Healthy Foods

What athletes eat around the world

Though the practice is becoming increasingly common, not all athletes fuel up for games with protein shakes — especially not athletes in places like Kazakhstan or Kenya, where protein powder is hard to come by. 

But they have to eat something in order to perform so well during the Olympics and other challenging events, right? What are their secrets? Here are nine things athletes from around the world eat in order to stay at the top of their games.

Every time the Olympics roll around, there is a lot of buzz around the diets of these seemingly superhuman sportsmen and sportswomen. Michael Phelps’ legendary 12,000-calorie-a-day diet captured many headlines, as did Usain Bolt’s confession that the secret to his speed was Chicken McNuggets. We researched the special requests of various teams during the 2012 London Olympics, as well as the training diets of various athletes when they were in their home countries. Unsurprisingly, there are many little-known power foods from around the world that help athletes perform well.

Chia seeds, a health food favorite, have actually been eaten by Mexico’s indigenous Tarahumara people, known for their ability to run extremely long distances in mountainous terrain, since precolonial times. In the early 2000s, a lot of money was spent on researching the diets of Kenyan runners, because before athletes began posting photos or videos on social media, it was necessary for researchers to actually travel to Africa and survey their eating habits. Many athletes abroad have not fallen prey to the foods that athletes should never eat, although,
with the popularity of fast food chains internationally, that is changing fast.

Tie those shoelaces and let’s take a gander at what athletes around the world eat in order to maximize their performances.

  • 1. Bone Broth - USA

    Bone Broth - USA

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    The secret to the Los Angeles Lakers’ strength and agility is a trifecta of butter, bacon, and bone, according to Grantland. The good fats are an efficient source of energy, and the broth helps fortify the tendons and ligaments due to a nutrient called glycosaminoglycans that you cannot find anywhere else outside of supplements. Brodo in New York serves the stuff from a take-out window.

  • 2. Callaloo - Jamaica

    Callaloo - Jamaica

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    Originating in West Africa, callaloo, a leafy green stew of callaloo leaves (amaranth, or “Chinese spinach”), is consumed in various ways throughout the Caribbean. Unlike many other leafy greens, callaloo actually becomes more nutritious when cooked, as the water turns some of its fiber into starch, providing iron, calcium (four times the amount in broccoli), and antioxidants in addition to energy-boosting carbohydrates. No wonder athletes in Jamaica and Trinidad like it so much. Long Beach, California, residents can get this superfood any time at Callaloo Caribbean Kitchen.

  • 3. Chankonabe - Japan

    Chankonabe - Japan

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    The staple food of sumo wrestlers, chankonabe begins with a base of chicken or dashi broth; after that, the ingredients are a general protein free-for-all. Chicken? Sure. Tofu? Why not? Vegetables like daikon or bok choy are usually added as well. During sumo tournaments, chankonabe is served exclusively with chicken — not for any nutritional reason, but because chickens, like wrestlers, are always on two feet. While a moderate portion would be healthy, sumo wrestlers eat chankonabe in massive amounts. Try it at Kawasaki Chanko, a famous restaurant in Tokyo opened by a retired sumo wrestler in 1937.

  • 4. Chia Fresca - Mexico

    Chia Fresca - Mexico

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    Chia seeds are known to have excellent nutritional benefits, which is why you’ll almost always find them in health food stores. They have been in the diet of Mexico’s Tarahumara tribe, known for their ability to run ultra-long distances (50 to 100 miles at a time) with apparent ease, for centuries. The easiest and most delicious way to consume them is in chia fresca, or iskiate, which consists of chia seeds, water, and lemon or lime. Chia makes water gel, so there is a refreshing, snack-like quality to it, especially if you add sugar or agave. The Aztecs also used chia medicinally, to stimulate saliva flow and to relieve joint pain and sore skin.

  • 5. Congee - Malaysia

    Congee - Malaysia

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    Malaysian badminton star Lee Chong Wei suffered an ankle injury a few months before the Olympics, but was determined to play. How did he recover? Porridge. His diet consisted largely of congee, a low-calorie rice porridge that can be eaten with fruits or savory items like chicken, as in the Indonesian dish bubur ayam. However, it’s best to cut the sodium and eat it on its own for a quick energy boost. Try congee’s many variations at Congee Village in New York.  

    More foods global athletes eat.

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