Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Listeriosis outbreak in Canada

As of yesterday, there were 29 confirmed cases of listeriosis in Canada, including 15 deaths, all linked to tainted meat from Maple Leaf Foods.

On August 19th, Maple Leaf Foods, one of Canada’s largest food processors, announced the recall of more than 23 meat products after finding the food-borne bacterium Listeria Monocytogenes on their products in their facility in North York, Ontario.

The listeria bacteria has been found to be the contributing factor in the deaths of 6 of the 15 cases and the other 9 are still being investigated.

Listeria is the bacteria responsible for listeriosis, a rare but fatal food-borne infection. The bacteria is found in soil, sewage, water and the feces of animals and humans. It can also be found in unpasteurized dairy products, raw meats and processed foods like deli meats and hot dogs. Eating foods contaminated with listeria can result in brain and blood infections as well as death.

More recently, the company upgraded its recall of 23 Maple Leaf Products to all 220 of its packaged meat products from their North York processing plant (all stamped with 97B before the best before date), representing a loss of $20 million, so far, for the company.

The Maple Leaf sliced meats that were recalled were being served by McDonald’s and Mr. Sub restaurants, as well as supplied to grocery stores under the Schneiders and Sure Slice brands. Many commercial kitchens, including hospitals, nursing homes and camps for kids, used these products as well.
Other companies that use Maple Leaf meat products have voluntarily recalled their products, including Fresh 2 Go sandwiches from A&P and Dominion, Shopsey’s Reuben sandwiches and Mac’s and Safeway sandwiches.

Most of the listeriosis cases have been in Ontario and Quebec, although people in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan have also been affected.

It can take up to 70 days after having consumed the contaminated product for symptoms to appear, therefore the number of cases is expected to rise. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, persistent fever, severe headache, stiff neck, loss of balance and convulsions. Individuals that are most vulnerable include infants, pregnant women, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Maple Leaf President Michael McCain had this to say:
"Tragically, our products have been linked to illness and loss of life. To those people who are ill, and to the families who have lost loved ones, I offer my deepest and sincerest sympathies."


Nationwide outbreak spurs massive meat recall.

2008 Canadian Listeriosis Outbreak.

Sources of Canadian listeria outbreak confirmed.

Class action lawsuit launched over listeria outbreak.

Listeria FAQ.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

“Some jokes are short and elegant, like a mathematical proof or a midget in a ballgown.”

Thanks to my sister Vanessa for making me aware of the comedian Demetri Martin.
Man oh man is this guy funny.
He has great food-related jokes too.
At ~2 minutes into this video are 2 classics. Below are a few more.

“I like fruit baskets because it gives you the ability to mail someone a piece of fruit without appearing insane. Like, if someone just mailed you an apple you’d be like ‘Huh? What the hell is this?’, but if it’s in a fruit basket you’re like ‘This is nice!.’”

“I feel stupid when I write the word banana. Its like, how many nas are on this thing? ‘Cause I’m like ‘Bana … keep going. Bananana … damn.' "

"I was making pancakes the other day and a fly flew into the kitchen. And that's when I realized that a spatula is a lot like a fly-swatter. And a crushed fly is a lot like a blueberry. And a roommate is a lot like a fly eater."

"My favorite fruit is grapes. Because with grapes, you always get another chance. 'Cause, you know, if you have a crappy apple or a peach, you're stuck with that crappy piece of fruit. But if you have a crappy grape, no problem - just move on to the next. 'Grapes: The Fruit of Hope.'"

"If you can't tell the difference between a spoon and a ladle, then you're fat."

" 'Cotton balls' is an example of something I would buy, but not want to have as a nickname. 'Cinnamon buns', on the other hand, is something I would buy and want to have as a nickname. 'Are you Cinnamon Buns?' 'You bet your sweet ass I am.' "


Monday, 25 August 2008

Soy, Sperm and other Stuff

While I
was away on holidays in July, a study was published that made the news headlines. The study, conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (funded by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases), found an inverse relationship between consumption of soy foods and sperm concentration.

That is, the men that ate the most soy products had a lower sperm concentration.

First, some background.

A Surplus of Soy

Soybeans were once grown almost exclusively for animal feed but Americans started eating it in ~1915 and have been consuming more and more of it, in higher and higher quantities, ever since.

