It’s no secret athletes eat some weird shit. That’s the case for a number of reasons. They need to eat more calories than the average person to keep up with their loaded workout schedule. They spend more time thinking about how food affects performance. And they’re often pretty attached to their pre- and post-race eating rituals.
We asked five elites to share their unusual staples. Some are less appetizing than others.
“I’d eat insects more often if they were easily available,” says triathlete Jordan Rapp. “But the most commonly available insect is the cricket. So I eat crickets.” He says he regularly throws them on top of pepperoni and arugula pizza—they add a nutty flavor and slight crunch. Rapp chooses to eat bugs primarily for environmental reasons. Crickets are a shockingly eco-friendly source of lean protein, requiring less water per gram of protein than soybeans to produce. Research has also found that edible insects are rich in trace elements like iron and magnesium—both key nutrients for athletes.
Specialized Team mountain bike racer Kate Courtney eats a giant gluten-free waffle before almost all her rides. She’s always traveling for training and competition, which means Courtney stows her waffle iron in her carry-on wherever she goes. “I use Bob’s Red Mill pancake mix and add Greek yogurt, berries, and maple syrup to get plenty of quickly digestible complex carbohydrates before a big effort,” she says. It’s partly about the nutrition, but it’s also about the routine. “Eating the same meal before races or big workouts signals to my body that something intense is coming, helping me feel ready mentally and physically,” Courtney says.
Stephanie Howe Violett
“After a race or a really long run, all I can think about is something salty,” says Stephanie Howe Violett, an ultrarunner for The North Face and a sports nutritionist. Her specific hankering? Blue corn chips. “I actually sleep with them in my bed so that when I wake up in the middle of the night after a race, they are right next to me,” she says. Howe Violett also eats homemade spiced nut butter at every meal, including dessert. In a food processor, she blends one cup each of almonds and hazelnuts, a quarter-cup of dried coconut, two teaspoons of garam masala, a pinch of sea salt, and a spoonful of honey. “I really like ice cream, but I like it even more when I put nut butter and cereal in it,” she says. “I will buy ice cream to-go, then bring it home and add my own toppings.”
In circles of elite athletes, gut health is all the rage. Kimmy Fasani, a Burton Global Team snowboarder, is also a believer. “I incorporate a variety of fermented foods into my diet to keep the probiotics and enzymes balanced in my stomach,” she says. Continuous travel makes it hard to keep her gut happy, Fasani says, which can make it difficult to keep her immune system fully functioning. She turns to things like sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and kimchi before and after a race to help keep an even keel. “And if I feel a cold coming on, I immediately grab a kombucha.” Fasani has been making her own for the past three years and swears by the the improvement she’s felt in her digestion and overall health. She often adds mix-ins like fresh turmeric, ginger, or lemon to give it a little extra flavor.
“Doughnuts are my weakness—buttermilk bars in particular,” says ultrarunner Max King. These old-fashioned cake doughnuts have developed a cult-like following on the West Coast, including Bend, Oregon, where King lives. While he often turns to doughnuts after a long run or race, King relies on his “green oatmeal” for an everyday training eat. “Regular oatmeal is so blah. I throw in all kinds of stuff to amp it up and make it an even more well-rounded breakfast,” he says. King starts with a mix of ancient seeds and oats, then adds spinach, kale, or other leafy greens, plus a powdered greens blend, an omega oil, and some dark chocolate chips and/or blueberries to sweeten it up.