Adam Korzun, MS, RD, LDN, dietitian for the United States Olympic Committee's Food & Nutrition Services, put his own training to the test alongside the athletes at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games last summer.
Korzun points out that while the power-packed nutrition he prepares for the training table can get athletes in shape for the biggest event of their lives, winning isn't everything, and good nutrition on the training table menu is a marathon — not a sprint.
Up to 557 athletes and coaches live, train and eat at the Colorado Springs, CO, Olympic Training Center, and Korzun thinks about their lifetimes, not just the next competition. “We want to focus on health — not just performance — while tying the two together,” he says. “We tell the athletes, ‘We want you to be healthy for a lifetime.’”
Putting together a day-to-day menu for serious athletes, as Korzun does, is a challenge because “they are eating for their goals,” Korzun says. “The principals of recovery and the utilization of fuel come into play. Everyone needs vitamins, minerals, proteins and healthy fats and carbs, but for each athlete the composition and quantity of these changes.”
FM spoke with Korzun to learn the essentials of today's training table menu. Also, be sure to check out the excerpts from the United States Olympic Committee's Nutrition and Meal Planning Guide: Nutrition Requirements for the Training and Competition (see sidebar).
Make the food you offer on your menu count. Athletes — and everyone — should make sure every item they eat contributes to their overall nutrition goal. Across the board, there's a focus on nutrient density. If you're going to have a salad, make it with dark leafy greens. If you're going to have a grilled cheese sandwich, have it on whole grain bread with some tomatoes.
Just because you offer pasta with tomato sauce on your menu doesn't mean you can't put vegetables in there, too. If you're offering spinach, add some broccolini to make it count for more.
Focus on food for performance but don't forget the ‘comfort factor.’ While athletes need foods for training; they also need foods for comfort.
Another big trend, although right now there is limited research, is anti-inflammatory food. We highlight foods that have omega-3 fatty acids on the menu: salmon, flax, almonds, avocado, tuna, walnuts, trout and edamame are some examples. Research on fish oils has shown improvements in arthritic patients.
A good training table should have certain items available at all times. We always have fruits, vegetables, whole grains, a salad bar, deli meat, bread, plain chicken and plain lean ground beef in addition to new items introduced daily.
It's important to have a balance. We have white pasta and we also have quinoa or bulghur. Athletes need both simple and complex carbohydrates. The simple carbs are for when athletes need to quickly absorb them into their blood.
Keep the menu interesting by doing a variation on the same things that work. Think of how many different ways you can have chicken, but to the right guidelines. For the training table menu, we first think, for example, how much fat you'd like to have in a dish. We keep our guidelines and adjust our food to fit that. We have Mexican and Asian theme days, but we are always keeping to the nutritional guidelines and being attuned to what the athletes need.
We work on a six-week menu cycle, and we print up menus for the athletes by the week, so they know what will be available.
One of our super-high-profile athletes wanted a jalapeno and avocado omelette, and after that, everyone else wanted one, too!
I often put nutritional tidbits on table tents to help with nutritional education for the athletes. Next to quinoa, for example, I might make the note “Did you know that quinoa is the only complete non-meat protein?” We put that out there. When we had salmon recently, we put a table tent out that highlighted all of its benefits. It's especially important for something a little less familiar, like broccoli rabe.
We developed guidelines for when athletes travel that a chef at a hotel or other venue can use to make sure they are serving appropriate meals.
Gold Menu for the Gold Medal
Here are excerpts from the United States Olympic Committee's Nutrition and Meal Planning Guide: Nutrition Requirements for the Training and Competition, by USOC sports dietitians Adam Korzun, Karen Daigle, Susie Parker-Simmons and Bob Seebohar, provided for chefs at hotels and other venues where Olympic athletes will be eating on the road.
“The menu is an antioxidant-rich menu which includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, heart healthy fats and a variety of lean protein.
“With regard to fats, we aim to keep fat content:
total fat as 30% of total calories
“We use heart healthy oils (olive oil blends, canola oil, liquid margarine, etc.) in all food preparation in place of butters and solid margarines, and all of our dairy products are 2% milk fat. We also avoid deep frying foods completely (as we do not even have deep fryers)
Hot Dish Options (available daily)
Breads - a variety of breads to include: whole wheat, multi-grain and white
Deli Meats - ham, turkey, roast beef, tuna/chicken salad and cheeses
Salad Items - lettuce, fresh veggies, beans/legumes, etc.
Condiments - mustard, mayonnaise, peanut butter, jam, etc.
Salad Dressings - one creamy option and two vinaigrette-based options (one light)
Hot Dish Options (rotate daily)
Soup - broth-based (noodle, minestrone, etc.)
Protein - grilled or roasted chicken breast and fish, pork or beef, etc.
Vegetarian Option - have one meatless offering (tofu or mixed grains can double as side dishes)
Pasta Bar - noodles with choice of tomato and meat sauce
Composed Dish - stir fry, casserole (i.e. Chicken Cacciatore, beef fajitas, homemade pizzas, etc.)
Starch - rice, pilaf, potatoes, couscous, breads, etc.
Vegetables - steamed vegetable
Fruit-Based Desserts - apple cobbler, parfait, rice pudding, whole fruit/salad
Baked - muffins, scones, cookies, granola bars
Frozen/Dairy - ice cream, yogurts and sorbet