Corn and soybean crops are subsidized by the government but up until the 1970s, policies and programs were put in place to prevent overproduction on the farms, to help farmers get fair prices for their crops. However, in the 1970s, Nixon's administration successfully dismantled these programs in their efforts to drive down costs of these crops, resulting in an overproduction of corn and soybeans. The more corn and soybeans the farmers produced the more money they could make… but this backfired on them since production was so high that it drove the cost down. As a result, farmers were getting paid less than it cost them to grow their crops! This, of course, led to unhappy farmers as well as a surplus of soybeans (and corn) available for human consumption (after exporting some, turning some into animal feed and converting some into oil used in margarines, cooking and salad oils).

Enter USDA-sponsored 'research and education' programs- basically government money to market soybeans to human consumers. Someone had to eat this surplus…

Asians eat soy: A marketing strategy

The reductive logic below has been used many times to explain the benefits of soy:

Asians have fewer heart attacks and less breast and prostate cancer than Americans and Asian women report fewer hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause.

Asians eat soybeans.

Soybeans must be responsible for all these health benefits.

Of course, this ignores the fact that over 1 billion people are considered 'Asian' and they don't all have the same lifestyles of diets. In fact, soy isn't even a staple in all Asian people's diets. Asians also have other things in common (apart from eating soybeans) that may contribute to their overall better health: genetics, weight- Asians generally have lower BMIs than Americans and less sedentary lifestyles, to name a few.

Soy & Cholesterol

One soy research found that eating 50 grams of soy protein versus animal protein a day reduced total cholesterol levels by 9.3%, the lousy LDL-cholesterol by 12.9% and triglycerides by 10.5%. If sustained over time, you could potentially reduce your risk of having a heart attack by 20%.

However, remember that soy is just one food and it's very hard to figure out the effect of one food from everything else you eat and do. If you eat soy because you think it's healthy, maybe you're also following other healthy habits.

Without adopting a healthier lifestyle (less saturated fat, more physical activity, quit smoking), soy will do nothing. Moreover, other studies have shown no link between soy protein and cholesterol levels.

Nonetheless, The FDA was under a lot of pressure from the government and food companies and relied heavily on that one study mentioned above to come out with their health claim that:
"Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease".
Foods that contain 6.25 grams of soy per serving can carry this claim on their label (in the States, not in Cana

Isoflavones, aka Phytoestrogens

Complicating issues a bit more is that independent research suggests that it's the combination of isoflavones and the soy protein, not just the soy protein, that is responsible for the health benefits. The isoflavones in soy are phytoestrogens, weak estrogen-like substances made by plants.

25 grams of soy protein contains about 45mg isoflavones.

A Japanese person who eats a traditional soy-based diet consumes an average of 25-50mg soy isoflavones a day.

According to a Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences publication, the safe range of intake is 35–55mg isoflavones a day and it should not exceed 100 milligrams per day.

Average isoflavone content of various soy foods
per 100 grams (3.3 ounces) serving (unless indicated)

Boiled soybeans- 54 mg
Tempeh- 53mg
Tofu- 28 mg
Soy hot dogs- 15 mg
Soy milk- 10 mg
Soy mozzarella- 8 mg
Soy sausage- 4 mg
Soy nuts- 9 mg or 79 mg per 28 ounces
Gardenburger Lifeburger- 50 mg in 6 ounces
Soy Sensations Nutrition Bar- 60 mg in 2 ounces
Soy flour- 0.1–0.4 mg/g or 20 mg per half cup (50 grams)
Soy protein concentrate- 0.01– 0.2 mg/g
Soy oil- none
Soy sauce- none

Phytoestrogens and Breast Cancer

Again, using the same reductive logic as above, Japanese women have lower breast cancer rates and Japanese women eat more soy.
Therefore eating soy can help reduce breast cancer rates. Right?

Well, this makes sense because phytoestrogens act like estrogen but don't have the same effect. So these phytoestrogens can bind to our estrogen receptors, thus blocking the real estrogen, high levels of which have been known to increase breast cancer risk.

