The Road to Rio: What the Olympians Eat to Win

Some of the world's most-elite athletes share their favorite ways to fuel up before competition.

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Photo By: Alexandre Schneider ©2016 FIVB

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©Melissa Lundie 2014

Simone Biles: Gymnastics

Simone Biles is unstoppable. The most-decorated gymnast in world championship history, this fierce competitor and three-time all-around world champion is an American favorite to be heading home from Rio de Janeiro with gold. To keep her body at peak performance she turns to lean proteins, including chicken, fish, bananas and egg whites. While she is extremely skilled on the mat, she admits she’s not as skilled in the kitchen. “I do not cook, but I am pretty good at breakfast food,” says Biles. “Like pouring cereal into a bowl, and I can also make a great grilled cheese.”


Photo courtesy of Nike

Cammile Adams: Swimming

This 2012 Olympian and 2016 Olympic contender began swimming laps at age 4 with her twin sister, Ashley. The sisters were taken to the pool by their father Eddie, a swim coach, who imparted to Adams his best techniques. Today, her training involves 7,000 meters per day, up to four hours a day, six days a week — no small feat. Before and after practice, she snacks on protein-packed nuts, preferably almonds. Given that she burns through calories for distance swimming, she allows for flexibility in her diet. “I try to stay pretty healthy during the week and splurge a bit on the weekends,” says Adams. In addition to mixing up her salmon and chicken recipes, she likes to bake. “Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies — just the simple recipe off the back of the box — are my favorite things to cook.” 


Photo courtesy of Melissa Lundie Photography

April Ross: Beach Volleyball

Despite being third string on her junior high school volleyball team, this native Californian nabbed a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics in London. To keep in top form, blocking and spiking with her partner Kerry Walsh Jennings, Ross starts the day with toast and protein-packed eggs or oatmeal, followed by a sandwich or wrap. Come dinnertime, it’s all about the vegetables. “I have a big salad and maybe some vegan chili,” says Ross. “When it comes to food, I’m a creature of habit.” Part of that regular repertoire? A daily dose of avocado.


Photo courtesy of FIVB 

Nico Hernandez: Boxing 

This light flyweight boxer and self-proclaimed milk lover was drawn to the ring when he was just 9 years of age. Now, at 20, he’s heading to Rio for his very first Olympic Games. To maintain a weight between 108 and 112 pounds, he offsets his healthy appetite with more time practicing his uppercut and jabs. “A typical eating day for me is something like oatmeal for breakfast, a cheeseburger for lunch, chicken quesadilla for dinner and ice cream or Jell-O for dessert,” says Hernandez. After a winning bout there’s one thing he craves above all: a nice juicy steak.


Photo courtesy of Bob Davis/USA Boxing

Jessica Hardy: Swimming

Swimmer Jessica Hardy, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and three-time world championship gold medalist, had a competitive streak from a young age. To glide through the water with ease, Hardy sticks to foods that are “neutral” on her stomach — lean proteins and vegetables — and eats several small meals throughout the day. “I need to cram food in the right amount at the right times,” explains Hardy. Though she doesn’t have a routine meal of choice, chocolate milk is a staple in her diet. “I have it after every single workout and every single race,” she says. Why chocolate milk? “Within 20 minutes after finishing your exercise, it’s super-important to replace the glycogens that you’ve lost and repair muscle damage,” explains Hardy. “They’ve proven that it’s the best recovery drink, better than any sports drink.”


Photo courtesy of Melissa Lundie Photography

Becky Sauerbrunn: Soccer 

Women’s soccer co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn is up on culinary trends. Case in point: She’s currently creating meals in bowls. “Lately it’s been brown rice, a protein and a vegetable medley all tossed in together,” says Sauerbrunn. “Healthy, easy and tasty.” The defender says the most-important need for this endurance sport is consuming enough calories. ”I always have oatmeal before training or a match,” says Sauerbrunn. “It’s easy on the stomach, offers so many vitamins and minerals, and is slow-burning, so it won’t leave me hungry at half-time.” During the tournament, the women will be eating what their nutritionist deems best, but this foodie hopes to get a chance to hit up a real Brazilian churrascaria. “I bet they do an all-you-can-eat barbecued meat restaurant right!” exclaims Sauerbrunn. 


Photo courtesy of ISI Photos

Shakur Stevenson: Boxing

This Newark, N.J., native and oldest of nine brothers and sisters has boxing in his blood. The bantamweight (up to 123 pounds) was introduced to the sport by his grandfather, a coach at a local gym, and first put up his dukes at the age of 8. To be sure he is ring-ready, Stevenson stays hydrated with plenty of water and sports drinks. He’s also not without his pre-match food rituals. “I like to eat a lot of fruit — especially kiwis — before I fight,” he says. “They give me a little extra energy in the ring.” Outside of the ropes you can find this 19-year-old fighter at IHOP. “I love their chicken fajita omelets,” proclaims Stevenson.


Photo courtesy of Bob Davis/USA Boxing

Phil Dalhausser: Beach Volleyball

After playing competitively for two decades, Team USA’s Phil Dalhausser has been named USA Volleyball Beach Male Athlete of the Year four times. It would be natural to assume that this 2008 gold medalist — his team trounced Brazil for the win — would follow a complicated diet, but Dalhausser has one simple rule he follows. “I try to eat more carbs during competition for the energy,” he explains. That’s understandable, considering the 6-foot-9 athlete needs to fly back and forth across the sand on a court measuring 26 feet, 3 inches by 52 feet, 6 inches. When he’s home, he snacks on blueberries, raspberries and blackberries from his fridge and admits to having a big sweet tooth.


Photo courtesy of FIVB

Natalie Coughlin: Swimming

Swimmer Natalie Coughlin is no stranger to the games. With 12 Olympic medals under her belt, she is the first woman in the history of the Olympiads to win back-to-back gold medals in the 100-meter backstroke. When it comes to cooking, she’s also in command. “I have a huge backyard garden filled with fruits and veggies and hens,” says Coughlin. “I cook what is in season, and I love experimenting in the kitchen.” Growing up, she was always a fan of her mom’s chicken adobo, but in her house it’s all about her Bolognese sauce. “I make a huge batch and freeze extra portions so that I have it on hand when the craving strikes,” she says.


Photo courtesy of Melissa Lundie Photography

Nick Lucena: Beach Volleyball

Rio de Janeiro is synonymous with beach volleyball, which is why winning the top spot would be the sweetest of victories for Nick Lucena. Like his partner, Phil Dalhausser, Lucena doesn’t have a regimented diet; he simply loves to eat. A regular at the grill, the volleyball champ is a fan of his better half’s culinary creations. “My wife [Brooke Niles] is a healthy eater, so she does most of the cooking,” explains Lucena. But when it’s taco night, Lucena takes the reins. His signature recipe blends fresh guacamole, Greek yogurt and taco seasoning to create a cool topping.


Photo courtesy of FIVB

Bethanie Mattek-Sands: Tennis 

Four-time doubles Grand Slam champion Bethanie Mattek-Sands is looking forward to her first appearance at the games. Leading up to Rio, this tennis player will reduce her red-meat intake and supplement her diet with healthy fats. “I’m a stickler for having plenty of good fats,” says Mattek-Sands. “I seem to feel a bit lighter by using other protein and fat sources, such as fish, seafood, lentils, pork and dark poultry during competitions.” Once she’s off the court, she’s ready to give her body a break. “When I finish a tournament I love a good cheat meal, or cheat day, for that matter,” says Mattek-Sands. “More often than not I’ll fall into a food coma!” At the top of her list of cravings: pizza. 


Photo courtesy of USTA/Steven Freeman

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