How to Eat Like an Olympian

4 minute read

So you’ve been watching the Rio Olympics and marveling at the seemingly superhuman feats in the pool, on the beach and in the gym. And while the vast majority of us can’t swim like Katie Ledecky (or anywhere close to it, for that matter), we can take a page from their diets.

What the elite athletes in Rio eat is carefully thought out with the help of dieticians and nutritionists, who take into account how much training athletes do, how many calories they burn on an average training day, and what their body needs during that training — whether more long term, endurance help or short term spurts of energy.

(Read More: The Must-See Gymnastics Events in Rio)

“I tell my athletes that nutrition is not rocket science,” says Alicia Kendig, senior sport dietician of the United States Olympic Committee who works with members of the USA Swimming team. She says that most athletes focus so much on what their bodies need during training that they tend to discount that happens while they’re recovering from all that work. For swimmers who train for longer distances, that means eating some carbohydrates immediately after getting out of the pool, to make up for the calories they’ve burned. For sprinters, that means protein to refuel and replenish muscles that have likely depleted their energy supplies in revving up so intensely in such a short period of time.

TIME asked U.S. Rower Seth Weil and U.S. long-distance runner Shalane Flanagan for samples of their diets, seen below. Neither athlete counts calories, but described what a typical day of fueling an Olympian looks like.

Seth Weil, U.S. Rower

Diet pictured above

6:00 a.m.: Two 10-oz cups of coffee; peanut butter and jelly in a flour tortilla.
6:30-9:00 a.m.: 50oz of water; 30oz of Gatorade before, during and after practice. Right after practice, a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich with avocado on an everything bagel and a side of fruit salad — strawberries, pineapples, blueberries, cantaloupe, and another 15-16 ounces of coffee.
Mid-Morning Snacks: Dried cranberries, pretzel chips and about 5 ounces of Sabra’s Supremely Spicy Hummus, with another 30-40 ounces of water.
11:30 a.m: A vegetable snack, such as arugula salad with cucumbers, red bell pepper, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Noon: Lunch fare includes three carne asada tacos with cilantro, onion, lime and 20 ounces of water.
2:00 p.m: Before his second practice, Weil has a Cliff Builder Bar, usually mint chocolate. Before, during, after the second practice he consumes 60-80 oz of water and 20 ounces of Gatorade.
4:00 p.m.: Right after practice, a protein shake (about 24 ounces), about 20 ounces of water; and a bowl of cereal such as Cinnamon Toast Crunch and granola with 8 ounces of 2% milk.
6:30 p.m.: Dinner consists of a shredded kale salad with chick peas, carrots, red onion, lemon olive oil and vinegar dressing, salt and pepper; along with a bowl of bowtie pasta topped with two chicken breasts and another 20 ounces of water. Dessert is Graeter’s Ice Cream, mocha chip flavor.
9:00 p.m.: Right before bed, Weill has some Trader Joe’s 3-layer hummus. During the day, he also eats around 10 Altoids arctic mints

Shalane Flanagan, U.S. Long-Distance Runner

Rio Olympics, Diet, food
A day of eating for U.S. long-distance runner Shalane Flanagan, co-author of Run Fast. Eat Slow.Stephanie Gonot for TIME

6:30 a.m.: A bowl of oatmeal mixed with almond butter, bananas, berries, nuts, honey and dried fruit; two cups of coffee with cream.
11:00 a.m.: After her workout of anywhere from 10-26 miles wraps, she refuels with a 16-ounce smoothie made with beets, frozen blueberries, almond butter, frozen banana, coconut water and ginger.
Noon: Her go-tos include a hearty grain salad with quinoa, veggies, nuts, cheese, and olive oil-based dressing or a wild rice salad with kale, edamame, and veggies with an apple cider and olive oil vinaigrette. She tops her salad with hardboiled egg, leftover chicken or another other protein from night before.
4:oo p.m.: Flanagan has a pre-workout snack she calls “super hero muffins” – muffins made with almond flour and butter, and also carrots, zucchini, and maple syrup for sweet energy; eggs for protein. Post-run, she has a hydration drink such as coconut water combined with sparking mineral water and fresh lemon.
6:00 p.m.: Dinner usually includes red meat, such as a quarter-pound bison or grass-fed beef burger with sweet potato fries and salad; or bison meatballs, in a marinara sauce with penne pasta or spaghetti and salad.
8:30 p.m.: Herbal tea and a wholesome treat, like homemade cookies made of sweet potato and oatmeal.

*Photographs depict the diet as described by the athletes

Stephanie Gonot is a Los Angeles-based photographer. Follow her on Instagram at @stephaniegonot.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Sean Gregory at