Confession: Every 4 years for two weeks, I turn into a couch potato each night from 7-11 p.m. Strong men in tights and swimming trunks aside, I truly enjoy watching the high degree of competition among these elite athletes. And of course it makes me wonder what they must eat to fuel those bulging muscles.

I learned a long time ago when I competed in my first (and last) swim meet that athletic prowess takes more than just desire and hard work. I was a decent swimmer and had the desire to win. What I lacked — I painfully realized when I popped my head out of the water at the end of my race and the other swimmers were already out of the pool — was speed and endurance. 

Like a car or a freight train, the more we push our bodies to go fast, the more fuel they require. Muscle strength, speed, agility and endurance all depend on nutrition. And no one nutrient does the job alone. 

How do these top athletes keep their bodies going strong through competition after competition? I checked out the official nutrition site for the United State Olympic Committee (USOC) and surprise, the balance of nutrients needed by athletes is very similar to what we ordinary people require. Think of your car that requires the same gas, oil and water whether you’re going 40 or 80 miles an hour; athletes just need more frequent fill-ups of high quality fuel. 

And that fuel is important not just before a competition but after every workout. To maintain high performance and endurance, USOC sports dietitians recommend these 4 R’s of Recovery:

—Replenish muscle glycogen, the carbohydrate fuel stored in muscles that is depleted after intense workouts. Restock glycogen stores with carbohydrate foods such as fruit, bagels, granola bars and yes, even chocolate milk.

—Repair and regenerate muscles with high quality protein such as Greek yogurt, eggs, soy foods, meat, fish and poultry.

—Reinforce muscles and the immune system (it’s hard to compete when you’re sick) with colorful and antioxidant-rich foods. Examples are fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish, nuts and olive oil.

—Re-hydrate with fluids and electrolytes. For every pound of sweat lost in exercise, drink 3 cups of fluid, say these experts. Note: Pale straw-colored urine is a sign that you are well hydrated.

Refuel with nutrition during the first 30 to 60 minutes after a training bout or competition and you’ll reap these benefits, say sports nutrition experts:

Increased heart rate and blood pressure after a workout helps enhance the delivery of nutrients to depleted muscles.

Refueling right after a workout triggers hormones to stop muscle breakdown and begin muscle building. 

And remember, slow and steady wins the race…but not at the Olympics.


(Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to


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