When watching our stalwart winter Olympian athletes tearing down the slopes or speed skating the oval like there was no tomorrow, have you ever wondered where they get that supreme energy?
“The key is in what they eat,” says Rose Reisman, a Toronto nutritional consultant, cookbook author, restaurant and catering business owner and mother of four.
“And non-Olympians can learn from those athletes because no matter what you do in terms of an active lifestyle we should all be eating the same as they,” she says.
“The only difference with an Olympian is that they are going to consume double the calories we are because by nature they are more active.”
With the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics just over two months away, Reisman thought it a good time to put a challenge to not-so-active Canadians to get fit not only through exercise but when choosing meals as well.
“The old days where the belief was protein, protein and more protein or maybe a bowl of pasta before a run are past,” she says.
“Now it’s a matter of following Canada’s Food Guide and snacking every two to three hours five times a day so you can fuel your body properly.”
Reisman starts her day with a snack to “kick-start her metabolism” because after sleeping six to eight hours the metabolism is at its slowest rate possible, she says. Then she works out at her home gym “religiously.”
“Later I make myself a simple breakfast with something from the four food groups. So that might mean a piece of whole-grain toast, peanut butter, a banana, yogurt or milk.”
She finds that prevents her from getting hungry and overeating.
“I know it’s hard to change habits,” she admits. “But many of us eat too much late at night and aren’t hungry when we wake up so we down a coffee and muffin, a small salad or sandwich at lunch and then we are starving at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”
But she adds, “it’s breaking that habit that Olympians have to overcome because they need to fuel every few hours to keep their edge and energized.”
When it comes to snacking every few hours instead of eating three meals a day, Reisman suggests combinations such as a small 30-gram (one-ounce) cube of cheese, a handful of nuts such as almonds, walnuts or a homemade trail mix, dried fruits like apples, oranges, flatbread with peanut butter and yogurt with granola.
“These should be high in carbohydrates and light on protein and saturated fat,” she says. “Stay healthy by stocking your diet with real foods first and as a last resort use energy bars if you must.”
Reisman says that the promotion of low- to no-carbohydrate diets has given carbohydrates a bad reputation.
“For athletes, carbohydrates are nonetheless extremely important,” she says. “Not only are they needed for optimal physical performance, but they also help you to concentrate, stay focused and remain mentally sharp.”
Athletes also need high levels of protein to help rebuild muscles broken down by physical activity and to aid in carbohydrate storage.
Finally, she urges proper hydration as a key to good nutrition.