Most of us know what we should and shouldn't be eating on a daily basis. But for high performance athletes, like those training for the Olympic Games, dietary requirements aren't quite as straightforward.
Pate Neumann, a 21-year-old from Ontario, first got involved with cross country skiing in Grade 9, and was named to the National Team Development Centre at the end of high school. Now, training out of the Callaghan Valley Training Centre, Neumann took time away from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about nutrition and training.
Pique: How do you feel about your progress in this sport, to date?
Pate Neumann: I am a newcomer to the sport for sure. There are people I am racing against who have been skiing since they were two years old. I am picking it up pretty fast though, the last three years have seen rapid development but I still have lots to learn about the sport and myself. Cross-country skiers usually peak in their late 20s or early 30s, so I have time to get there.
Pique: What is your training schedule and routine like?
P.N.: This year I am training about 600 hours. That is fairly low for a cross-country skier, but because this is only my third year, I am gradually building up my base so I can handle 700 and maybe even 800 hour years in the future. On a daily basis, my training can consist of one to two sessions, from one to five hours in length. In the summer we roller ski, run, bike and go to the gym, and as we get closer to the racing season, our training becomes more ski specific. A typical day for me usually means waking up around 7:30 a.m., eating a hearty breakfast, and then driving up to the Whistler Olympic Park for our morning workout. I return home for lunch and some down time which consists of an afternoon nap to recover from the morning workout. Then it is time for more food, and maybe an afternoon training session. The day usually ends with a big dinner, some stretching and some schoolwork (I am taking correspondence courses through Athabasca University).
Pique: Do you train year round?
P.N.: I sure do! Being a full-time athlete and a part-time student means I need to be really organized with my time. Our training year generally starts in May and our racing season usually starts some time mid-November and goes through to April. Training for skiing is a full-time job and requires a lot of dedication.
Pique: How does diet factor into the life of a high performance athlete?
P.N.: Diet is pretty important for us. We need to take really good care of our bodies, especially when we are asking so much from them. It is amazing how food can affect your performance, your mood and your recovery. Most cross-country skiers monitor their diet pretty closely, and have fine-tuned it over the years to give them the best possible results.
Pique: So, can you give me an idea of an average day of meals and snacks?
P.N.: I usually start my day off with a big bowl of oatmeal, with yogurt, peanut butter and maybe a banana mixed in, and a glass of OJ. That usually gets me through my morning workout. I bring along a granola bar or small snack to refuel myself if it is a longer one. We use sport drink to stay hydrated during our workouts. We get ours from the national team, but it is fairly similar to Gatorade, it just caters to the needs of skiers a bit more. Post workout is the most important time to replenish yourself. We use a recovery drink (also made for skiers) immediately after the workout that contains protein and carbohydrates. Then it is home for lunch, which usually consists of some sort of sandwich, some veggies and some fruit. After some down time, we eat again. This time the size of the meal depends on whether or not we have an afternoon workout. This snack/meal can be anything from toast with PB&J to cereal, to fruit to whatever happens to be in the house at the time. Then dinner rolls around, and that's where I tend to have a wide variety of food. In general, I start with some sort of protein, then add a carb, and usually have a salad or some sort of veggie to top it off. I usually get another craving for food before bed, and satisfy it with some yogurt and cereal. There is not really set meals for me. I usually just eat when I am hungry.
Pique: What's an average daily calorie intake?
P.N.: On average, I usually eat around 4,000 calories per day. That heavily depends on the amount of training I am doing, though. If I take a rest day or a recovery week, I eat less, but if I am training hard, or do a 50 km race, I eat way more. I generally just keep giving my body food until it says, "No more!"