During the Beijing Olympics, rumour had it that US champion swimmer Michael Phelps consumed a whopping 12,000 calories a day.
He has since dismissed this story as ‘all a myth’, dashing the hopes of would-be gluttons everywhere. But athletes of his calibre nonetheless need more food than the average person to fuel their tough regimes.
Alex Popple, a performance nutritionist at the English Institute of Sport, is working with the British Olympic swimmers at the 2012 Games.
He explains: ‘We try and make their diet match their energy requirements and protein needs. Their diet is generally higher in carbohydrate compared to the average person because they’re expending a lot more energy on a daily basis.
‘They deplete their stores of muscle glycogen during training, and eating more carbohydrate will help replenish them more quickly.’
Swimmers in training will eat three or four main meals a day, with recovery shakes and snacks to top up their energy levels in between.
Calorie-wise, they tend to consume about double that of the average person – which means around 5,000 a day for men and 4,000 for women.
Main meals should include complex carbohydrates – the starchier carbs like potato that are rich in other nutrients – and a high-quality protein source. Think chicken fillets or prime cuts of beef rather than sausages or pork pies.
‘Protein provides the building blocks to allow the muscles to adapt to the training so they become faster, stronger and fitter. Every time athletes train they damage the muscle, so the protein helps the body repair it,’ says Alex.
He also advises the swimmers to include one or two servings of fruit or vegetables per meal so they can stock up on essential vitamins and minerals.
As elite athletes follow strict timetables and can have limited financial resources, meals that can be cooked and eaten in under an hour and cost less than £5 to make are also a winner.
If you’re inspired by Team GB, try this winning meal for size.
CREAMY PESTO & CHICKEN PASTA SALAD
85g pasta shapes
1/2 chopped red pepper
A handful of halved cherry tomatoes
1 cooked chicken breast, sliced
1tbsp basil pesto
2tbsp low-fat creme fraiche
Cook the pasta following pack instructions.
Meanwhile, mix the red pepper with the halved cherry tomatoes and the chicken breast.
Drain the pasta, then stir through the basil pesto mixed with the low-fat creme fraiche.
Toss through the veg and chicken and eat immediately, or pack into a container for lunch.
Recipe from Good Food Magazine. August issue is on sale now, priced £3.60