Feeding Elite Athletes at the Olympic Village

In addition to the 18,000 athletes, more than 500,000 visitors are expected to attend the first Olympics in South America, Rio de Janeiro. An estimated 460,000 pounds of food will be prepared each day in a kitchen the size of a football field. Associate food service director Terri Moreman along with two onsite and two in-the-field dietitians, 20 chefs and 2500 staff are working round the clock to prepare meals and snacks that will help the athletes maximize their performance.  Moreman has maintained this responsibility for 28 years!

The culinary team has created five, all-you-can-eat buffets in addition to the traditional Brazilian barbeque known as churrasco: Brazilian, Asian, International, Pasta and Pizza, Halal and Kosher. For example the Asian buffet breakfast offerings include congee, a chicken and rice porridge, miso soup made from water, green onion, chard, tofu, miso paste and seaweed and natto, fermented soybeans. Each of the five food venues has to account for the following in its menu mix:

  • Cultural and religious differences
  • Adequate lactose, gluten and nut free alternatives, vegan and vegetarian options
  • Carbohydrate rich
  • Protein rich
  • Taste and appearance

Athletes have different needs based on the type of event they’re competing in. While marathon runners and cyclists are carbohydrate fueling, wrestlers, rowers and boxers need to be conscientious about making weight pre event. Archery and shooting require a consistent supply of glucose to the brain for steady concentration while weight lifting and sprinting depend on instant available energy. All food and beverage options provide the calories, protein, carbohydrate, fat and salt so that athletes can make the best food choice for their sport. In an interview by Food Service Director in June 2016, Moreman states “Chocolate milk is probably the No. 1 drink they ask for.  They look for yogurt with all kinds of toppings.  We do customize smoothies under a script from a dietitian based on what the group of athletes might need.”  She adds that protein bars, dried fruit, nuts and more bottled water than you can imagine are hot items.

In a brief interview I was able to talk with Taekwondo Olympian Stephen Lambdin and Caroline Williams, media relations for the Women’s basketball team. Stephen said his top two beverages are coconut water and beet juice and that his cheater drink is A&W Root Beer. In addition to being hydrating, coconut water is potassium rich, a key electrolyte lost in sweat that’s needed for muscle contraction. Beet juice is well researched as a natural way to enhance athletic performance. Drinking 1-2 shots of the concentrated forms peaks at 2-3 hours in the blood enhancing endurance by up to12-14 percent by improving blood flow, muscle contraction and the communication between neurons. Stephen’s typical breakfast is eggs with Tabasco, toast, asparagus and an avocado. He states that in the Olympic Village, oatmeal and yogurt are always staples along with a lot of Builder Bars. His favorite recovery fuel is Muscle Milk Gainer Protein because it’s high in carbohydrate, high in protein and banned substance free, which can be hard to find. The favorite food he is looking forward to trying after his event? Anything local and the first thing will be “Pao de queijo” a cheesy-bread pastry (see recipe below) that’s only in Brazil.

Caroline Williams, media relations for the Women’s Basketball team stated that while they are not staying in the Olympic Village, their top 3 beverages of choice is water, fruit juice and coffee or tea. For breakfast they prefer eggs, French toast, oatmeal and fruit. Their favorite recovery fuels are again protein and carbohydrate rich sports bars and shakes. Omelets and French toast were also a rumored favorite of Olympic gold winner Michael Phelps.

In addition to the five food buffets created to feed the Olympic Village, Chef David Hertz from Brazil and Massimo Bottura from Italy along with 40 colleagues from around the world will be creating more than 5,000 healthy meals out of the surplus food from the Olympic Village. Why is there so much waste? One reason is the mere variety of offerings. For example, there are over 10 types of yogurt offered including low fat, full fat, plain, a variety of fruited, Greek and goat. Cut fruit and opened containers of yogurt go bad very quickly so this is a great way to pay-it-forward to many of the underserved within the Brazilian community that host the games.

Recipe for Pao de Queijo

Ingredients   Preheat oven 375°F

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 cups tapioca flour
  • 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. salt


  1. Combine oil, water, milk and salt in a saucepan. Heat mixture to a boil.
  2. Remove from heat, immediately stirring in garlic and tapioca flour. Mix until smooth.
  3. Let rest for 15 minutes.
  4. Combine with egg and cheese.
  5. Create ¼ cup balls and cook for 15-20 minutes until slightly browned.






Categories: Sports Nutrition

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