By Nikkitha Bakshani
The Daily Meal
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 is what athletes from around the world eat 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.
What Athletes Around World Eat
Bone Broth (USA)
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.
Bone Broth (USA)
Brodo in New York serves the stuff from a take-out window.
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.
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.
The national dish of Brazil, this epic dish of beans and various cuts of beef and pork -- trimmings, bacon, smoked ribs, smoked sausage, and jerked beef tongue -- is served with rice and orange slices. Olympic chefs in London knew to prepare this for the Brazilian judo team without them even having to ask.
Brazilian chef Rubens Izidorio, who came especially to Sheffield to train the chefs at the Kenwood Hotel, where the Olympic team would be staying, said: "It is a really nutritious dish for us, as it gives us lots of energy which is released really slowly." If you’re in Rio de Janeiro, try it at Casa da Feijoada.
Kazak sportsmen had horse sausages delivered to them in England from Kazakhstan because they assumed they wouldn't be able to find any in London during the Olympics. After all, horse meat has double the iron of beef and 300 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids for every 100 grams of meat -- a beef strip steak has only 21 milligrams.
However, the team, best known for its boxing and weightlifting champions, wouldn't have had to ship their sausages; horsemeat is sold at Borough Market, and The Lord Nelson in Southwark serves horsemeat burgers.
Oatcake (United Kingdom)
Olympic rower Pete Reed swears by eating an oatcake covered in cottage cheese before bed. The combination provides a hit of tryptophan, which triggers release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, ensuring that he gets some actual rest despite pre-game anxiety.
Oatcake (United Kingdom)
Plus, the cottage cheese is loaded with casein protein, which promotes muscle growth through the night. Maybe that’s why Reed has the largest lung capacity ever recorded (11.68 liters -- the average British man's is just under six). Oatcakes were a part of Elizabeth II's regular breakfast, too.
Kenya is home to some of the fastest runners in the world. Only about 13 percent of the Kenyan diet consists of fats; the rest is largely composed of carbohydrates, mostly gained from ugali: Maize flour (cornmeal) cooked with water. It is eaten with a chicken or beef stew and vegetables.
This heavy-carb diet is not recommended for the average 9-to-5 office worker, but ugali provides a great source of energy for athletes who are actually putting those carbs to use.
For the complete list of the What Athletes Around The World Eat, go to TheDailyMeal.com.
More From The Daily Meal:
-- 5 Great Foods to Eat After Weight Training
-- Foods Men Should Eat If They’re Trying to Build Muscle
-- The 9 Best Drinks for Men’s Health
-- The 8 Best Ways to Rehydrate After a Workout