“What diet helps you perform at your best?”
The eternal question for most if not all high performance athletes. This week we will take a look at some prolific athletes and what fuels their success.
Their answers may surprise you…
What diet will make me skinny? What diet will help me build muscle? Should I eat low carb and high protein? Or do I need high carb and low fat? Paleo, Atkins, The Zone, South Beach, Mediterranean…ahh!!! It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.
That’s why we rely on research, right? Shouldn’t unbiased clinical trials lead us to the right answer?
In 2002, Dr. Atkins created a diet movement that millions of people followed. Research studies presented in the New England Journal of Medicine and some other really important publications showed the effectiveness and safety of the diet. Sounds like we have a winner. Not so fast… two years later (2004) The Journal of American College of Cardiology released a statement that they could not endorse the diet because of the “nutrient deficiencies inherent” in them. Both WebMD and The American Heart Association agreed stating “high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets put people at risk of heart disease”
Confused yet? Stick with me, read on…
Throughout the late 90s and early 21st century The Zone Diet gained tremendous popularity. Claiming that eating a ratio of 40 per cent carbohydrate, 30 per cent protein and 30 per cent fat is the ideal macro-nutrient guideline to put the human body in “the zone”. This diet was apparently based on Nobel Prize-winning research, by medical visionary and former MIT researcher Dr. Barry Sears…simple for you to understand and achieve…” Nobel Prize winning research, huh?
Eight years after “The Zone Diet” book was released, here’s what the Journal of American College of Nutrition said about it… “There is presently little scientific support for the connections made between diet, endocrinology and eicosanoid metabolism. In fact, a review of the literature suggests that there are scientific contradictions in the Zone Diet hypothesis that casts unquestionable doubt on its potential efficacy.”
These are just two examples. Contradictory diet information leaves the average consumer throwing his hands up in frustration and reaching for the nearest barbeque pigtails.
The below athletes have accomplished feats that few others have ever done. They have run 100 mile ultra-marathons, won Olympic gold medals and national championships, and have risen to the upper echelons in their prospective sport.
I thought to myself, “If there is one type of person that knows how to fuel his or her body like a champion, it’s got to be a champion.” Seek wisdom from the source, right?
What I found after researching the topic is that each athlete had his or her own perspective on the optimal diet. Some followed a low carb “caveman” diet and relied on fat as their primary fuel source. Others prescribed to a high carbohydrate diet with low fat. Others didn’t really think about diet at all and ate whatever they wanted.
This lead me to one of three conclusions; One: These professional athletes are as confused as the rest of us, Two: Different strokes for different folks… In other words, each person is different and needs to find the optimal diet for himself through experimentation, and Three:(a) There is an ideal diet to fuel the human body and (b) it is found somewhere in the answers below… BUT even when an individual doesn’t follow their ideal diet, they can still perform at the highest level.
In short, a good diet will help your performance but a poor diet will not necessarily stop you from achievement, if you have the other components in place such as proper training, etc.
After reflecting on these three possible scenarios, option three (with a little of option two sprinkled into it) is probably the right option.
I have to believe that there is an ideal diet that optimally fuels your body. Though I can also understand how there may be slight variations in how one person’s body handles certain food compared to someone else’s.
This article was not meant to be an attempt to prove my position. It was meant to share with you what diet some top athletes follow so you can make your own conclusion.
Mike Wardian – top American marathoner and 100 mile ultra-marathoner
“The diet that helps me perform my best is the same diet that I consume when I am not racing. It is something that just works for me and would humbly advise everyone to find a group of foods that work for them. I eat a lot of carbs, breads, pasta, fruits, veggies, nut butters and dairy. I don’t eat meat and tend to not drink a lot of calories and I feel this type of vegetarian diet has worked for me and allows my body to push itself to the highest level while recovering quickly between events.
I am always experimenting and I think that is one of the greatest adventures in ultra endurance events trying different things and seeing what works and what does not work for you.”
Accomplishments: 1st place winner of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 US 50 km championships and 2008 winner of the U.S. National 100 km championship.
John Naber – 4 Time Olympic Gold Medalist In The Sport of Swimming
“While I was competing, I would regularly overeat, just to have enough energy to complete a workout.
Recent figures indicate that Michael Phelps consumed 10,000 to 12,000 calories a day. My number was closer to 8,000, but it inncluded all the wrong kind of food.
At breakfast, I used to put honey on my scrambled eggs. For an in between meal snack, I’d open a box of Frosted Flakes and a carton of milk, and keep eating until they both were empty. Double desserts were a must.
Now I am 56 years old and 35 years out of my sport, but I still enjoy a hearty meal. I travel a great deal, so often have to eat what is placed in front of me. I have a sweet tooth.
I am mostly a steak and potatoes kind of guy, but with a gluten intolerant daughter, I am trying to back off the bread and starch a little. My one big indulgence is a large tub of popcorn at the movies (and sometimes at home as well).
I still eat three meals a day, but three years ago I also added a workout in the pool (3x weekly).
I am six feet six inches tall, and I competed at 198 pounds. I now weigh 240.
When preparing to compete, I liked to “swim hungry.” By that I mean I would put off a big meal until after a big race.
It may have been psychological, but I liked to “cinch” the drawstring of my swim suit very tightly. I also felt I’d benefit by carrying less weight during the race.
I would not “fast” before a race, but I would not eat a big meal within 2 hours of the warm up… and the big race was usually 1-2 hours after that.
After the meet, I’d eat a huge meal.
When meets were a long way off, I’d eat as I described earlier.”
Accomplishments: John is an American former competitive swimmer that has one 4 Olympic gold medals and 1 silver medal in his career. Each of his gold medal victories broke a world record.
Usain Bolt – The fastest man on the planet
“During the day I only eat just enough to have energy for training and to make sure I digest fast enough. But at nights, before I go to sleep, I consume a lot of food. My coach wants me to eat a lot of vegetables, so I do eat more of that than anything else. I’ll eat broccoli, but I’m not a big fan.
In the past three years I’ve really focused on my diet. Initially I just had anything I feel like, but I’ve adjusted my diet to eat more vegetables and protein.
When you start with a coach and there’s a weight you need to stay at, and every day you have to weigh yourself and watch what you eat. When you get your cravings you just have to look the other way. That’s the hardest part.
Hot wings, that’s the biggest craving that I have, all the time.”
Breakfast – Egg sandwich
Lunch – Pasta and corned beef
Throughout the day – Mango, pineapple, apples throughout the day.
Dinner – Jamaican dumplings, roasted chicken
Accomplishments: Do I really have to type anything here… we all know the gentleman is just lighting.
So there you have it… different strokes for different folks but what is key throughout every athlete is that they found what worked and were very disciplined about sticking to whatever their particular regiment was.
Enjoy finding what mix and match works for you!