In honor of the Olympics, this month we're bringing you gold medal coverage of The Best of the Best.
You always hear it: Food is fuel. It’s even truer when your dreams are riding on the capability of your own body. We talk to four Team USA athletes about exactly what they eat to fuel nearly constant training and how they’re revving up for Rio. Go for gold: Here’s how to eat like an Olympian.
Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg, Track and Field
In a sport not exactly championed for the importance of teamwork, these friends and training partners have shown everyone just how wrong they are. They’re the Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain of this generation, and the image of Cragg catching an exhausted Flanagan at the finish line of the L.A. Marathon (and Rio trials) is becoming nearly as iconic as that of Chastain.
Most people dream of running a half marathon in under two and a half hours; these women are easily done with a full one by then. Their training involves running between 16 and 28 miles in a single day, so the importance of proper (and constant) refueling goes without saying. Flanagan is so committed to this that she’s about to release a cookbook, Run Fast. Eat Slow., written with college teammate Elyse Kopecky, about healthy—and substantial—recipes for athletes.
The book’s dishes range from smoothies (“for going the extra mile”) to treats like a flourless almond torte (“for the love of real cake”). Which is in part due to Flanagan’s credo that “fat is good for you.” No, not pounding handfuls of bacon bits, more like nuts and olive oil—though she does enjoy pastries or a pint of ice cream as a well-deserved award. “The right healthy fats are essential to my training,” she says. “They also make food taste better.”
The day always starts with coffee for both of them. Flanagan’s pre-race meal for the past eight years (including the London Olympics) is oatmeal with mashed banana. For Cragg, it’s eggs, toast and a banana a couple hours pre-workout, and then sports drinks as they go. Like Flanagan, her rule of thumb is all about eating normal, whole foods rather than subscribing to restrictive diets or fake sugar: “If your mom wouldn’t let you leave the table until you ate some, it’s probably good for you.”
Katie Meili, Swimming
Seven months ago, Meili took to her blog to declare a New Year’s resolution of making the Olympic team. Fast-forward to the end of June, and she did exactly that, securing a spot in Rio in the 100-meter breaststroke event. After spending time in New York studying psychology (and swimming) at Columbia University, Texas-born Meili now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she’s proving beignets are alive and well.
“It’s important to get protein within 30 minutes of a hard workout,” Meili says, so she turns to a Greek yogurt smoothie sweetened with berries and bananas—plus an extra boost from whey protein. Another go-to meal during training is a salad with avocado, chicken or steak, and grilled vegetables. She’s also big on quinoa and lentils. Training and competing has taken Meili to destinations like Italy, Moscow and Tokyo, where she says the fresh sushi was the best food she’d had while traveling. As for comfort food, “any kind of soup,” and favorites include minestrone and tomato bisque. Even pro athletes get too tired to chew sometimes.
And about the claim that swimming makes you hungrier than other sports: “It’s definitely not a myth—swimming takes it out of you! I like to think it’s because we work so hard.”
Katie Meili and KK Clark | Photos: Courtesy of Katie Meili, Innov-E Foundation Inc. via Facebook
Caroline “KK” Clark, Water Polo
Even if she wasn’t an internationally decorated top-10 scorer for UCLA, the California born-and-raised athlete might still be part mermaid. Clark’s uncle was on the 1980 Olympic water polo team, and her aunt, the 1980 swimming team. One way Clark and her two sisters—who also play water polo—got this way is the breakfast bowls their mom would make the family. Not the colorful, meticulously arranged ones of Instagram fame: “They were essentially cut-up pieces of bread, bacon and soft-boiled egg.”
For Clark, every day starts with iced coffee and a breakfast sandwich. “If I skip breakfast, I’m trying to catch up the rest of the day.” Like Meili, Clark is all about the post-practice protein, refueling after practice with a milk, yogurt, fruit, spinach and protein powder smoothie. On days with just one practice, the team gets treated with pancakes or breakfast burritos. But Clark doesn’t lose sight of the importance of snacks. “Every day, I pack myself an additional lunch box,” she says, which is filled with apple slices, a PB&J, yogurt and granola to keep her energy up through the three hours of afternoon practice.
In true California style, Clark relies on the healing power of an In-N-Out run to recover from a particularly grueling day. Her standard order is two cheeseburgers (no onions), fries and a Coke. “I barely ever finish my drive home without having eaten at least one of the burgers,” she confesses, “and by that point, my soul is on the mend.”