The Olympics—Powered by Sweat and Food

By Active Alyssa Jan 31, 2018
You have your favorite athletes, you will watch the 2018 winter Olympics, and now you get a sneak peek of what it takes for athletes to compete.
The Olympics—Powered by Sweat and Food

I may workout 4-5 times a week and try my best to eat a clean diet, but nothing I do compares to the dedication and time required of an Olympic athlete. In Park City Utah, stands the training facility of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team. With it being an Olympic winter, I was super curious as to what it takes to be an Olympian. This fall I got a behind the scenes look at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Center of Excellence to see the lifestyle of an Olympian in training! 

These athletes deserve so much praise due to the dedication of strengthening, conditioning, practicing, learning, testing, and refueling of their bodies in the best way possible! I really do admire their hard work, but I also want to shine a spotlight on the coaches and chefs that have been guiding the Olympic athletes along the way! Follow along to see how they TRAIN and EAT. 

Sweat Equity 

Walking into the Olympic training gym, my eyes lit up as I circled around the room and saw walls lined with pictures of Olympic medalists who had trained in this very room! Such motivated, inspiring, and hard working humans that have an incredible amount of passion for their winter sport! I met up with Bret Kelly, one of the strength and conditioning coaches for the U.S. Freestyle Halfpipe, Freeski Slopestyle, and Aerials. 

Bret is working with 14 former Olympians, 6 of which medaled in Sochi. He has a total of 22 athletes competing in Korea and is hoping to bring home as many medals this February! While walking around this impressive facility Bret provided intel into his training program. 

How many workouts per week? 
3-4 lifts a week lasting 1-1.5 hours. 2-3 days cardio, core, and mobility sessions each lasting 30-60 minutes.

What is the duration of each training session?
Each lifting session in the offseason is roughly an hour. This doesn’t include the daily warm-ups prior to the two-hour jumping sessions with aerials, or the 1-2 hour airbag sessions with free ski.

What does a week of training look like for an Olympic athlete?
It depends on the athlete and time of year but a breakdown if they aren't ramping up for competition would be:
Basic cardio Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with high intensity cardio on Tuesday and Thursday. Heavy lifting on Sunday and Thursday with a lighter lift on Tuesday. Some of the more advanced athletes will do a push pull split 4 days a week lift. Core strengthening, foam roll, and mobility 3-4 days a week. Every workout beginning with a basic circuit or plyometric session to warmup. 

Weight Training

How often do the athletes/trainers travel?
Traveling varies depending on the trainer and the athlete but for me personally, I travel to camps and competitions starting in November and last through February. Since this year is an Olympic year, I'm traveling more (12-14 weeks total this winter). We also have some camps over the summer (Mammoth in April/May, Mt. Hood in July, ect). Athletes travel depends on their team. Aerials are here all summer and gone most of the winter at camps and World Cup.

Freeskiers and snowboards are harder to pin down.
Freeskiers and snowboarders are harder to pin down. They travel most of the winter with the team and to the handful of camps throughout the year, but some travel to extra competitions or to sponsor shoots over the summer. This can make if difficult for me to program workouts for them. With a normal sport the strength coaches will have a whole off season to train. With my athletes, I may have a month here or there with them but never an extended period of time off to strictly train in the gym. Using the Visual Coaching Pro App has been helpful for me to stay in contact with my athletes and how they are doing with their workout programs, along with the calls and texts.

What else to the athletes do for training outside of the gym?
Mountain bike, road bike, water ramp, airbag jump, trampoline, skateboard and slackline.
(I was all smiles as Bret let me test out the trampoline).

What special testing do the athletes go through?
We use force plate testing to look at double leg and single leg strength, power, velocity, and rate of force development. Some athletes do our lactate bike test. We do a movement screening during physicals every year. Cross country does VO2 max testing on the skate treadmills. These are the general tests, but different sports may have more specific tests.

Are there special techniques you use to improve the performance of all athletes?
Overall, I use basic movements to improve athlete’s general strength. I try to put my athletes in training “buckets” of beginners, intermediate and advanced. Some athletes need to work on body awareness, technique, and to build robustness before using heavy weights. These athletes generally have a very young training age and we do a lot of body weight circuits with them. From there, athletes will advance to basic barbell workouts with me, still working on proper form and building up their chronic loads. Finally, the advanced group utilizes heavy lifts (squats, deadlift variations) and dynamic lifts (Olympic lifts, band squats, plyos) to improve strength, power, and rate of force development. All of this is based on proper technique to help reduce injuries. This all being said, there are still vast differences inside each bucket. Every athlete has specific needs and I try to personalize each program accordingly.


