What Do Olympic Swimmers Eat?

Michael Butler
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NATHAN ADRIAN

Nathan Adrian eats lots of delicious foods but also expands his calorie intake by eating lots of fat. His go-to meal is grilled chicken and generous toppings. He also indulges in pizza, “late-night” ice cream, and burritos.

In order to maintain the ideal calorie-to-fat ratio, Nathan fills 70% of his plate with healthy, unprocessed high-carbohydrate foods, such as brown rice and lots of fruits and vegetables. That way, he’s able to keep his brain and physical performance sharp for his swim competitively.

RYAN MURPHY

NATALIE COUGHLIN

In the lead-up to the Olympics, we always eat tons of carbohydrates, maintaining a 6% body fat, and at the Olympic Trials we eat 7-8 times a day. During the winter, we eat a lot of carbs. We also try to make sure that we’re at a caloric equal at noon every single day.

I have a few go-to staples when I can’t think of what to make. Some of my go-to staples are vanilla protein powder, almond milk, ice, and bananas. I throw in some peanut butter and it’s a delicious post-workout shake.

I also really like peanut butter on toast! But I don’t always have time for that! I’m trying to cook healthier meals, but for short notice it’s so easy to just slam a snack.

But I’m trying to make more of an effort to eat healthy, which we don’t really have time for because we’re always traveling. We’re basically living out of a suitcase. It’s really hard!

CHAD LE CLOS

Champion Swimmer, Food Lover

Many athletes are known for their strict diets, particularly those competing at the Olympic level. Achieving an edge over one’s competitors can mean the difference between victory and a loss. So it’s no surprise that Olympic athletes take their training and diet very seriously. Some have even garnered a reputation for unique eating habits such as Gus Kenworthy, whose diet includes peanut butter and pickles.

KATHLEEN BAKER

Olympic swimmer Kathleen Baker is a highly disciplined professional athlete.

She has to be. She’s a favorite for gold as she goes through grueling training for the Rio Olympics in August. She’s also a physical education teacher in North Carolina.

Her combination of abilities makes her an excellent role model for kids who want to be just like her, especially when it comes to diet.

Kathleen eats 5-6 small meals throughout the day over a span of 6 hours. She fills 50% of her plate with carbohydrate and 30% with lean protein. She stays away from fats. The remaining 20% of her plate is filled with vegetables.

For example, Kathleen may eat an egg white omelet for breakfast. That is followed by a protein shake with banana and apple or chocolate yogurt for mid morning snack. A spinach salad with tuna or chicken, paired with steamed broccoli or asparagus for lunch and a protein shake like Shakeology for mid afternoon snack. She will have fish, chicken, beef, or legumes over a bed of brown rice for dinner. Refreshing fruit cup for dessert.

By following this diet, Kathleen believes that she can maintain high energy levels and weight and continue her competitive career for years to come.

KATIE LEDECKY

With the Olympics in full force, it’s easy to think that Olympians are just made of something different. The truth of the matter is they still have normal dietary habits and they indulge in foods that are junk food or fried food at times. But there are three food demons that they stay away from.

They rarely eat or drink:

  • Hot Sauce
  • Salt
  • Alcohol

It’s actually not uncommon for Olympians to experience, cramping, bloating and even nausea when they eat these foods. This makes sense since their bodies are finely tuned to produce peak performance. Keep in mind that this is a practice that they have learned through experience as some of these athletes performed better prior to eliminating them from their diet.

They limit their sugar intake

Instead, they eat foods like fruit, peanuts, white fish and porridge made from oats and whole grains. Think about how much sugar you eat on a daily basis. Most of us consume foods that have sugar in them. Cutting it out of your diet, can help you reduce your weight and increase your energy level and immune system.

RYAN LOCHTE

Ryan Lochte is an American competitive swimmer who has won six Olympic medals. He is famed for his trademark partying antics during international competitions … and he notes “I’m pretty much a night owl. I like to stay out and go have fun, whether it’s going to the club, going dancing … I do everything have a good time.”

No doubt that Lochte’s Olympic success has been driven by his approach to nutrition. But what does an Olympic swimmer eat on a typical day? Lochte’s diet is designed to give him the extra energy for competition and a nice lean physique. His meals are all to be eaten in a specific order, and he eats five times a day. Here’s a typical day for Lochte, what he eats, and what he drinks to promote his performance.

SARAH SJOSTROM

Part-time Teacher & Full-time Swimmer

One of the biggest names and faces of the Olympics is this Swedish athlete. She’s the one who quickly became a superstar overnight with her 5 gold medals. She’s even being called “Superwoman”.

Part of her success is attributed to her extreme wake-up time – 4am, even if she doesn’t have any pending activities that morning. Not everyone can survive on just 4 hours of sleep per day, but she does so efficiently without compromising both her performance and her fitness.

What’s her secret? According to Sarah, the key is moderation. She makes sure she gets enough sleep and her daily diet is not too strict. She’s not a vegetarian, as she thinks fish is good for her body.