However, the reductive logic above is wrong; mainly because, as I mentioned previously, soy is actually not a staple in many Asian countries. The lower breast cancer rates are most probably due to other factors such as genetics, physical activity, weight, other dietary factors, childbirth patterns etc.

The research on soy and breast cancer is contradictory. A large study in China found that women with breast cancer ate the same amount of soy as those without cancer. Another Japanese study found the same thing in a 10-year follow-up study. However, another large Japanese study found that those that ate more soy had a lower risk of breast cancer.

There is also the possibility that soy can actually cause more harm: Although the estrogen-blocking activity of phytoestrogens may possibly be beneficial to younger women, in later years when estrogen levels are lower, these same phytoestrogens may actually mimic real estrogen and cause breast cancer cells to grow. The most abundant isoflavone in soy is called genistein and it has been found to possibly stimulate growth of estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer cells. This isoflavone can also interfere with the cancer-killing drug tamoxifen.

Hot Flashes

Again, the results are contradictory. Some studies showed that women who ate more soy had fewer hot flashes whereas others showed no differences.

Hot flashes are more likely to occur when you're stressed and less likely to occur if you exercise… perhaps the women who ate more soy were also more active and less stressed?

Soy and sperm

Now for the most recently published study:

99 men that presented at an infertility clinic for evaluation (these were the male partners in a subfertile couple) provided a semen sample and completed a food frequency questionnaire that assessed the frequency and quantity of soy foods they ate. These men were categorized into 4 groups: men who never ate soy products, ate soy products <2 times a month, 2 times/month to 2 times a week and ≥2 times a week.

After correcting for factors possibly affecting sperm concentration- smoking, caffeine intake, alcohol intake, BMI and age- it was found that men who ate the most soy had 41 million sperm/ml less than those that ate no soy. No association was found with soy food intake and sperm count, sperm movement or shape or ejaculation volume.
It's important to note that a reduced sperm concentration does not result necessarily in infertility.

Included in this group were men with potential infertility problems (10% had a sperm concentration below 20 million/mL; normal concentration is 80-120 million/mL) but the inverse association between soy and sperm concentration was greater in the men with higher sperm concentration. The association was also higher in the men that were overweight and obese (BMIs greater than 25) and 72% of the men in this study were in fact overweight or obese.

According to Jorge Chavarro, lead researcher of this study, the hypothesis is that because isoflavone found in soy products are phytoestrogens (weak estrogen-like substances) they may be harmful to male fertility. We know that the more overweight a man is, the higher his estrogen level is. As a result, it's possible that additional estrogen-like compounds in the diet can become an issue for these overweight and obese men.

The European Natural Soyfoods Manufacturers Association have disputed this study's findings stating the familiar: "Generations of Asians have regularly consumed soya without fertility disorders, and Asian countries have prodigiously produced very healthy, highly functioning children for centuries".

As we now know, soy isn't a staple in all Asian people's diets and other lifestyle factors may better explain the differences between the ethnic groups, ie. perhaps the fact that overweight and obesity rates are much lower in the Asian compared to the American population has something to do with it. 90% of the subjects in Chavarro's study were Caucasian.

Another small human study has looked at the association between soy and sperm count and found no change in semen quality with soy intake whereas another actually found a positive effect on sperm count with isoflavone intake.

Evidently, more research needs to be done. Chavarro himself says that it's too soon to draw conclusions about whether soy consumption affects male fertility but experts caution that if your sperm count is low, and especially if you're overweight, it may be a good idea to limit your soy intake.

Bottom Line:

Even healthy things should be eaten in moderation.

If you're a woman with breast cancer, taking tamoxifen or who has had ER+ breast cancer, stay away from soy.

If you're a man with fertility issues, especially if you're overweight, limit your soy intake.

Stay away from soy pills and powders since they may contain very high levels of isoflavones and the effects of taking these are unknown.

Soy foods are a great substitute for animal protein and dairy foods and a great source of protein, but vary your protein. If most of your protein comes from plants, make sure you get a good variety of beans and legumes, nuts and seeds as well as whole grains and vegetables.

Soybeans and the less processed foods made from them are good to have in moderation. Some sources say 2-3 servings of soy foods a day is fine whereas others suggest 2-4 servings a week. Use your judgment.

