Have you been glued to the television this past week?
Watching those incredibly talented athletes perform in Rio?
Whether it was Simone Biles’ gravity-defying routines, Katie Ledecky’s world-record setting swim or all three U.S. women finishing in the top 10 in the marathon, they have already blown us away with some extremely impressive performances!
Watching the Olympics can be a huge inspiration for those of us who aren’t world-class athletes. And, although most of us will never be Olympic champions, believe it or not, we do have some things in common with these hard-working, talented young men and women. Just like these athletes, we have ambitious goals we are trying to achieve and often many obstacles to overcome along the way. To accomplish these goals, it's crucial to fuel our bodies and minds so they can perform at their best each and every day.
So, what can the Olympics teach us about food?
First, we admire and like to periodically highlight Brazil’s dietary guidelines, so what better time than now while the world is focused on Brazil?!
Rather than focusing on specific nutrients, Brazil’s guidelines focus on consuming foods that are natural or minimally processed - and avoiding or limiting those that are ultra-processed. They also focus on cultural and social factors that affect eating behaviors. Here are ten key components of their guidelines:
- Prepare meals from staple and fresh foods. (REAL food!)
- Use oils, fats, sugar and salt in moderation. (The key word here is "moderation"…not elimination!)
- Limit consumption of ready-to-consume food and drink products. (Frozen pizza, cereal, soda, and the list goes on).
- Eat regular meals, paying attention, and in appropriate environments. (Be mindful of what you are eating and how you are eating – not mindlessly eating in front of the TV!)
- Eat in company whenever possible.
- Buy food at places that offer varieties of fresh foods. Avoid those that mainly sell products ready for consumption. (Plan so when hunger strikes you aren't stuck with only convenience stores and fast food chains as your only options!)
- Develop, practice, share and enjoy your skills in food preparation and cooking. (The most important thing we can do for our kids’ long-term health is teach them to prepare and enjoy REAL meals.)
- Plan your time to give meals and eating proper time and space. (Make planning a priority! Plan ahead your lunches and snacks and take advantage of the slow cooker - again, don't get stuck with only poor food options!)
- When you eat out, choose restaurants that serve freshly made dishes and meals. Avoid fast food chains. (We are working on a coaching tip on “ding-ding” restaurants that will expand further on this idea.)
- Be critical of the commercial advertisement of food products.
Second, we can learn a lot from the athletes and their eating habits!
Even though a lot of attention has been given to high-calorie diets of some athletes, such as Michael Phelps’ 12,000 calorie diet that became legendary during the 2008 Olympics...these diets are not the norm!
The reality is that diet and nutrition have become the newest focus of high-performance athletes as they try to gain the next competitive advantage.
How do they do it?
Here are some themes of Olympian eating habits:
- Instead of obsessing about calories, athletes just make sure what they are eating is nutritious.
- They don’t follow fads like paleo, low-carb or South Beach and they don’t deprive themselves of foods or groups of foods.
- They focus on natural and unprocessed foods including fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and complex carbs. They recognize these foods provide a steady stream of nutrients including a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and many others.
- One recent survey of Olympic athletes shows Greek yogurt, oatmeal and kale as very popular staples. Some are even growing their own gardens for a steady and lower-cost supply of fresh herbs and vegetables!
- They scrutinize ingredient labels. For example, one trend relates to lab-created sports bars. While these bars have been very popular over the past few years (just check out how many options there are at your local store), athletes are recognizing that many of these have a long list of highly processed ingredients. Athletes are now forgoing these in favor of a variety of REAL foods!
- Hydration is key. Hydration isn’t just important during intense physical activity, but is super-important for recovery as well as to support our immune system, concentration and decision-making.
As you can see, the eating habits of Olympic athletes and the Brazil food guidelines are very much aligned. And, the most obvious overlap is also very consistent with Eat REAL America’s key message…keep it simple and EAT REAL!
So, even if we can’t perform an “Amanar” on the vault like Simone or run a 2 hour, 25 minute marathon like Shalane, we can fuel our bodies just like these athletes as we pursue our own dreams and goals and overcome the obstacles that inevitably will come our way!
Just remember those 3 simple words…Eat REAL Food!