Russian team members eat in the main dining hall inside the London 2012 Olympic Village on July 24. Top-performing Olympic athletes in sports like cycling or swimming consume more than 8,000 daily calories while practicing or competing, while the average person needs around 2,000 each day.
Excessive calories can be the bane of the weight watcher’s existence, but for peak conditioned Olympic athletes, multiple thousand-plus calorie meals simply add fuel to their fire.
With world record blazing speeds, gold medaling strength and long-lasting endurance, it takes a lot to keep world class athletes performing at their best, not the least bit including keeping their gas tank reading full. But keeping that needle hovering over the “F” for an Olympian means something completely different for the average person or recreational athlete.
In terms of diet, calories are the measure of how much potential energy the foods consumed contain. Just like any machine needs power to operate, human bodies require certain amounts of energy from foods to function properly. But consume too many calories and the body will convert that excess into stored energy as fat.
That’s not particularly a concern of Team USA’s top performers in London as every calorie gained is expeditiously burned on their quest for gold, but it is a concern for the team’s average fans watching at home.
Though proper caloric intake varies depending on factors including activity level, age, gender, height, weight and weight goals, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends about 1,600 to 2,400 daily calories for women and about 2,000 to 3,000 daily calories for men.
But compare that with Olympic soccer and basketball players’ daily 4,500, weight lifters’ and shot putters’ 6,500, and swimmers’ and cyclists’ incredible 8,000-plus daily calories, according to the Team USA website. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it was even said swimmer Michael Phelps’ breakfast contained nearly 4,000 calories alone, something he would burn off in one practice session.
While the vast majority of the population isn’t even close to matching an Olympian’s nutrition and exercise plan, recreational athletes and weight watchers also adjust could benefit from adjusting their calorie counts.
“Being an active athlete may lead you to need as much as 1,500 more calories a day than a sedentary person needs, but you may also need only 100 or 200 extra calories if you aren’t involved in a highly active sport,” said Lona Culbertson, Energy Fitness personal trainer certified in sports nutrition.
Culbertson used the example of a male hockey player who trains heavily and still growing may need an additional 1,000 calories daily, while an adult female golfer may only need an extra 300.
“The best way to assess whether or not you’re getting the right amount of calories each day is to keep track of your weight,” she said. “Chances are you’re eating more than your body needs if you’re gaining weight and less than your body needs if you’re losing weight.”
Gaining popularity among people minding their waist line are digital food and calorie journals that log total consumption for purposes of dieting or maintaining weight. In the form of smart phone “apps” or online webpages, Culbertson said such devices aren’t bad, but keep in mind free applications might not be as accurate as simply reading nutrition labels to determine caloric intake.
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.