Two thousand years ago, meat was a staple of the athlete’s diet. Even alcohol was accepted for use during training and before competition. It has been reported that marathon runners drank cognac to enhance performance in the 1908 Games, and at least one German long-distance walker is said to have consumed 22 glasses of beer and half a bottle of wine during competition!
At the 1904 Games in St. Louis, Mo., the gold-medal winner in the marathon was given only egg whites, brandy, strychnine, and a wet sponge to suck on over the entire 26.2-mile course. And in the 1952 Games in Helsinki, Finland, the average athlete consumed a high-fat diet with 40% of calories coming from fat, another 40% from carbohydrate, and the remaining 20% of calories from protein.
Then in the 1970s, researchers began studying trained athletes, and much of the initial research focused on hydration, sports drinks, and carbohydrate intake. In the 1980s, as the value of proteins and carbohydrate for recovery became clear, strength athletes began to more carefully consider their carbohydrate intake, and endurance athletes were better educated on the importance of protein consumption.
And in the past 25 years, hundreds of research studies have helped us to better understand the true value of sports-nutrition strategies. As a result, most of today’s athletes preparing for competition are well versed in the benefits of proper hydration—as well as a healthful diet rich in carbohydrates and lean, high-quality protein, but with a limited fat intake. Best of all, we know that elite and recreational athletes alike can take advantage of a smart approach to sports nutrition before, during, and after exercise to maximize athletic performance.
As we watch the Games in London unfold this summer, we can be certain that the latest science-based nutritional strategies will be applied by the world’s best athletes to help fuel amazing feats of athletic performance! At the same time, we’ll marvel as we think about just how far we’ve come in the field of sports nutrition over the past 2,000 years.