They Eat What? Food Secrets of Olympic Athletes

It takes more than just practice to become an Olympian. Gold medal performances require some serious nutrition. Have you ever wondered what these elite athletes eat to stay in peak shape?

Keri Glassman, a registered dietitian and founder of Nutritious Life Meals, appeared on "Good Morning America" today to give you a glimpse into the diets of some top athletes. Some of their meals could surprise you.

Crazy Calorie Count

Glassman said Olympians eat a lot of food - quantities that for ordinary people would constitute pigging out. One secret of swimmer Michael Phelps' astonishing performance in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing was consuming as many as 12,000 calories in one day.

Other athletes fuel up on some of the following foods: A pound of pasta drizzled with olive oil (about 800 calories), a dozen eggs (about 840 calories), a pint of Ben & Jerry's cheesecake brownie ice cream (about 1,000 calories), pizza (about 2,000 calories).

Athletes can eat like this and not gain any weight because their workouts are intense. According to Glassman, Phelps' workouts can burn 4,000 to 6,000 calories in a day, and those calories must be replenished in order to train the following day.

The body needs carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and fluid in order to be properly fueled for exercise. Eating right allows athletes to delay fatigue, work harder - possibly giving them the edge they need to set a personal record - and recover faster, Glassman said.

Snacking Secrets

Some athletes eat wacky foods that they swear improve their performance.

Yohan Blake, the Jamaica sprinter and 100-meter world champion, has been making waves for stealing champion sprinter Usain Bolt's thunder on the track during the Olympic trials. Asked about how he gets his stamina, Blake answered that he eats 16 bananas per day, Glassman said.

Bananas have about 100 calories each.

Jonathan Horton, the lead gymnast on the U.S. team, has a blood sugar problem. His solution is honey. When he starts to feel shaky at the gym, he takes swigs of honey to boost his energy, Glassman said. According to Horton, the sugar rushes to his blood right away and he feels amazing for the next hour or so, she added.

If you want to try it, use natural honey.

Kerry Walsh, the two-time American Olympic medalist and beach volleyball player, eats lots of almond butter and honey sandwiches throughout the day, especially before she competes, Glassman said.

Almond butter is packed with endurance-boosting nutrients including protein, plus healthy fats. Protein helps prevent muscle wasting during exercise and prevents you from feeling hungry during exercise. The healthy fats in almond butter are rich in calories and provide energy for hours.

You can combine a complex carbohydrate, such as whole wheat toast, with almond butter for an energy-rich snack before exercise.

Foods for Recovery

What are the best foods to help the body recover after rigorous competition?

U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman swears by chocolate milk because of its high carbohydrate and protein content, Glassman said.

For Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, the recovery meal is grilled chicken breasts with Alfredo sauce, whole-grain spaghetti and a salad with lemon juice and olive oil. Lochte, who recently cut out junk food, candy and soda, has undertaken a rigorous strength-training regimen that involves flipping tractor tires, dragging shipyard chains and tossing beer kegs, Glassman said.

Lochte's recovery meal has all the important macronutrients necessary for recovery.

Other recovery foods Glassman mentioned:

Pickle juice. The salty-yet-savory juice has high doses of all-important sodium, potassium and magnesium. Sodium prevents muscle cramps.

Sweet tart cherries. Pack these in your gym back. The antioxidants in cherry juice may suppress the enzymes that cause inflammation of the body from the stress of exercise.

Beet juice. The blood-red elixir of the beet is apparently the hottest thing for Olympic athletes looking for a legal performance boost, Glassman said. Beet juice is rich in nitrates, which help muscles use oxygen more efficiently.