A product that contains soy is not necessarily healthy, You can now find a huge variety of processed soy foods- anything from dairy substitutes, cereals, power bars, drinks, snack foods- that can probably be categorized as junk food.


Chavarro JE, Toth TL, Sadio SM, Hauser R. Soy foods and isoflavone intake in relation to semen quality parameters among men from an infertility clinic. Oxford University Press: Human Reproduction. July 23 2008.

Reinberg, S. Soy linked to low sperm count. July 24 2008.

On Soya, Sperm and Men. July 24 2008.

Agrell, S. Tofu a day, sperm goes away: study.

US soy producers dispute low sperm count study. Jul 30 2008.

Willett, WC. Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. NY: Free Press. 2001.

Nestle, Marion. What To Eat. NY: North Point Press, 2006.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Penguin Books. 2006.

Brown, J Lynne, PhD, RD. Functional Ingredients: Soy Protein and Soy Isoflavones. Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.

Liebman, Bonnie. The Soy Story. Center for Science in the Public Interest: Nutrition Action Healthletter. Sept 1998.

Henkel, J. Soy: Health Claims for Soy Protein, Questions About Other Components. USDA Consumer Magazine. May-June 2000.

Schardt, David. Phytoestrogens for Menopause. Center for Science in the Public Interest: Nutrition Action Healthletter. Jan/Feb 2000.

What is Tempeh?

Monday, 18 August 2008

The ironman

I just watched the Olympic distance triathlon- so exciting! Amazing finish for Simon Whitfield!

The ironman, aka full distance triathlon :

3.8km (2.4 mile) swim, 180km (112 mile) bike and 42km (26.2 mile) run!

The ironman training:

Miles swum every week by top ironman pros: 18 (29km)
Miles biked per week: 350 (560km)
Miles run per week: 60 (96km)
Calories burned weekly: 30
Extra meals per week an ironman eats: 42
Pounds an ironman would l
ose per month without these extra meals: 34


What it takes: A documentary about four world-class triathletes' quest for greatness. WIT Group LLC, 2006.

Friday, 15 August 2008

A vegan elite athlete- is it possible?

I think Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU,
said it best in response to a report that Tony Gonzalez, the 247-pound Kansas City Chiefs’ football player, had switched to a vegan diet:

“Why anyone is surprised that people can do well on vegetarian and vegan diets is beyond me. Plant foods have plenty of protein and calories if you eat enough of them... I just don’t see this as any big deal”.

There are many examples of successful elite vegan athletes. Here are just a few:

Brendan Brazier is a 2-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion and professional ironman and has been vegan for over 6 years. Brazier has authored the book The Thrive Diet and also markets a popular vegan athletic supplement called Vega.

Carl Lewis, 10-time Olympic track and field medal winner, was vegan during his best years.

Christine Vardaros, American world class cyclo-cross and road cyclist.

Dave Scott, 6-time ironman winner was vegan during these wins (he reintroduced fish and poultry back into his diet in the early 90s). According to Scott, it’s a “ridiculous fallacy” to think that athletes need animal protein.

Dave Shishkoff, Canadian competitive cyclist needs at least 3000 calories per day.

Kara Lang plays forward for the Canadian soccer team and, at only 21, is already Canada’s 4th-leading all-time international women’s goal scorer. She has been vegan for 5 years.

Kenneth G. Williams, professional bodybuilder, placed 3rd at the 2004 Natural Olympia.

Mac Danzig is a professional mixed martial arts fighter, winner of The Ultimate Fighter 6, and long-time vegan.

Martina Navalitova, Czech tennis superstar and former World No.1 Woman’s Player.

Murray Rose , aka the Seaweed Streak, is a retired swimmer and 6-time Olympic medalist (4 golds!).

Salim Stoudamire, basketball player and shooting guard for the Atlanta Hawks.

Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek is 7-time winner of the Western States 100-mile Endurance run and was selected as UltraRunning Magazine’s North American Male Ultrarunner of the Year in 2003-2005 and 2007. Jurek evidently burns a lot of calories and makes sure he eats 6000-8000 calories a day.

