As the Summer Olympics kick off in Beijing, inquiring minds are burning to know what foods best fuel these dedicated athletes questing for gold.
In 776 B.C., when the first Olympic Games debuted in Olympia, Greece, food historians claim that competing athletes first followed a basic fruit and cheese regime, but later switched to carnivorous, low carb menus. What they ended up with was a popular Mediterranean fish diet.
Legend has it that the famous Milon of Croton, a six-time Olympic wrestling champion, scarfed down 20 pounds of protein and three pitchers of wine daily. An early Olympic runner also adopted a meat-only diet with the exception of some dried figs.
These ancient Olympians came from the upper echelons of Greek society where wealthy families could feed their kids protein-rich legumes and meats to build solid muscle mass.
Karen Daigle is one of the sports dietitians partially responsible for building the strong bones and bodies of the members of the modern-day Team USA. Daigle, who is based at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, deserves a medal for helping overcome the challenges of feeding hundreds of athletes involved in more than two-dozen sports.
"Everything the athletes eat plays into how it affects their performance, their recovery and their immune system," Daigle said. "They are recommended to follow a performance-based menu depending upon their specific sport and individual needs. The whole basis of this menu is lean proteins, a balance of high and low fiber foods, quality carbohydrates, healthy fats and adequate fluids."
Dara Torres, 41-year-old Olympic superstar swimmer yearning for a fifth gold, eats power breakfasts of berry-flavored Living Fuel shakes with milk and fruit, and dinners of mixed green salads, turkey spinach lasagna, garlic bread and green beans.
Apolo Anton Ohno, the reigning U.S. speed skating champion, grabs an apple or a salmon jerky stick for quick energy. He doesn't count calories, but adjusts the grams of fat, protein and carbs based on his activity levels. He follows the eating philosophy, "not an almond more, not an almond less."
One of the biggest dietary concerns for Olympic athletes is the use of steroids in food.
Many worry about the growth hormones that are typically laced in the Chinese food supply, terrified that a combo plate of Mongolian beef and orange chicken with a side of antibiotic won tons and growth stimulant spring rolls could possibly give them a positive doping test and destroy their Olympic run.
Chinese officials have addressed these concerns. They ensure food safety officials are keeping close tabs on crop production by using a cyber-tracking system that monitors the life history of every piece of produce that will eventually land on the athletes' plates.
Many cultures, especially the Chinese, tie food to happiness and prosperity. Rice worldwide is symbolic of good luck.
In honor of the U.S. Olympic team, here's a recipe for Lucky 13 Ingredient Fried Rice. It's as good as gold.
Lucky 13 Ingredient Fried Rice
(Use organic ingredients where possible)