KYLIE MASSE

Swimmer. Kylie was raised as a vegetarian and became interested in vegetarianism when she learned about issues surrounding the treatment of animals in factory farms. Her own health inspired Kylie to become vegan.

As a competitive swimmer, Kylie needed a diet that would provide her with enough energy to compete, without relying on high-sugar, high-fat foods. It was also important that in the process of losing weight, Kylie would not compromise her health, her speed, or her muscle mass.

Eating a variety of minimally processed foods including vegetables, beans, whole grains, and legumes, Kylie learned to fuel her body with the nutrients she needed without adding a lot of extra bulk.

Throughout the course of her swimming career, Kylie's diet has changed significantly. Over the years, Kylie's weight has fluctuated, but she has always maintained her muscle mass. Despite this weight fluctuation, Kylie has maintained mostly the same training intensity and volume.

Eating right is critical for any athlete, but especially for swimmers. Swimmers burn a lot of calories just from their workouts. Training 20 hours a week requires a good diet and Kylie stuck to a plant-based diet to fuel herself without adding extra weight.

CATE CAMPBELL

Cate Campbell, a member of the Australian swimming team, approached me for cues on how to improve her training, technique, diet, and overall performance.

She was also curious to know what Olympic swimmers eat during important competitions like the Olympics Games.

I could understand her concern as the Olympics is one of the most competitive events in the world and requires swimmers to be at their best.

We have a pretty routine eight-hour training regime and we also train under various levels of stress to get our bodies accustomed to the stresses that we will face in competition.

Our goal for the Melbourne Olympics was a relay gold. We were three points short of our goal, which was the first time in 16 years the Australians had been beaten in a relay final.

As a team, we also had a goal to get three individual medals. We did not quite reach those goals, but it’s encouraging to see our swimmers winning medals at the games. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll be able to go into the Olympics with a clear goal and a flawless performance.

The intensity of the training was very high. The last three weeks before the Games, as a team, we averaged about 8-hours of training, with training blocks of twelve hours.

MIKE BARROWMAN

Here’s an important need-to-know fact about the energy requirements of Olympic swimmers: In order to maintain your weight and perform at your best, your daily caloric intake should be approximately 7-10 calories per pound of body weight.

During training sessions, the calories burned can be as many as 8,000 calories per day, so nutrition can make a huge difference between success and failure.

The three most important foods to build a swimmer’s diet are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. According to Mike Barrowman, Olympic Swimmer and head coach for the University of Southern California men’s and women’s swim teams, “There’s this misconception that we eat pizza and chicken wings because of our stressful schedule. Swimmers have structured nutrition schedules that we adhere to.”

Here is a sample day for an Olympic swimmer:

Break fast with a cup of oatmeal and Crystal Light.

Snack on a protein bar and some grapes.

Drink a glass of chocolate milk and eat a sandwich on whole wheat bread.

Drink Gatorade during practice.

Eat another protein bar, a turkey sandwich, and a banana after practice.

JANET EVANS

As a 6-time Olympic medalist, who was widely considered to be one of the greatest female swimmers of all time, Janet Evans should be our prime example of the perfect Olympian. While we may not all aspire to be Janet Evans, knowing what she eats will help us determine what is most optimal for us.

Don’t be fooled by her petite figure – Janet is definitely a beast when it comes to her training schedule. She swims between 100 and 140 miles each week, which is why it’s no surprise that she tops her daily calorie intake at 1300 calories. You’d need to curtail your social life to maintain a calorie count that high every day.

What’s interesting about Janet is that she’s known to consume three-square meals of healthy, high-quality foods each day, but she also relies on healthy drinks to meet her calorie intake. Janet’s diet includes an almost even split of carbohydrates and proteins, with a ratio of 11 grams to 8 grams, respectively.

STEPHANIE HORNER

6:00 AMY DZIUBIK

6:07 AM

What do swimmers eat? Believe it or not, the answer is a little bit more than just fish!

With three gold medals and two bronze medals in the Olympic Games within the last decade, US Swimmer, Stephanie Horner should know about Olympic diet! As one of the most decorated Olympic swimmers in history, Stephanie has won more medals in the last 10 years than most swimmers win in a lifetime.

At age 19, Stephanie became the first woman in history to win Gold Medals in both the 100m and 200m backstroke at a single Olympic Games. And to top it off, when she won her first gold in 2000, she broke a world record in the 150m breaststroke in the process.

In addition to her Olympic accomplishments, she is also the former backstroke world record holder and she is a two-time Olympian (2000 & 2004).

It takes a lot more than hard work and determination to become the best. In Stephanie’s case, it’s a healthy diet … and the right kind of healthy diet can help you reach your goals and achieve your dreams.

What does an Olympic Swimmer eat? we’ve put together a list of some of Stephanie’s diet staples.

Planning for success

You can’t do well Under any circumstances when you’re hungry. Put another way, you can’t work well if you’re hungry. That’s why we all eat before work.

Whether you’re an Olympic swimmer, a triathlete or a recreational swimmer, you’ll want to make sure you’re well-fueled before you get into a pool.

Here’s a general idea of how the top swimmer eat.