Let’s see what a 4000 calorie vegan diet looks like:


1 cup cereal with 1 cup fortified soymilk
3 slices whole grain bread with 3T sesame Tahini and jam
1.5 cups orange juice

Snack 1:

Basic Shake: 1 banana + ½ cup berries + 1 cup fortified soymilk


2 vegan burgers: 2 buns, 2 veggie patties, lettuce and tomato slices
2 fruits

Snack 2:

1 vegan power bar


2 cups noodles or brown rice with 4 cups veggies (including leafy greens like spinach or kale) and ¼ cup cashews and ¼ cup calcium-set tofu stir-fried.

Snack 3

1 cup granola cereal with dried raisins and walnuts and 1 cup fortified soymilk or soy yogourt.


“Can a big guy play football”

“The 247 lbs vegan”.

“Vegan athletes flex their muscles”

“Carl Lewis: Olympic medals through the vegan diet”.

“Dave Scott (triathelete)”.

“Vegetarian diet for athletes”

“Who says you have to eat meat to be a successful athlete?”

“Canada’s Olympic Women Eat to Compete”.

“Kara Lang”

“Famous Vegetarians”

“Elite Isalnd athletes who are vegetarians”

Davis B, Vesanto M. Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet. Tenn: Book Publishing Company, 2000.

“Vegan Food Guide picture”

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Official food testers (for poison) for the Beijing Olympics

What a job!
Who would want such a job? How much are they paid?

Would you believe that white mice have been hired to test the food for the athletes... and they’re doing it for free! Actually, I guess they’re doing it for food and board...

According to Zhao Xinsheng of the Beijing municipal health inspection bureau, milk, alcohol, salad, rice, oil and seasonings are being fed to white mice 24 hours before being served to the athletes. This method is quicker than other methods to test the food- the mice would react to poison within 17 hours.

A thankless job for the brave little mice...


“White mice to test food for Beijing Olympics”.

“Olympic mice will test if food is squeaky clean”.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

What does Michael Phelps eat?

A lot!

Like I previously posted (Aug 9), Phelps, aged 23 and the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, was told he has to eat between 8000- 10 000 calories a day... something he says is "impossible"!
He does try, however, and eats "pretty much whatever I want and as much as I want".

Here's an example of a breakfast for Phelps:

"...Three sandwiches of fried eggs, cheese, lettuce, tomato, fried onions and mayonnaise, add one omelet, a bowl of grits, and three slices of french toast with powdered sugar, then wash down with three chocolate chip pancakes."

He also said: "I'm eating a lot of pasta and pizza. I'm eating a lot of carbs... "

"Michael Phelps eats entire menu for breakfast".

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Part 2: What do Olympians eat?

I didn’t really answer my own question yesterday- how do these Olympians get the bodies they have... and what do they eat?

Pretty simply, these elite athletes train hard to look the way they do.

That picture of 41 year old swimmer Dara Torres that appeared in the NY Time had some critics speculating that she’s taking performance-enhancing drugs- something she vehemently denies, of course. She’s gone so far as to request that her blood and urine be tested regularly for illegal substances. But how do you explain the fact that she not only is leaner than when she was younger (at 6’0” she weighs 149 lbs, 12 lbs lighter than she was in Sydney in 2000) but more chiseled and faster too, despite the fact that she’s in the pool only 5 times a week totalling 25 000m compared to 10-12 times- totalling 65 000m- when she was in her 20s? Check out how her times have improved with age:

So what is she doing? And what is she eating?

Firstly, she has a head coach, a sprint coach, a strength coach (who happens to also be the Florida Panthers coach and has Sidney Crosby as a client), 2 stretchers, 2 masseuses, a chiropractor and a nanny- a cost of 100 000$ a year.

Torres works with her strength coach 4 days a week, 60-90 minutes each time. Her strength coach has veered Torres away from static heavy weight training and more towards dynamic exercises. According to her c
oach, weight training- low-rep/high-weight- is not good for sprinters since a lot of energy is wasted trying to move a body of big muscles that have been trained to work in isolation. Instead, she does core work, uses swiss balls, medicine balls, resistance cables and bands. Despite the fact that she doesn’t use dumbbells, she gets a great workout- her legs quiver and her arms are aching at the end.

In the year and a half that she started this new weight training regimen, her muscles have become longer and leaner and she’s become faster in the water.

