How Many Calories Do America's Winter Olympians Consume in a Day?

Mark Ralston, Getty Images
Mark Ralston, Getty Images

When you see an Olympic athlete executing a perfect triple Lutz or clearing a 90-meter jump at this year’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, remember that that kind of performance takes a lot of fuel. Olympic participants and chefs recently shared exactly what goes into the diets necessary to compete at the world's highest level with ABC News, showing just how thoughtful Olympians have to be about their meals.

Megan Chacosky, a dietitian and chef who has worked with the U.S. Olympic team for three years, told ABC that the athletes consume roughly 3000 to 4000 calories per day while training. For comparison, the USDA recommends a daily intake of about 2000 calories for most adults. Those extra calories give athletes plenty of energy to burn when training on the slopes, where high altitudes can take an extra toll on their bodies.

Meal plans vary from athlete to athlete, depending on the event they're training for and their personal dietary needs. Michael Phelps reportedly feasted on pasta, pizza, and eggs before competing, while Usain Bolt preferred low-calorie proteins like chicken and fish. And believe it or not, McDonald’s is a consistent favorite among players.

For some athletes preparing for this year's competition, the quality of the food is more important than calorie content. U.S. alpine skier Resi Stiegler, who has to eat every 90 minutes while training, told ABC that she avoids sugar in favor of lean proteins and vegetables. Working a healthy amount of fat into her diet is also essential to maintaining healthy hair and skin in cold weather, she said.

Stiegler's fellow alpine skier Ted Ligety also eats plenty of vegetables and high-protein foods. For breakfast, that means eggs, bread, meat, and a cup of coffee from his sponsor, Folgers. He also likes to down protein shakes as a post-workout snack.

While athletes may be responsible for their own diets when training at home, in Pyeongchang, the Americans have Chacosky and the rest of the team’s chefs and dietitians to guide them. The math of portioning out protein, calories, and carbohydrates is a big part of the job, but Chacosky also realizes that it's important to feed the team meals they’ll enjoy. Burrito bowls, meatball subs, teriyaki stir-fry, and roast chicken are all on the menu in the Olympic village in Pyeongchang. The most popular dish she prepares is a fish taco made with tilapia, rice, feta, guacamole, and corn-and-black-bean salsa.

For the athletes with a weakness for sweets, she uses her background as a pastry chef to bake goodies like banana bread and chocolate chip cookies, and keeps a stash of ice cream in the freezer. Because, let's face it: These world-class athletes deserve a treat.

[h/t ABC News]

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

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Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

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Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

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Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

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JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

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Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
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Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

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Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
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Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

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Baloo Weighted Blanket
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Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

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Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

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Tommie Smith and John Carlos Shocked the World—and Sacrificed Their Careers—By Protesting Racism at the 1968 Olympics

American athlete Tommie Smith, wearing black socks, celebrates after crossing the finish line of the men's 200-meter final ahead of Australian Peter Norman and compatriot John Carlos during the Mexico Olympic Games.
American athlete Tommie Smith, wearing black socks, celebrates after crossing the finish line of the men's 200-meter final ahead of Australian Peter Norman and compatriot John Carlos during the Mexico Olympic Games.
EPU/AFP via Getty Images

On October 16, 1968, track and field stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos stepped onto the Olympic podium in Mexico City to receive their medals for the 200-meter dash; Smith had won the gold, Carlos the bronze. They were wearing black socks—no shoes—and badges that read “Olympic Project for Human Rights.” Smith had also donned a black scarf, while Carlos had unzipped his jacket (which was against Olympic rules) and slung a long string of beads around his neck.

When “The Star-Spangled Banner” began to blare through the stadium, the two athletes bowed their heads and each raised a black-gloved fist into the air. While the crowd recognized the gesture as the familiar Black Power salute, Smith claimed it was a "human rights" salute. Regardless of what they wanted to call it, that it was meant as a protest against racism wasn’t lost on anyone; a stunned silence fell over the stadium.

