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Going for the Gold

Going for the Gold

Adam Korzun, MS, RD, LDN, feeds champions. As dietitian for the United States Olympic Committee's Food & Nutrition Services, Korzun spends his days linking nutrition to science to the highest in athletic achievement — the Olympic Games.

Raised in Alabama, by a mother who is a nurse and a father who is a chemist, he studied at Johnson and Wales University in Providence Rhode Island and Boston University, bartended at the Boston Ritz Carlton, worked as a line chef at the Four Seasons, and became a Red Sox fan along the way.

He's based at the Colorado Springs, CO, Olympic Training Center, which houses and feeds up to 557 athletes and coaches. More than 350,000 meals were served at the center in 2007.

It's important that an Olympic athlete's diet remains consistent throughout training and competition for peak performance. Korzun will travel to Beijing this summer to help continue the athletes' performance-based menu as they chase their — and our — dreams.

Favorite food:
I wouldn't be happy to pick just one!
Favorite restaurant:
The training center is the best restaurant in town.
Favorite TV show:
Red Sox games, Food Network
Entertaining friends for dinner; music; wine.
Bentley, a 3-year-old Corgi

Earliest food memory?

When I was four, I got a pancake making set for Christmas. I wouldn't settle for an Easy-Bake Oven or a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine.

When did you first realize cooking was for you?

Both of my parents worked, so starting in 3rd grade, I would be home by myself. To keep me out of trouble, it was always my job to cut up vegetables at first. Over time, there was a progression to Tuna Helper, and then pasta and sauce. Finally, they would say, “Adam, there's some chicken in the fridge; do something with it.”

What's a typical day for you?

They're not typical. That's what keeps it interesting. Maybe it's sitting down with an athlete who is trying to gain weight or lose weight. Maybe it's working with the chefs on menus. I see a lot of the same athletes every day. I help them with questions on nutrition and try to share my passion and excitement for the food we are providing them and why it is so important for performance. One athlete said to me, “You're here a lot. But you're always happy.”

My job is where nutrition science meets the culinary arts. I see how all the fats, carbs and proteins affect athletes individually. We talk the science and we practice it, too. I like to work with the junior teams. You never know — that 12-year-old swimmer could maybe take one little bit of advice and it could make a big difference in his or her training.

How is feeding athletes different than feeding regular mortals?

There are certain athletes in certain sports who need more than 7,000 calories a day. Judo, weight lifting…They are training two or three times a day. Just because you need 8,000 calories a day, it doesn't mean you can eat 8,000 calories of whatever. That can lead to a young athlete with very high cholesterol and other negative health problems. We focus on the quality of the diet, no matter how the caloric or nutritional needs may vary.

It must be inspirational to be around the Olympic athletes. How athletic are you?

I've always been active and played sports, but it's definitely a motivation, and inspiring to see what they do. I wouldn't say I'm ‘good’ at running, but I enjoy it. One thing you see with the athletes here is that they really enjoy their training. You see people buy a treadmill, but they hate running. You have to enjoy it.

As the Olympics get closer, what's the frame of mind like for the athletes? Are they getting nervous?

Excitement, nerves, stress. Definitely a lot of focus. Some of them have part-time jobs, but at this point, most have dropped them and are just solely focused on training. Qualifiers are going on right now — all sports have a different schedule, but the goal is to get qualified. Some qualified last year, some won't for another month. There's tension, but there's also joy. It's pretty amazing.

What is it like for the athletes to live there at the center?

It's home to them. They live in furnished dorm rooms, but they make each of them their own. We want the dining room to be non-stressful. They can watch TV, and they can sit together. It's a family environment — a friendly environment. They want comfort foods that help them psychologically to be happy. So, we modify those comfort foods to be a better-for-you choice that not only helps them fuel for performance, but provides that comfort of home.

You traveled to Beijing in March to visit the site where you'll be working during the Olympics. What was that like?

I had never been there before. I found my way around the city and did a site visit of the kitchen. I was working with translators the whole time. I was learning the culture, the customs, the currency. I ate at some high-end places. I ate a 13-year-old oyster. Through translation, they told me that's really hard to come by! After the competition, the athletes will be free to try any of the local food. But they don't want to experiment before the games. They know what fuel helps their performance.

TAGS: Menu Trends
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