She then swims- 5 times a week for about 2 hours each time.

However, Torres calls her resistance stretching her secret weapon. She has 2 stretchers come to her house about 5 days a week to basically pull and stretch her body vigorously for 2 hours in order to flush out the toxins and lactic acid and help in recovery and flexibility. According to a journalist, the stetching sequence looks like a cross between a yoga class, a massage and a Cirque du Soleil performance!

Torres also gets massages 3 times a week.

Clearly time and money are also important factors that help you get a 6-pack like Torres!

But what does she eat? That was a bit harder to find out. Because of her past experience with bulimia, she says she doesn’t count calories and she indulges in her cravings... whatever that means. She takes a German-made amino-acid supplement for muscle recovery and strength. That’s pretty much all I could find. Oh, and her favourite power breakfast is a berry-flavored Living Fuel shake with some milk and real fruit.

Just as actors are coached by their publicists to downplay the time it takes to make them look flawless for an event, I found that most athletes seem to downplay their nutrition and workout regimen- maybe to keep their training secrets to themselves?

For example, Erik Vendt, also an American swimmer, the first American to break 15 minutes in the mile and 2-time Olympic silver medalist, credits his return from retirement, at age 27, to an organic diet. So now, if I eat all organic, will I too be a top 5 ranked swimmer in the world? I don’t think so.

Marion Jones, Track and Field phenom at the 2000 Sydney games, credited her amazing performance to nutritional supplements that included flaxseed oil and iron. I guess we learned they contained a bit more than that...

I also found that many athletes don’t eat that much (I discussed this yesterday)... but maybe some are just unaware or downplaying what they eat?

English heptathlete Kelly Sotherton eats 2 toasts with butter and marmite and a cup of tea for breakfast... and nothing else until lunch 4.5 hours later! Kevin Tan, American gymnast, eats eggs and toast for breakfast, a light lunch and a healthy dinner- usually chicken. That’s it- despite the fact that he trains 2-4 hours a day 6 days a week! American weight lifter Tara Nott Cunningham- the first American woman to win an Olympic gold in her sport (in 2000) and US record holder in snatch, clean and jerk and total weight lifted- will have 2 hard-boiled eggs, grapefruit, cottage cheese and decaf coffee. A typical supper for mountain biker Susan Haywood would be grilled salmon with roasted peppers and organic low fat yogourt for dessert. Doesn’t seem much to me...

I did find examples of athletes who seem to place a large importance on nutrition and seem to eat to compete:

Apolo Anton Ohno, reigning American short track speedskating champ since 2001claims to constantly be working to improve his nutrition knowledge and attributes his newfound ab definition to his food intake. He doesn’t count calories but states to be in tune with his nutrition and can feel when he needs to add more grams of fat, protein or carbs.

Canadian triathlete and 2008 Olympic hopeful Lauren Groves claims to be very aware of the foods she eats... and she does eat... very healthily it seems. She usually has three breakfasts- because she finds breakfast food easier to digest. She starts her morning, pre-swim- with a couple of pieces of sprouted-grain bread with some almond butter and a cup of coffee. Post-swim she’ll have some scrambled eggs and fruit- and maybe some more toast. After her second workout, midafternoon, she’ll have a bowl of goat’s milk yogurt with some fruit added, or a turkey sandwich. For supper she’ll have a really big salad and some kind of grilled chicken or fish.

You’d think that given the large amount of calories they spend, these athletes would indulge a bit. However, these are elite athletes and their bodies are their livelihoods. US rower Jennifer Devine has said that just because she needs 3500 to 4000 calories a day doesn’t mean she can eat whatever she likes. She stays away from processed, pre-packaged foods because they are high in salt and fat. Wrestler Patricia Miranda, first American woman in Olympic history to receive a medal in woman's wrestling (in Athens), stated that although she doesn’t count calories, she doesn’t want to waste them on "foods that don’t provide positive fuel".

However, there are always exceptions:

Michael Phelps, American swimmer, 7-time Olympic gold medalist (most recent win just a few hours ago!) and current world record holder in a few events, reportedly eats 8,000 to 10,000 calories per day when training and says "I just eat pretty much whatever I want and as much as I want, because I burn so much."

