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Get Your Kids Eating Like Gold Medalists

If your children have hankerings to stand on top of the Olympic podium wearing a gold medal, it’s a good idea to remind them that diet is an important part of an athlete’s training.

We’re not talking about the dodgy pills and illegal ‘supplements’ that have somewhat tarnished the games in recent years but you can be sure that whatever else Olympians eat, there’s not a lot of room for crisps, cokes and Big Macs either.

A winning diet
So what DO would-be medallists eat? And is it safe for your child to follow suit?

Firstly, diet is of course, dependent on the discipline the performer’s pursuing. A weightlifter won’t eat the same as a synchronised swimmer.

Surprisingly perhaps, studies of American athletes show their eating habits closely resemble those of non-athletes. The crucial difference is in the number of calories. That’s not just an excuse for overeating. Marathon contestants will run between 80-150 miles per week while training and cyclists cover 400-600 miles. In the case of the cyclist that’s 6,000 calories per day just to maintain a constant weight!

Snacks and supplements
So how are these vast amounts consumed? Not as you might think in some gargantuan meal but by ‘nibbling’ throughout the day. The athletes surveyed ate an average of 2,7 meals per day supplemented by 1.6 snacks.

For ‘endurance’ events like those mentioned, both male and female contestants need to consume 60-70% of their calorie intake as carbohydrates.

Legal supplements were used extensively with iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B6 the most popular. But those playing team sports relied less on supplements.

At the other end of the scale from the distance runners, swimmers and cyclists are the gymnasts. Their bodies are still toned and muscled but low carbohydrate intake is the order of the day. This is because gymnastics calls for powerful but short and intense bursts of energy more suited to a diet high in protein.

Meats and cheeses provide 60-70% of a gymnast’s calorie intake with carb-intensive foods like pasta, fruit and veg providing the rest.

The unhealthy option?
Eating disorders have a long history in gymnastics with many teenage girls looking no older than eight or nine. And this is despite the fact that female gymnasts have the easiest diets to monitor – simply because the majority are aged 15-19 and still live at home.

Top gymnasts will eat several times a day but all in small quantities – egg for breakfast, a piece of chicken for lunch, cheese snacks between meals and fish and fruit for dinner.

Not perhaps the ideal diet for the average 16-year-old to follow!

If your child is serious about sport, whether their aim is the Olympic Games or just to get and stay healthy, then it’s best to look at serious advice from a qualified nutritionist.

And while you may see top sports personalities faces beaming out of drinks cans or burger bags you can be sure those same athletes didn’t get where they are by consuming the contents inside.

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