These ultra-fit athletes tell us what it takes to get to Rio and the best foods, meals, and snacks to have during training.
Matthew Jussim 1 / 15
Madison Hughes, Rugby
“I eat three main meals a day with two or three good-sized snacks, depending on training volume. During the training day I find it tough to eat too much, but my favorite for lunch is a chicken breast sandwich with avocado and sweet potato, and a fruit smoothie on the side. For breakfast, three eggs and a yogurt with blueberries; dinner I really like spaghetti squash with spinach, bacon, and goat cheese.”
“I struggle to keep my weight up, so I'll have a protein shake after each training session. Then in the morning I'll have a pre-workout drink.”
“At the moment I am eating a lot of protein and vegetables and trying to stay away from too many carbs in order to get to my optimum racing weight. In competition season, I focus more and more on my diet to give myself the best chance to run fast when it really matters.”
Favorite cheat meal: “Wings, man. Jerk, buffalo. All types! I love them.”
“I don't necessarily go on a calorie count, but I certainly do try to hit about 225 grams of protein a day. That's coming from a nutritionist. She just says, 'Hey, you're going to be able to maintain your body weight and put on some muscle during intense volumes of training with that kind of protein intake.' If we go into a really heavy, glycogen-depleting workout, then that's a great time to grab some good carbs. I try to drink from a Powerade through practice. At the end of practice sometimes, those 30, 40 grams of carbs just aren't enough, so I have to get some more in me.”
“When it comes to vegetables, everything you can do to keep it raw is better. That's how I've been going about it. Obviously, some veggies need to be cooked, but within reason. A blender is probably an athlete's best friend—just do it in high quality and lean protein. That's just kind of some pretty simple nutritional advice that anybody can try to implement and do.”
“Typical day for breakfast: I’ll have two eggs, some oatmeal, and some fruit, and then I’ll eat another breakfast with two more eggs, more fruit and a smoothie. For lunch, I’ll eat a turkey burger, some vegetables, and then I’ll have a smoothie again. After that I’ll snack with some Red Bull and almonds, and for dinner I’ll have chicken, rice, vegetables again, and a smoothie again along with some fruit. I’m always talking with my nutritionist, making sure I get enough carbs and what I need. It’s a constant battle figuring out what makes you the best you can be. I like steak and chicken—I like the simple things.”
“Eating right and eating healthy is a big part of my training. I have a lot of intake with protein and calories and things like that—I have a protein shake in the morning and I have one after each training session. I eat a lot of rice, vegetables—and I eat a lot of carbs.”
“There have been times when I’ve been on tour and didn’t like the food, so I didn’t eat well, and it turned out I didn’t play well, because I didn’t have the right nutrition and the right energy. It’s all about the way I eat and my diet.”
Breakfast 1: Eaton has two fried eggs—morning- and muscle-friendly—to kickstart his day. The "perfect protein" has essential amino acids to get your body primed and functioning properly, plus healthy fats and vitamin B12. Eaton also has half an avocado, pork sausage, two slices of whole wheat or sprouted bread toasted and smeared with almond butter and 1 tbsp of honey.
Breakfast 2: Eaton layers the following ingredients into two cups of Greek yogurt for an additional punch of protein—he adds muesli, which is typically packaged as a loose mixture of rolled oats (sometimes with dried fruit, nuts, and seeds), pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, and walnuts, as well as Goji berries, and dried golden berries.
Eaton also has some coffee: Black coffee can replace most of your chemical- and sugar-laden energy drinks. The caffeine gives you the jolt you need; skip the additional milk and sugar. Eaton will drink coffee during competitions as well as during breakfast. Check out our chat with Ashton Eaton for more on his diet plan for Rio.
“Every single morning when I’m practicing, I always have a smoothie: Frozen strawberries, blueberries, spinach, banana, protein peanut butter powder, and Zico coconut water. It doesn’t have the extra fat that milk adds, but it also has the protein, so I can have a productive workout. I like three square meals, and make sure I’m snacking throughout the day. It can be something as little as yogurt with some cereal in it, or carrots and hummus, or apples and peanut butter.”
From his wife and registered dietician, Sonnie: “We’d choose sweet potatoes over regular potatoes, just because of the added nutrient value. Colorful fruits and vegetables over the bland ones. Lean meats versus fattier cuts. Ground turkey over ground beef. Quinoa or brown rice over white rice.” Check out our chat with David Boudia about his prep for Rio.
To prep for Rio, Weil trained mostly in Princeton, NJ, where he lives with a host family and works at their juice bar, which has its perks (“shit-loads of juice”). “But the greatest culinary achievement of our species is tacos,” he says. “Carne asada. They’re the only kind of tacos.”
Burroughs’ nutrition is strict: a coconut-and-greens smoothie for breakfast, fresh juice for lunch, and vegetables with lean protein for dinner. However, after victories he’s known to celebrate with doughnuts and cake.
Merritt just missed qualifying for the Rio Olympics after finishing in fourth place in the hurdles at the U.S. Track and Field trials. Although he won't be able to defend his gold medal in the hurdles from the London Olympics, Merritt still eats like an Olympian:
"I normally wake up and eat oatmeal for breakfast, after that for lunch I will have some type of protein. Lunch is my largest meal of day since its almost immediately after training. Chicken salad is a really popular choice for me, as is a grilled chicken sandwich. Dinner is very light but filling with a lighter protein like fish or sometimes more chicken with veggies and a starch of choice—one of my favorite meals is meatball spaghetti with a side salad. I eat 3 meals a day and snack often—snacks include fruits and yogurt with granola."
Hardee suffered a left hamstring injury at the U.S. Track and Field Trials, and while he won't be able to defend his 2012 Olympic silver medal from London, he will be in Rio—as a commentator for NBC.
The decathlete still eats like an Olympian: “My daily nutrition is lean and mean. I do eat a lot, but it's an all day affair. I try to keep my body fueled and able to recover as fast as possible. If i have to call them "meals", I'd say i eat 4-6 meals a day. At the end of the day, my body can't get enough carbs and fat. So my favorite meal is pretty trite...it’s pizza.”
“During training, I try to keep my diet pretty liquid—water, sugar free Red Bull, and recovery drinks are what's on the menu. Some of my favorite meals include: For breakfast it’s a hemp protein shake with bananas, almond milk, almond butter, coconut oil, and coffee. Lunch, it’s beet salad with tons of chicken breasts, and for dinner—hate to say it, but I love pizza.”
O’Brien isn’t competing in Rio, but as a past gold medal winner in the decathlon, he is well-experienced when it comes to eating right: “No supplements—I'm kind of old school. My staples are coconut water, a lot of vanilla almond CLIF Builder's bars, Gatorade, Powerade, mixed with water, occasionally I'll have a Kill Cliff drink—things like that. Stuff has to taste good for me.”