Gorge or Diet: What Olympians Really Eat to Compete

"The gymnasts would know exactly what to eat, and be very precise," said Applegate, who adds that female gymnasts would have to be extra strict. In this case sex, not size, matters. Pound for pound, women burn fewer calories then men do, simply by the difference in their bodies.

Applegate said that if a 140-pound female athlete and a 140-pound male athlete ran side by side, in sync, expending the same amount of energy, the female athlete would still burn 8 to 10 percent fewer calories.

"Isn't that a jip?" Applegate said.

Taking into account the differences in sex, size, sport and event, the Olympic Village in Beijing had the task of providing an endless permutation of carefully designed meal options.

6,000 Seats, 6,000 Meals, 6,000 Athletic Machines

"They're not operating in the dark. They know what's going on," Applegate said. The Olympic Village in Beijing put forth a tremendous effort to feed the Olympians -- satellite positioning systems to monitor food delivery to the compounds, bilingual dietitians to confirm that international food requests were followed, a big dining room seating up to 6,000 athletes, and special menus to accommodate cultural cuisine preferences and religious dietary laws.

"They don't just offer chicken tenders and fries," Applegate said.

"Going in, there was a concern, but once you get settled in, you realize it's not so bad. It's good to have the staff and the USOC there for us," Colwill said. "It's nice to have Americanized food every now and then, but the food choices have been great."

Colwill, who sticks to a high-protein diet with plenty of lean chicken, is satisfied with the food at the Olympic Village. "There's a Mediterranean section, international section, Asian section. They've got all kinds of variety. You could wind up eating everything. That could be a problem, but I try my best not to put so much on my plate," Colwill said.

Recovery Meals Just as Important As Pre-Game Calories

Yet many of the athletes don't exactly line up high-school-cafeteria style and grab what they want. On the contrary, some Olympic teams plan their meals as part of an elaborate performance agenda.

"Meals are typically pretty specific. They sort of go through an approval process by the staff ... but not like everybody has two green beans and an exact portion of steak," said Dr. Michael Terry, one of several team doctors for the U.S. men's volleyball team and the men's ski team. He is a professor of surgery at the University of Chicago but acts as a general physician for the teams he follows.

Instead, the three square meals and snacks fed to the volleyball team focus on a strategic preparation: high-energy carbs through pasta or vegetables before a game, and high-protein meals with selections such as steak, other red meat or chicken.

"They need to be constantly looking forward to the next match," Terry said. "The recovery meals and the recovery drinks are just as important as their pregame meals."

Even sleep becomes strategic. "We will issue the guys different sleep regulations and schedules -- when they should see the sun and when they shouldn't so they can get acclimated," Terry said.

Yet Terry said helpful planning doesn't mean the physicians and trainers become babysitters.

"The guys are professionals, so they know what the deal is," he said. "Nobody's twisting their arm at the dinner table."

ABC News' Lauren Cox reported from New York, and Jo Ling Kent from Beijing.

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