Olympians daily food choices as important as their rigorous training

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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The world's best athletes are thrilling spectators and television viewers alike as they perform amazing manoeuvres on alpine slopes and various ice surfaces as they go for the gold at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
You may marvel at their preparations and intense focus, but have you ever wondered what they ate for breakfast?
The food athletes put on their plates is just as important as their rigorous training regime, says John Berardi, who has worked in the exercise and nutrition arena for over 10 years.
He has been a nutritional consultant to such Canadian Olympians as the alpine ski team, cross-country ski team, bobsledders and speed-skating team.
"Quite frankly, I give simple advice such as eating your fruits and vegetables, but it's thinking about it in a new way," says Berardi, a graduate of the University of Western Ontario with a specialization in the area of exercise biology and nutrient biochemistry.
That new way deals with the science showing that the diet followed by a healthy person is usually alkaline, which means they have a high pH. A diet low in alkalinity but highly acidic is linked to poor health.
"The most fundamental foods on Earth are really fruits and vegetables and represent the most basic in the high-alkaline category," Berardi of St. Catharines, Ont., says.
However, some fruits and vegetables are acidic. These include blueberries, potatoes (without their skins), rhubarb and legumes such as pinto and lima beans.
"So if we consume an acidic protein or grain we have to balance that out with a little bit of basics, which of course is alkaline," Berardi says.
"We talk about this with athletes who typically are eating a high-protein diet with a lot of carbohydrates. Both proteins and grains are very acid-producing, so you are in a situation where the food these athletes have been taught to eat on a habitual basis, whether it's protein for muscles or grains for energy, are producing acids in their bodies.
"So what we try to do is figure out a dietary mechanism where we can get a ratio of at least one acid to one alkaline."
He says that in general, "We want the athletes to eat somewhere between five and seven times a day. It might be a typical breakfast, lunch and dinner with three snacks added."
Berardi says athletes need protein and the amino acids that come in protein, so he recommends that women consume one portion of chicken or lean meat and men two. As a guideline, a portion should be about the same size as the palm of one's hand.
"Or it could be a vegetarian or vegan source as well. You don't have to eat meat protein at every meal. We can use soy-based proteins and complementary proteins like rice and bean meals.
"Each of these has an incomplete amino acid profile, but when put together all the missing amino acids are built and you get a complete protein."
Berardi says that it can be difficult for athletes to always get the proper nutrition since they are on the road a lot travelling to various competitions.
"They compete dozens of times leading up to the Olympics and these competitions are all over the world," he says. "They are staying in hotels where food selections are not optimal and they don't always have a huge budget for meals.
"This is where supplements have been very beneficial," Berardi points out. "These include multi-vitamins and protein or fish oil supplements."
And for those who want to know what their favourite team members may have eaten for breakfast, here is his response.
"We create a rotational menu," he says. "We have different offerings for different athletes."
Breakfast could feature eggs or omelettes, lean meats, turkey bacon, chicken sausages, fresh fruit, whole-grain granola and oatmeal, yogurt and tofu.

Organizations: University of Western Ontario

Geographic location: Vancouver

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