He says he swims 6-7 days a week, 2-5 hours a day, about 50 miles a week, and- this is the downplaying part- he once said, "I've never lifted a single weight in my life". However, he does admit that since the Athens games he’s added a strength training regimen, three times a week, to put on 14 pounds of muscle.

1500 and 5000m runner Bernard Lagat loves steak and has steak before race day. He is aware that most people avoid steak before a competition for fear of it digesting slowly and slowing them down. However, before his win at the 2007 World Championships, he had gone to Outback and ordered the biggest steak he could! "You have to do what works for your body" he says.

Professional distance runner, 2 mile record holder (8:07:07) and fourth fastest American 5000m runner of all time, Matt Tegenkamp, has ice cream and peanut butter 3-4 times a week... and doesn’t use a bowl!

American middle-distance runner Nick Symmonds has a burger every Tuesday and pizza on the weekend- and will even have 3-4 beers on Saturday!

American swimmer and 2-time Olympic gold medalist Lindsay Benko admits to having eaten McDonald’s for lunch the day she set the world record in the 1200m freestyle...although she doesn’t recommend that. She actually tries to keep her protein intake high and carb intake low... which is actually contrary to what the science shows us- that carbs should be an athlete’s predominant fuel.

American gymnast Stephen McCain is another proponent of the low carb diet claiming that since gymnastics is an anaerobic sport, his body needs more protein. 60-70% of his diet actually comes from protein: egg whites for breakfast, chicken for lunch, small snacks of cheese and vegetables and maybe fish and fruit for dinner.

“I’m years old, so I’m going to do what I’m going to do,” he says. “But I think I’ve finally got a real good grip on what’s right”.

However, he said this during a 2004 interview... maybe he's since changed his tune and reverted back to a higher carb diet?

Someone who is known to have been obessed with his diet is Lance Armstrong, 7-time Tour de France winner. He used to weigh his food and calculate, calorie for calorie, how much food he needed during his training and competition.

According to Armstrong’s coach, Chris Carmichael, athletes need to eat in correspondence to the period they are in in their training- periodization is a training technique where your training is broken down into periods, each with a different goal. The nutrients you need varies between periods- and, according to Carmichael, it’s not as simple as adding a granola bar or 2 when the training gets tougher- the ratio of carbohydrates, protein and fat changes as well.

For example,leading up to the Tour de France, Armstrong used to up his caloric intake from 3000 to 6000 or more calories- the average rider burns between 7000-10 000 calories per day of the 21-dayTour that covers about 2200 miles- and his carbohydrate intake increased frm 60% to 70% of his total calories.


"A swimmer of a certain age"

"Torres is getting older, but swimming faster"

"What's driving Dara Torres",8599,1825304,00.html

"41 and ripped: I want abs like hers"

"Weight no problem for Cunningham"

"How Olympians Eat"

"Eat to win"

"Eat like a champion",7120,s6-242-301--6686-1-1-2,00.html

"Slideshow: What it takes to get an Olympic body"

"Canada's Olympic women eat to compete"

"What does Lance eat for breakfast"

"How many cheeseburgers does Lance Armstrong need to eat?"

"The inside edge: 41 Olympians share 84 insights into training, eating & competing"

"What do Olympic gymnasts eat anyway?",,695143_8,00.html&h=400&w=300&sz=41&hl=en&start=3&um=1&tbnid=qlzVOcjl13lh-M:&tbnh=124&tbnw=93&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dmichael%2Bphelps%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26sa%3DN

Friday, 8 August 2008

Part 1: What do Olympians Eat?

It’s Olympic time again- I’m very excited!

Seeing all these amazingly fit athletes always makes me envious of their amazing bodies and makes me ask.... what do they eat do be able to compete at such a high levels and yet stay so lean and cut?!

However, although I did find some information on what athletes actually eat (stay tuned for Part-2 tomorrow!), I mostly found stories of disordered eating and elite athletes starving themselves to 'lean-out' in order to perform better!

According to Carl Lewis, American track star, 10 time Olympic medalist (9 of them gold!) and who was actually vegan when he was at his prime: "most athletes have the worst diets in the world and compete in spite of that".

Even Carl Lewis admits to having starved himself to stay lean...until researching the matter and learning how to eat to stay lean and healthy while still having the energy to perform.

