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HAVE you ever looked at an Olympic athlete and thought, "I bet this person never needs to worry about calories, since he/she's always working out."
But it's not true.
Olympians in virtually all sports get more fixated on proper nutrition every year.
"It is so noticeable when I eat healthier," says Olympic beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh.
"My energy is way, way better, my skin is clearer and my body works more efficiently. It's worth the extra time and effort."
Proper nutrition gives athletes the fuel their training requires and lets them reap the benefits of their labors.
In fact, most say they pay equal attention to what they eat and how they train.
We'll leave the all-day workouts to them the nutritional training, though, is something we all can learn from.
Bring on the carbs
No Atkins diets for these athletes. In fact, the foods they rely on most for their energy are generally carbo-rich options like fruit, breads, rice and pasta.
"Carbohydrates are the best and preferred source of energy for muscles and the brain," says Karen Reznik Dolins, a sports nutritionist at Columbia University.
"I advise anyone who is active to try to get most of their calories from nutritious whole grains, which also pack a fair amount of essential amino acids."
The athletes we spoke to all bank on breakfast an especially important meal, since it boosts blood sugar levels that have plummeted during sleep. If you don't eat before working out, you won't have carbohydrates readily available to burn, and you may feel sluggish.
The best breakfasts include some carbs as well as protein often eggs or yogurt. Proteins take longer than carbs for the body to break down, thus increasing caloric burn in the process.
New York cyclist Kristen LaSasso, who competed in the Olympic trials in June, says that she eats two or three times in the morning.
"Breakfast is my favorite meal," she says. "I'll have an egg or some cottage cheese, a little later I'll have cereal then, maybe after I train, I'll eat toast with a nut butter and bananas, and drizzle it with honey."
Olympic high jumper Amy Acuff eats both oatmeal and eggs, swimmer Natalie Coughlin is a big fan of fried eggs over rice for breakfast, while marathoner Daniel Browne starts his day with coffee, a banana and a Clif Bar.
"But I won a marathon once after eating rice pudding, so I'll be looking for that in Athens," he says.
Eat more meals
If you want the abs of an athlete, eat smaller amounts of healthful food more frequently. By eating six or more times a day, athletes keep their energy and the body's metabolic rate revved all day long.
It also keeps them from overeating later in the day, when many tend to lose their self-control.
"It helps athletes maintain a healthy weight," says Dan Benardot, a sports nutritionist. Benardot's research with elite-level athletes showed that when they ate more often every two or three hours they actually got leaner.
With all the sacrifices, sore muscles, defeats and injuries, athletes also need their fair share of indulgences. Most include sweets in their diet, but in the appropriate proportions. Part of what enables the physically fit to maintain such lean bodies is that they've mastered the art of balancing their caloric intake with their energy output.
"I'll splurge two or three times a week," says Olympic miler Suzy Hamilton Favor. "My favorite treat is chocolate-chip cookies."
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