Elite athletes and their not-so-elite diets

I'd be the first to admit that I'm not proud of some of my eating habits. For instance, I just scarfed two doughnuts during a one-hour meeting. Had to restrain myself from grabbing a third. And — damn the trans fats — there's a box of Girl Guide cookies sitting at home with my name on it.

But — hey — I'm just human.

What surprises me is the terrible eating habits of some of our best athletes. Recently, Teddy Katz at CBC Radio's The Inside Track followed 12 members of the national rowing team as a dietician tried to teach them the basics of eating right.

These rowers eat about 6,000 calories a day, which is two to three times what most of the rest of us eat. Most of them put little thought or time into what they stuff down their gullets, often gorging on a huge meal at the end of the day. And they readily admitted to taking in big helpings of potato chips and hot dogs.

"I think that when you're training hard, when you get off the water you just want something fast and easy and generally speaking, fast and easy tends not to be that good for you," rower Kyle Hamilton said.

The nutritionist — Susan Boegman took the athletes for a tour of a supermarket. Her advice: shop at the perimeters of the store and avoid the middle aisles. That's where all the processed and junk foods are. Fresh foods — your fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy — line the walls of the store.

Boegman gave the athletes a lot of advice on how to prepare nutritious food without a lot of fuss. You can hear the documentary here.

At the other end of the spectrum are high-performance athletes with eating disorders. Some studies suggest that at least a third of female athletes at U.S. colleges suffer from eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. One study by the National Collegiate Athletic Association found that 93 per cent of eating problems were reported in women's sports, mostly in cross-country running, gymnastics, swimming and track and field. For men, most eating disorders were reported in wrestling and cross-country running.

In some sports — like running, swimming and cycling — athletes are seen as naturally skinny. That thinness can easily mask an eating disorder.

Most coaches know the problem exists, but few are willing to discuss it.

Bad fuel — or not enough of it — is not necessarily a recipe for success.