“There’s something awful about hearing 50,000 people go silent, like being in the eye of a hurricane,” Carlos later wrote in his memoir.

In the Eye of a Hurricane

According to The Washington Post, it wasn't long before the momentary stillness yielded to a swell of jeers and boos, with some spectators even shouting the words to the national anthem in a sort of counter-protest. Smith and Carlos were ushered out of the arena and swiftly evicted from the Olympic Village. Before returning to the U.S., Smith appeared in an ABC news segment that aired the following day. The interviewer, ABC sports editor Howard Cosell, kept his question short and open-ended.

tommie smith and john carlos 1968 olympic medal ceremony
From left to right: Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympic medal ceremony for the 200-meter dash.
AFP via Getty Images

“Tommie, would you explain to the people of America exactly what you did and why you did it?” he asked.

Smith explained that their gloved fists “signified the power in Black America,” and their shoeless feet were a symbol of the poverty that Black Americans faced. (As for why each man only wore one glove, Smith stated that it was a mark of “black unity.” But Peter Norman, the Australian silver medalist with them on the podium, later claimed one of the Americans had simply forgotten his pair of gloves, so they shared them).

The Gathering Storm

Though the protest itself had been planned just before the ceremony, in the year leading up to the event, Smith, Carlos, and other athletes had already been using the Summer Olympics as a platform to further the goals of the civil rights movement. In October 1967, Dr. Harry Edwards founded the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), whose mission was originally to protest segregation in the U.S.

According to Global Sport Matters, Smith and Carlos were the first athletes to join, and the organization’s objectives became more global as it expanded. The OPHR had demanded, for example, that South Africa be banned from participating in the Olympics as long as it remained under apartheid, that Olympic teams hire more Black coaches, and that International Olympic Committee chairman Avery Brundage—who had failed to condemn Nazism during the 1936 Olympics, among other controversies—resign his position. Not all of their conditions were met immediately, though Brundage did step down from his position following the next Olympics. But South Africa was prohibited from the ’68 games, and coaching staffs did diversify a little in the following years.

In the months leading up to the Mexico City Olympics, the political atmosphere grew increasingly more turbulent. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was killed just two months later, and thousands of people across the country were rioting to protest both racial injustice and the Vietnam War. Other countries were dealing with similar unrest: In May, students in France rioted against their conservative government; the Soviet Union quelled a Czechoslovakian rebellion in August; and, just 10 days before the Olympic Opening Ceremony, the Mexican military killed scores—possibly hundreds or even thousands—of students at a rally in Mexico City.

Compared to the violence occurring around the world, Smith and Carlos’s small, peaceful protest seemed innocuous, but it definitely wasn’t without backlash. Many journalists seemed embarrassed that American athletes had shone a spotlight on the nation’s domestic issues in front of a global audience, and asserted they shouldn’t have tried to use the Olympics as a “problem-solving platform,” as Los Angeles Sentinel reporter Booker Griffin put it.

Within Black communities, however, the response was celebratory, especially among young people; according to The Undefeated, thousands of Howard University students congregated in Washington, D.C., to welcome Carlos back from Mexico City.

“From this day forward, Black people will pick their own heroes,” civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael (also known as Kwame Ture) declared at the gathering.

The eventual awakening

Olympic officials were not as impressed by the duo's actions. Echoing the sentiments of condemnatory journalists, the IOC suspended both Smith and Carlos from the U.S. track team. They both played professional football for one year before pursuing careers as track coaches.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2008 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, California.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2008 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, California.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

History.com reports that silver medalist Peter Norman, who wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on his chest during the ceremony, was not asked to compete for Australia in the 1972 Olympics, even though he qualified. When he died in 2006, Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at Norman's funeral.

In 2019, more than half a century after their controversial show of support for the civil rights movement, the two American track stars were inducted into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame.

"I knew that I did the right thing," Carlos told KOAA News5 at the time. "I feel as proud today as I did that day. I'm just so happy that so many people have woken up to it today.”