Figure skating has always been a hot ticket at the Winter Games. Although I am a fan of almost every sport under the sun (and snow), I'm especially drawn towards the magic on the ice and the artistic, captivating performances of the world's best skaters.
Nutrition is an important part of the skaters' intense training regimens, and through my private practice I've had the honor of working one-on-one with quite a few Olympic figure skaters, gold medalists included! Generally speaking, the female skaters I've counseled require 1800-2500 calories per day, depending upon on their age, weight, height, and genetics (an athlete's natural metabolism has a big impact).
For optimal performance and a steady stream of endurance, a good majority of their calories should come from high-quality carbs like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Elite athletes also need adequate protein—0.6 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight—to build and maintain strong muscles, a vital commodity for all Olympians.
In anticipation of this year's Olympic championship in Vancouver, I asked some of our most celebrated female figure skaters, past and present, to share their own winning strategies for fueling up. Not surprisingly, all of the superstar athletes I interviewed are stellar eaters!
Figure skating legend Dorothy Hamill, though always remarkably calm and composed on the ice, admits she had a tough time eating on competition days because of nerves. To ramp up her energy level before big events Dorothy would eat bland foods like eggs and cottage cheese, or sip on a shake made with a powdered mix called "Sustenance"—an early predecessor to today's fancy protein drinks.
Gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi's favorite pre-competition meal was a large plate of spaghetti with her mom's homemade marinara sauce and a tall glass of milk. The pasta's slow-release carbs gave her the energy she needed to land complicated jumps and power through challenging performances. Her glass of milk supplied protein and calcium—two key ingredients for muscle contraction and bone strength.
During her Olympic days, Sarah Hughes learned to pair lean protein with carbs at meals (like egg whites with oatmeal for breakfast, or salmon with a baked potato and veggies at dinner) to maximize energy and keep her blood sugars on an even keel. Of course, Sarah always made room for a few small splurges both on and off season—cupcakes, chocolate, and ice cream were her treats of choice! Smart eating strategies, along with incredible talent and work ethic, helped Sarah strike gold at Salt Lake City in 2002.
Sasha Cohen, who earned the silver medal at Torino, eats an all-star diet of nutrient-rich foods to optimize performance. Whether it's a quick snack of bran crackers with almond butter and sliced banana, or a meal of lean steak and lots of veggies, Sasha aims to eat every 3 to 4 hours to keep her body fueled during grueling training periods. On competition days, Sasha opts for high-energy foods rich in easy-to-digest carbs like 100% fruit juice, whole wheat toast, or a nutrition bar.
In preparation for this year's games, superstar skater Rachael Flatt has focused on eating a balanced diet with a wide variety of foods, including lots of intensely colored fruits and veggies such as dried cherries, strawberries, oranges, carrots, tomatoes and pea pods. Rachael's mom, an amazing cook, hooks her up with delicious, homemade soups like chipotle sweet potato and cheesy yogurt-broccoli to keep her charged (and warm!) during long days of conditioning. From time to time, she'll treat herself to a well-earned splurge, like a decadent cannoli with rich, creamy filling.
My congratulations go out to all members of the 2010 US Figure Skating Team. We're all rooting for you in Vancouver!