What techniques do the athletes utilize at the training center to prevent soreness?
During training we utilize contrast baths, basic A1 cardio, and basic body weight movements/yoga to prevent soreness. I try to just keep them moving. However, there are times during training where they’re going to be sore no matter what. I’m usually more worried about keeping soreness down during competitions. For this I just adjust their training to volumes at specific times to keep them fresh for competitions. I try to track acute to chronic load ratios.

What advice do you give to your athletes?
At any given moment we have two choices, step forward into growth or to step back into safety. Strength and conditioning wise, I’d say be consistent. If its body weight work, heavy lifting, or yoga. Find something that works for you and stick to it. The same goes for warm-ups and preparing for their training. Keep it consistent and get in the right mind set. 

"At any given moment we have two choices, step forward into growth or to step back into safety. Any day that you don't want to do it, you're tired, conditions aren't great, you're just flat out sick of it, remember that there is always somebody else right behind you trying to take your spot."—Trainer, Bret

Good Grub

After meeting with Bret and learning about all the incredible ways that he trains athletes, I headed into the kitchen to meet with Chef Allen Tran. Allen is a high-performance chef, dietician, and wellness coach for the athletes who come to the Center of Excellence. I loved gaining some nutrition knowledge and cooking skills while I watched him prepare a meal for the hard working athletes!  

What is the breakdown of a diet you provide for the athletes?
(Proteins, fats, & carbs)
It's hard to generalize for every type of athlete and every sport because they're so different. But in general, it breaks down to roughly 50% carbs and 20% fats. We usually simplify things with "the athlete's plate,” and you can see how the plate breaks down from easy training to moderate training to hard training/competition day. As your activity level increases you need more carbs. You also need a good amount of protein no matter what. It breaks down to 1.2g protein, per kg body weight per day (0.55g x body weight in lbs per day). Carbs should come from whole-grain sources or veggies like baked potatoes and sweet potatoes. Fats should come from healthy sources like avocado, Olive oil, and nuts. 

What goes into prepping food for the large groups of athletes?
Cooking for a large group of athletes is like getting ready for Thanksgiving. You have to plan out the menu, get the ingredients (either from the grocery store or from a food distributor), and finally cook the food itself. I try and keep the menu varying from day to day so things don't get stale, from Mexican food, to Italian food, Asian food, and American favorites like barbecue.

How many people do you feed daily?

During the summer off season when we have the most number of athletes training at our facility, we can feed upwards of 60 athletes per day.

How do the diets change throughout the year during more intense training?
Diets change depending on what the training is like and what each athlete's goals are. Most athletes do intense training in order to gain muscle mass, so that means more calories (more food in general, instead of 3 meals a day you squeeze in mini-meals/snacks in between meals, and a recovery pack right after training) and more protein. So if you go back to that 1.2 g example earlier, it will bump up to 1.5g per day (.68g per lb body weight).

How many calories do athletes consume?
Females consume 2,000 to 2,500 calories daily and males consume 2,500 to 3,200 calories daily.

How do you educate your atheltes to eat healthy?

Some of the topics that I go through with athletes range from tailoring their total calories and carbs depending on their activity level (more activity equals more carbs and total calories).  I basically go through the athlete's plate with them, like the one shown below. Their schedule is quite packed with training, physical therapy, and their personal life, so I try to look at their daily schedule and help them optimize their eating and fueling with their day-to-day schedule. Beyond that, they still have to cook their own food when they're at home, so I try to give them easy recipes and hold cooking classes so they have the skills to cook healthy food on their own.

Any fun facts about your job?
The coolest part of my job is that it feels like two jobs in one. In the summer when the athletes are training at our facility, I'm working with them to dial in their diets and serve food out of our kitchen next to the training floor. But when the snow starts to hit in the fall, I get to travel and cook for them at training camps. Like when Alpine Racing goes to Copper Mountain in November, as well as major events like the Deer Valley Moguls and Aerials World Cup, X-Games, and the Alpine Racing World Cup in Europe. And of course, cooking at the Olympics. Then the season wraps up in the Spring, the athletes come back to the Center of Excellence for summer training and the cycle starts all over again.

Going to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Center of Excellence was an awesome experience. It was so great to learn more about the Olympic Athlete training programs and nutrition plans from Bret and Allen. It's important to realize how much support is required from a team of people for Olympic dreams to come true. The 2018 Olympics will be opening February 9th and closing February 25th. Good Luck to all the athletes competing—make us proud!
Team USA, all the way!

~XOXO, Bring on the SNOW!