How to Eat Like an Olympic Athlete

These nutrition basics from Kelly Anne Erdman, performance dietician for Canada's Olympic team, apply to all Canadian, athletes or otherwise

Credit: Flickr / Julie

Healthy eating should include lots of different coloured fruits and vegetables

The Canadian National Olympic Team’s performance dietician for the 2012 London Olympics offers tips on how to eat as well as an athlete

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with Kelly Anne Erdman, the woman responsible for making sure our Olympic athletes are eating healthy in London this summer.

I like Erdman’s approach to nutrition and healthy living. Not only does she have outstanding academic and professional credentials, she also practices what she preaches. Erdman is a former Canadian national cycling team member (pictured, left, in red) who continues to get out on her bike three times per week, and competed in the Valley First Grandfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan last year.

We covered a lot of ground in my interview and I’d like to share the highlights with you.

Everyone Needs to Eat Healthy

Whether you’re competing for Olympic glory or just trying to stay in shape, you likely have some stress in your life. Elite athletes have the stress of training and competing as their job, and have greater carbohydrate and protein needs to fuel and recover from their tough training schedules.

Average Canadians who like to stay active may not train as long or as hard as these athletes, but they do have to juggle family, work and other time commitments in addition to their exercise program. So the average Canadian may not need to eat as much as high-end athletes but should keep in mind the importance of healthy nutrition.

Fresh produce is an essential part of healthy eating for everyone – no matter their level of training – to combat the effects of stress and provide readily available nutrients.

Top Five Ways to Eat Like an Athlete

Erdman’s top five tips for healthy nutrition are:

  1. Eat every three hours to keep your energy up throughout the day.
  2. Include more greens such as kale, chard and spinach in your diet.
  3. Eat a variety of different brightly coloured fruits and vegetables.
  4. Add healthy nuts such as walnuts and almonds to your diet. Keep your nuts in the fridge to prevent spoilage of the healthy fats.
  5. Make more meals at home and eat out less often so you have more control over your nutrition.

The #1 Obstacle to Healthy Eating

Lack of time and convenience are the biggest hurdles most people face when trying to eat healthy, so many people follow the See Food diet; they eat the first foods they see that are easily accessible. If you open your cupboard or fridge and the first thing you see is a lot of processed and packaged food, that’s what you’ll eat. To improve your nutrition, turn that around and stock your pantry and fridge with fresh, less processed food.

Erdman revealed that customer research done by Samsung Canada showed 55% of consumers limited produce consumption due to lack of fridge space. To help people make better choices, Samsung has developed a line of fridges that can store more produce and have improved cooling technology to help keep your fruits and vegetables stay fresh longer. 

Tips for Storing Fresh Produce

Samsung provided these tips for keeping food fresh and making healthy meal options easier:

  • Store produce outside the crisper where you can see it.
  • Keep it simple for kids to make healthy snack choices by keeping healthy foods (fruit, vegetables, Greek yogurt) in their line of sight.
  • Group foods together in the fridge to make it easy to remind you of recipe ideas.
  • Use clear storage containers when storing food in the fridge.

Avoid Fad Diets

Erdman cautioned against following any fad diets too religiously. Many of the diets limit specific categories of foods such as carbohydrates or fats. Two major problems with many of these diets is they lack scientific evidence and they are difficult to maintain for lifelong eating because of the restrictions.

Add Supplements to a Healthy Diet

She also provided some great advice regarding supplements that I’m in total agreement with. Erdman thinks supplements are best used to enhance athletic performance, but for general health and well-being you should depend on real food. If you’re competing in specific events there are some legal supplements that could help. For example, creatine can help develop strength and muscle size, while caffeine can enhance endurance performance.

A 2009 study of 440 athletes found they could meet all their nutrient requirements through a regular diet. The only exception was that some athletes were deficient in vitamin D.

Erdman recommends using real food to get your nutrients and supplementing with vitamin D through the fall and winter. Omega 3 essential fatty acids may also be a good supplement for everyone. If you travel a lot, you may want to include a multi-vitamin/mineral tablet if your travel schedule makes it harder for you to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Healthy Recipe Ideas

Erdman has teamed up with Samsung Canada to provide healthy and quick recipes. Check out the Samsung Passion for Fresh Facebook Page.