This is a bit surprising- you would think that elite athletes would be doing everything they can to improve rather than hinder their performance.

Athletes are driven, extremely focused people- even obsessive-compulsive, so it shouldn't be such a shock that they are susceptible to suffering from eating disorders. In fact, disordered eating has been reported by 1/3 of American female college athletes.

Kimiko Hirai Soldati, a 2004 American Olympic diver has admitted to having struggled with bulimia for 1.5 years before seeking out help. She claims that it would be hard to find a female athlete in a "thin-build" sport (one that requires a lean body weight such as gymnastics, diving, cheerleading, figure skating, synchronized swimming, dancing, wrestling, lightweight rowing) who isn't preoccupied with their weight.

World famous gymnasts Kerri Strug and Nadia Comaneci have admitted to having struggled with eating disorders as has 1972 Olympic gold medal winning gymnast Cathy Rigby, who's 12 year struggle with eating disorders caused her to go into cardiac arrest twice. Chrsity Henrich, a former world-class gymnast suffered from anorexia and actually died in 1994 at the age of 22 from multi-organ failure.

However, it's not just the athletes of aesthetic sports that are at risk. Allie Outram, a British runner that competed internationally for 12 years, recently published her memoir "Running on Empty" where she describes her long struggle with anorexia and then bulimia. Her weight went down to 64 lbs and she was eventually hospitalized. She claims with confidence that at one World Cross Country Championship, 4 of the 6 girls from the Great Britain junior women's team had some form of an eating disorder. This corroborates the results of a 2007 study published in the journal of Psychology of Sport and Exercise that found that one in five of Britain’s leading female distance runners had an eating disorder or had suffered from one in the the past, compared with just 1% of the general population.

The Frost twins, now 24 years of age, were considered among Britain's best prospects for track medals at the 2012 Olympics but last year revealed how they survived on just a few pieces of fruit a day because of anorexia.
Liz McColgan, British long distance athlete, has said that during her training for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where she finished second, her weight fell to 98lbs, which probably cost her the gold medal. “I was so weak and undernourished that I didn't have the energy to sprint for the line,” she said.

The director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center recounts an urgent request from the woman's cross-country running coach to speak to his athletes after learning that the girls were competing at the dinner table to see who could eat the least. Some of these girls were running over 100 km a week and only eating a carrot a day!

In 2001, German rower and 1988 Seoul Olympic eight time gold medalist, Bahne Rabe, died at age 37 as a result of an eating disorder. In 2003, Helen Lee, British cross-country champion died at the age of 18 from pneumonia and organ failure thought to be a direct result of her long-term battle with anorexia. 41 year old American swimmer and 2008 Olympic hopeful Dara Torres, pictured above with the amazing 6-pack, has admitted to having suffered from bulimia in the past.

Even Canadian elite ironman Peter Reid, 10 time ironman champion, admits to having "somewhat of an eating disorder". His normal weight is 172-175lbs but his race weight is 10 lbs below that. To get to that weight, he keeps his fridge and cupboards empty so he won't cheat. He shops for each meal and often goes to bed with a headache because he's so hungry. He claims this obsession with weight is very common among runners, cyclists and triathletes and that it is necessary to compete at a high level.

According to Dr. Angie Hulley, a sports psychologist and former international marathoner, a relatively low body weight can be helpful for elite athletes. Being overweight can limit performance in many sports because the body is forced to supply oxygen to fuel surplus fatty tissue. When you're leaner, the oxygen goes directly to the working muscles instead, enabling faster and more efficient movement. However, the danger is that many athletes get caught up in the mindset that they need to be even thinner to be a winner. Dr. Hulley states that there is a thin line between an optimum racing weight and one that is too low, and it is easy to overstep the mark.

But how do athletes keep training when their energy reserves are so depleted?

According to Hulley, “The body has a tremendous ability to cope with calorie deprivation for a while,” Dr Hulley says. “Eventually, though, it becomes too weak to sustain the activity, becomes prone to viruses and stress fractures and has to draw on all its reserves just to stay alive.”

What it Takes: A documentary about four world-class triathletes' quest for greatness. WIT Group, LLC. 2006