What it takes to fuel an Olympic athlete: Between 1,200 and 8,000 calories a day

Swimmers need to 'fuel their super intense, continuous activity'

It takes a lot of calories to fuel an Olympic-level performance, but the amount varies by sport, Eliza Barclay writes for NPR's "The Salt."

Those of us who aren't Olympic-level athletes need about 1,600 to 3,000 calories a day, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. However, Olympic athletes expend so much energy that they require many more. Swimmer Michael Phelps, for example, ate up to 12,000 calories a day when training for the 2008 Olympic Games.

How many calories Olympic athletes eat depends in part on their sport. Athletes in high-energy, endurance sports, such as marathon runners, cyclists, and swimmers, tend to eat about 3,000 to 8,000 calories per day before their events to "fuel their super intense, continuous activity," Barclay writes.

But other sports require athletes to eat lightly, according to Nanna Meyer, a sports nutrition professor at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Wrestlers and fencers often restrict themselves to about 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day before their events to ensure they meet their weight class range. Gymnasts, who perform their high-energy routines for only a few minutes at a time, tend to eat between 2,000 and 2,500 calories a day.

Meet the doctors behind Team USA

Creating meals for Olympic athletes

Sports dietitians for the U.S. Olympic Committee are responsible for planning and providing meals for all athletes. But even within the same sport, caloric needs differ from teammate to teammate, Barclay reports.

To determine what foods to provide the athletes, the dieticians solicit athlete feedback and analyze the athletes' training journals, which log their training regimen and food and drink intake. "If their weights are stable we can assume that what they're eating reflects their energy balance," Meyer says (Barclay, "The Salt," NPR, 8/5).

Understanding the wellness spectrum

understanding the employee wellness spectrum

The term "wellness" includes a spectrum of different approaches to employee health. Each approach has different aims and, most importantly, different expected returns.

Programs aimed at promoting healthy habits among employees are likely to lead to improved employee engagement and productivity—but they're unlikely to reduce the total cost of care. To do that, you'll need to take a population health approach.


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