It’s no secret that elite athletes need to consume quite a bit more food than the average person. Such high levels of training deplete the body’s energy stores, and if they’re not replenished an athlete’s performance will decline. When the Wall Street Journal spoke to Mark Klion, a doctor of sports medicine and orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, about Michael Phelps’ diet, he told them that without such a large amount of sustenance, the 18-time Olympic champion swimmer’s body just wouldn’t be able to recover from the calorie-crushing workouts he performs.
“The muscles will not recover, there will not be adequate energy stored for him to compete in his next event,” Kilon said.
And for an elite athlete, the next event, or the next training workout, is everything. Their world revolves around competition and success relies heavily on eating to meet their body’s extremely demanding needs.
“In your super-high-calorie-burning sports, like distance running, cycling or the triathlon, elite athletes can burn 15 or 20 calories a minute,” Dr. Michael Joyner told The New York Times. Joyner is a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. and conducts studies of endurance athletes. He noted that at the peak of training, many of these athletes are working out for four or five hours a day.
That’s a lot of calories that need to be accounted for, which is why, as The New York Times pointed out, many athletes end up turning to high-calorie, high-fat foods like pizza, bacon and ice cream—hardly what most would expect a pro- or Olympic-level competitor to chow down on a regular basis. Yet, it seems some, like Phelps, have found a way to make this type of diet work. Still, there are others opting for healthier, leaner food choices, too. From the totally unexpected to the pretty typical healthy eating staples, here’s a look at what some of today’s top athletes are chowing down on while they’re in training.