Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Breakfast, lunch and dinner of Olympic champs

Marathoner Keith Brantly's favorite fuel is sushi.

Kayaker Alexandra Harbold prefers Power Bars _ up to four a day _ while her kayaker husband Mike can swallow burritos as fast as he paddles.

After a long day in the sand and sun, beach volleyball player Linda Hanley replenishes her body with tuna fish or vegetable lasagna.

To follow the Olympic creed and go faster, jump higher and get stronger, Olympic athletes rely on healthy diets. They consider their eating habits as important to their performance as their training routines.

The road to the medal podium in Atlanta passes through the kitchen.

"As athletes, we're very attuned to nutrition, because it has a direct effect on how we play," said Barbara Fontana Harris, Hanley's volleyball partner. "If you listen to your body, it will tell you just about all you need to know. I can tell if it's been too long since I've eaten, or if I've eaten an unbalanced meal."

After years of research by nutritionists _ and tinkering by athletes seeking every edge _ the old pregame menu of steak and eggs has been replaced by lighter, healthier fare. Fontana Harris, for example, has oatmeal and egg whites for breakfast.

Olympians burn up to 5,000 calories per day running, paddling, weight-lifting, spiking, tumbling, cycling and swimming, among other training activities. They are not just eating to fill their stomachs but to fuel their bodies and build their muscles.

"Athletes at this level are constantly breaking down their muscles in order to rebuild stronger muscles," volleyball player Hanley said. "More high caliber athletes today are emphasizing protein. It used to be carbohydrates, carbohydrates, carbohydrates, but you've got to supplement that with the protein to give yourself lean muscle mass."

Lisa Dorfman, a Miami sports nutritionist, psychotherapist and 2:52 marathoner, said carbohydrates are critical in replacing glycogen and energizing muscles while proteins maintain and repair muscle tissue.

"It's endurance versus power. A marathoner wants to keep going whereas a volleyball player wants to be sharp and strong," Dorfman said. "Athletes have become very intelligent about looking at the whole, holistic picture. We're more high-tech on the athletic end and we're complementing that by learning more about the nutritional end."

An athlete's approach to food varies with body type, sport and personal taste. Gymnasts don't eat much of anything, nor do wrestlers when they're trying to make weight. Distance swimmer Carlton Bruner, who often logs 15 miles a day, eats five or six bowls of cereal after his morning workout. Sprinter Carl Lewis is a vegetarian. Heptathlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee says she's glad there's a McDonald's in the Olympic Village.

Here's how five members of the U.S. Olympic Team integrate food into their training programs:

Brantly, of Fort Lauderdale, will run the marathon on the last day of the Olympics, Aug. 4. To stoke his body for the punishing 26.2-mile race, he'll follow a starve- and carbo-load routine in the three days leading up to it, starting with a carbohydrate fast _ nothing but fluids and some fruits and vegetables _ on the Thursday before the race.

"I'll wake up famished on Friday, with my muscles ready to load up," he said. "I'll eat a lot of bread, potatoes, pasta and rice and stay away from sugars."

Brantly watches his fluid intake as closely as he monitors his workout pace. Dehydration will be a threat in Atlanta's brutal heat and humidity.

"For every gram of carbohydrate you need 3 grams of water to absorb it so you need to be almost swimming," he said. "I drink 2 gallons per day for the two days prior to a marathon."

On the day of the 7 a.m. race, Brantly awakens at 4:30 a.m. and eats bagels and energy bars.

"You really need it the second hour of the race," he said. "But when you start, you feel very heavy, like a 747 trying to take off."

Brantly is 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds, and only 5 percent of that is body fat. He consumes 3,000 to 4,000 calories per day, but his basal metabolic rate burns 2,000 calories and running 15 to 20 miles a day burns another 1,500 to 2,000 calories. Even a skinny marathoner watches what he eats.

"I used to be a fiend with cookies. I'd inhale a bag of Pepperidge Farm Sausalito cookies or shortbread cookies," he said. "But I've really cut down on desserts and greasy foods. As I've gotten older, my metabolism has slowed down. My brothers were all thin until age 34 or 35 and then they started to gain weight. Instead of ordering a Coke these days, I'll have water."

Brantly usually eats two main meals _ breakfast and dinner _ and grazes the rest of the day. He eats a lot of chicken, pasta, salad and fruit.

"I love to make stir-fry dishes," he said. "That's my specialty."

Beach volleyball partners Fontana Harris and Hanley need more power than endurance in their sport, although during a tournament they will play all day, one game after another.

For breakfast, Hanley typically has a shake made with protein powder, bananas, strawberries and mangoes, or oatmeal and a slice of toast with peanut butter. For lunch, she makes tuna fish salad "with everything but the kitchen sink mixed in _ broccoli, cabbage, onions.

"I don't shy completely away from meat," said Hanley, 36, who is 5-9 and weighs 135. Typical dinner choices: "free range chicken, turkey burgers, veggie burgers, fish, pasta, fajitas."

Her weakness: French fries.

"I remember after we played one of the longest games in history, my body was totally depleted and all I craved was french fries," she said.

Fontana Harris, 30, a member of one of the three two-woman American teams playing in beach volleyball's Olympic debut, eats a lot of chicken, tuna, rice, fish, cottage cheese, yogurt, zucchini, squash, spinach, bananas and apricots. Her favorite foods are pot stickers and her homemade pancakes.

"I avoid fried food, because I get a stomachache from it," she said. "I stay away from fatty desserts, but if I'm out with my husband, I won't say no."

She said she eats more than the average 5-6, 138-pound female.

"Volleyball players tend to be pretty muscular," she said. "Moving through that heavy sand and jumping really builds up your legs. Hitting the ball involves the muscles of your back, shoulder, chest, triceps and stomach. You want to have as much power in the fifth game of the day as you did in the first, so I'm constantly eating and drinking sports drinks to replace the electrolytes you lose when you sweat."

The kayaking couple, Mike and Alexandra Harbold, recently moved from the Olympic training center in San Diego, where meals were made to athletes' specifications, to the kayaking venue in Gainesville, Ga., "where everything is fried," according to Mike.

"Back home, we don't bathe our rice in butter or put bacon in our string beans," he said. "We're encountering all these different fat groups here."

In his normal routine, Mike, 28, who is 6-1, 184 pounds, eats raisin bran mixed with oats for breakfast and pasta and rice dishes the rest of the day.

"We eat beef occasionally, but mostly skinless chicken, steamed vegetables, bagels," he said. "Our biggest weakness is diet Coke, or a frappacino at Starbuck's. We shouldn't drink so much caffeine because it's really dehydrating."

Alexandra, 31, who is 5-8, 137 pounds, eats a Power Bar before her 6:30 a.m. workout. When she comes off the water at 8 a.m., she'll have another Power Bar. She detests breakfast, so she eats an early lunch of salad with grilled chicken breast seasoned with soy sauce. She also likes watermelon, peaches, grapes, bananas and kiwi fruit. For dinner, she and Mike both like stir-fry dishes. She may eat four Power Bars a day; her favorite flavors of the Tootsie Roll-textured, 220-calorie bars are mocha and banana.