstar Michael Phelps in competitive sports or competitive eating?

Olympic athletes’ diets are the stuff of legend. Twenty-two gold medallist Phelps had a 12,000-calorie-a-day diet, and then there’s 11-time medallist Ryan Lochte whose 8,000 calorie diet garnered worldwide headlines.

But they need to eat to fuel their bodies for intense workouts and the recovery periods that follow, according to leading Canadian sports nutritionists. So what they’re eating is, more often than not, completely within reason based on the demands they’re putting on their bodies.

Here’s a look at five Olympic athlete diets


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3 fried egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayo
2 cups of coffee
1 five-egg omelette
1 bowl of grits
3 slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar
3 chocolate chip pancakes

1 pound of enriched pasta
2 large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo on white bread
1,000 calories in energy drinks

1 pound of pasta
1 entire pizza
More energy drinks

READ MORE: How Michael Phelps’ diet changed in the past 8 years

While it may sound unrealistic, what Phelps used to eat at 23 years old leading up to the Beijing Summer Games is appropriate for his training.

Tour de France cyclists eat between 8,000 and 10,000 calories, for example.

“They’re constantly eating on the bike because whatever they burn, they need to back up. There have about 90 minutes of carbohydrates in their muscles so they need to keep adding fuel the whole time,” said Katie Jessop, registered dietitian and nutritionist with the Canadian Institute of Sport Ontario.


6 scrambled eggs with 1 slice of ham, spinach, diced tomatoes, hash browns
2 plain pancakes
1 cup of oatmeal and 1 banana
1 French vanilla coffee with one sugar and cold milk

½ an avocado, whole wheat bread, 1 egg, 1 tofu sausage, spinach and hot sauce
Peanut Butter Kind bar

Nearly 1,000 calories of Fettucine Alfredo
Chicken and steak

BBQ wings with blue cheese sauce
Mountain Dew

READ MORE: 6 misconceptions about nutrition and healthy eating

“When I first started [professionally swimming], I was eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and now I’ve stopped. I was just constantly eating, and I was getting tired of eating. My jaw was getting sore,” Lochte told Bon Appetit magazine.

“But I guess I’ve been doing it for so long — I’ve been doing it for 12 years — that it’s eerie now. If I’m not eating, then something is wrong,” he said.

Turkey bacon
Greek yogurt
Whole wheat sandwich
Bowl of chicken soup
Salmon, rice, corn and green beans
Granola bar
Protein shake

READ MORE: 9 diet and weight loss mistakes you’re making

Clean eating is a movement that’s taken hold in the past few Olympic cycles, said Jennifer Sygo, a dietitian in sports nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic Canada. She works with athletes on the track and field, gymnastics and triathlon teams.

They’re reaching for brightly coloured vegetables, healthy fats with omega 3s, and slow-burning carbohydrates that give them energy in the final pushes of a workout.

But they have a bottom line when it comes to calories, and that’s hard to meet when you’re munching on lean meats and foliage.

READ MORE: The 41 most nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables

“They quickly realize when you exclude foods that are perceived as unhealthy, they can’t get enough calories, they can’t recover as well, they feel tired. It’s a struggle to get the amount of food they need in a day,” Sygo explained.

“There are a lot more calories in a pizza than in a kale salad. The trick is to help them balance good nutrition with being able to get enough calories,” she told Global News.

Vegetable juice (with celery, kale, spinach, pepper, garlic)
Oatmeal with mixed berries
Chicken with rice
Fish with rice
Protein shake

How an athlete will eat is dependent on his or sport, too. A tiny gymnast who needs to stay toned and limber won’t eat the same as a wrestler preparing for his or her next match.

READ MORE: This food will make you feel fuller if you’re trying to lose weight

A cyclist taking on a long distance trek isn’t going to fuel his body the same way as a runner taking on a 100-metre sprint, according to Sygo.

“You have to define what type of athlete you’re talking about, which sport and what stage of the season they’re in,” she said.

“Not all athletes need 5,000 calories. Some athletes need 5,000 calories sometimes — if they’re training they may eat more than the days leading up to the big game,” she said.

5 egg omelette
Fruit and granola

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Grilled chicken and brown rice

Graphics created by James Waters/Global News

Sources: Washington Post, WSJ, Bon Appetit, GQ

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