Sunday, February 28, 2010

Eating Like an Olympian...An Inside Look at the Olympic Village Dining Hall

Below is a story I wrote for The Austin American Statesman

As the athletes of the 21st Winter Olympiad prepare for the sporting moments of their lives, one thing's for sure: They all need to eat. After winning two gold medals in the Beijing Olympics for swimming, I know firsthand what the athletes of Team USA are about to experience as they fuel their bodies to win gold in Vancouver.
Over the years, I'd heard stories of the mounds of food, huge seating areas, desserts in droves and strangely, McDonald's. So when I approached the dining hall of the Olympic village in Beijing for the first time, my heart began to pound harder and faster in anticipation. It was if I were witnessing the parting of the Red Sea when the hall's sliding doors opened. Eyes wide, I was in awe of the rainbow of color and commotion. One foot in front of the
other, I walked into this massive structure that seemed as big as two football fields.
Surrounding me were all the colors of the rainbow. At the Olympics, each country's perfectly tuned athletes are draped in clothes that feature the colors and insignias of their homeland. Forget deciphering where you were based solely on the language. There were too many to have any idea what you were listening to.
Fellow University of Texas swimmer and three-time Olympian Ian Crocker told me that when you first arrive in the Olympic village, you'll walk around completely on a high for the first couple days. He was right \u2026 at least on an emotional level.
But my purpose in Beijing jolted me back to reality like I'd been grabbed by an internal force with the power of Goliath. It told me, "Hey, buddy, you're here to take care of business, and you can't afford to expend this much emotional energy on the simple act of eating." Through my nose I inhaled a deep breath of surprisingly clean Beijing air, and as the carbon dioxide left my mouth, so did the excitement. Now my mind-set was right: I came to Beijing to win gold medals \u2026 no time for people-watching.
I began my search for the food my body required for maximum performance. The difficulty was where to begin. I turned on cruise control and began to peruse the massive dining hall. Cruise control? Think again. This was no open highway, but rather a New York City street during rush-hour traffic, much like the athletes in Vancouver will face in their own dining halls.
In Beijing, as athletes walked into the dining hall, there were two huge salad bars with various types of greens, beans, veggies, pasta salads, pickled veggies, nuts, cottage cheese, fruits, cereals, granolas, yogurts and more. In the same area was a large bakery pumping out muffins, scones, croissants, pretzels, five-grain breads and bagels. At the end of the salad bar and opposite the bakery was the dessert area, with a huge spread of cookies, cakes, parfaits, bread pudding and candy bars. Throughout the games, I stayed strong and didn't touch a dessert until my events were over. Trust me when I say I was not the norm.
The more substantive food was along the back wall. People waited in line at each food station, elbow-to-elbow with all sorts of famous athletes, from gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson to Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki.
The aromas and flavors were all-encompassing. In keeping with the Olympic spirit, there was food from all around the world, including the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Asia, America and Italy (including a huge pizza bar) and a sushi bar. One section was dedicated solely to different preparations of duck (probably 15 to 20 per day). Depending on your desires and appetites, you could enjoy anything from baked salmon or chicken to curried lamb, blackened sea bass, chicken Parmesan, quinoa and black bean salad, mac and cheese, filet mignon, wild rice, sweet potato casserole and so much more.
After filling my tray for my first meal at the Olympics, I found a seat among fellow Team USA athletes. Generally, athletes from the same country sit together, but this isn't always true.
As I ate, I looked to my right. Lo and behold, who sat down literally five feet from me? Nothing short of the greatest tennis player in the world, Roger Federer. What a surreal experience. Not only was I taking in the Olympic experience for the first time on the first day, but I ended up sitting next to one of the greatest athletes of all time. Incredible. The real beauty was that for the most part, people left him alone.
Every diet's different
So what do the top athletes eat? Who decides the menu? Do they serve everything a world-class athlete needs?
Many athletes have strict diets both in and out of competition, but a surprising number gorge themselves on McDonald's and desserts. Some determine their diets based on calorie counts, protein content, carbohydrate levels and vitamins and minerals. Incredibly, each food item — from lasagna to raw broccoli — was individually labeled with nutrition content.
Each athlete's diet is different for several reasons, including the nature of the sport as well as the body type. Calorie counts and consumption vary widely.
The Beijing Olympics were the epitome of efficiency. The single dining hall streamed hot and nutritious food to more than 16,000 village residents 24 hours a day inside the hall, which could accommodate 5,000 people at any one time. With an estimated 5,500 athletes competing, the winter Olympics are somewhat smaller than the summer Olympics. Just like in Beijing, athletes train and compete at different times, so the Vancouver Olympians will be served around the clock as well, but in two dining halls — one in Vancouver and one in Whistler.
In Vancouver just as it did in Beijing, an international food service company manages the dining hall. The menus are sent to the head dietitian and nutritionist at the U.S. Olympic Committee, then circulated to 14 other dietitians and nutritionists around the world.
Among the differences between the Beijing Olympics and the Vancouver Olympics — besides the cold weather, of course — are some of the higher altitudes. The menus were adapted to help the athletes deal with the environment.
Susie Parker-Simmons, a sports nutritionist at the U.S. Olympic Committee, said that feeding athletes at altitude presents special concerns.
First, there is the need for more calories as the body works harder to adapt. At altitude, men will burn more carbohydrates and women more fat, she said. Among the foods provided to counter that are nutritional oils, nuts, seeds and fish.
Parker-Simmons said that at high altitudes, athletes will also need foods rich in iron as their bodies try to build more red blood cells, which the body manufactures in greater numbers to help carry oxygen to muscles. Iron helps promote the building of these red blood cells.
Fed for success, the competitors of the 21st Winter Olympiad are ready to show the world what they and their countries are made of. The athletes know one thing for sure: All the proper nutrition is being provided for them. The moment of truth awaits. The only question now is whether they have what it takes to bring home gold.
Breakfast of champions
The swimming schedule in Beijing was organized so the finals would be played on live TV to the American viewing audience. This meant the swimmers would be doing something completely new: swimming finals in the morning.
This presented a bit of a different routine for the athletes. Breakfast turned into the meal that would not only help fuel us for the day but also gas up our bodies to win gold.
As an Olympic athlete, it's very important to stay true to your diet, your routine, and listen to your body. The Games are a time to mimic the same eating habits that got us to this level by eating similar foods, at similar times, before competition and monitoring how full we are. It's not a time for experimentation.
The morning of my first Olympic race - the dramatic 400-meter freestyle relay in which the U.S. beat the French and won gold - I stuck to my routine.
After waking up and swimming for a bit in the village pool, I headed to the dining hall. The breakfast and/or pre-race meal for me always contains high carbohydrates, some protein and some fruits.
My breakfast of champions was oatmeal with a banana, some almonds, dried cherries and cranberries, prunes, yogurt, orange juice and dried cereal with low-fat milk.
Part of eating is for comfort. I eat oatmeal a lot, and the warm flavors and textures make me feel at ease. On top of the nutritional benefit, it's important to eat things that help us stay grounded and relaxed.
On my walk from the dining hall to our dorm, I passed Michael Phelps and his coach, who were headed to breakfast. Michael said to me, "Did you hear what the French guys said in the paper this morning?" I said, "I don't even want to hear it. It doesn't matter. We're going to go to the pool and take care of business, and that's all that matters."
Take care of business is exactly what we did. Go, U.S.A.!
- Garrett Weber-Gale
GWG's Freestyle Granola
Granola is a passion of mine - it's a sweet, crunchy, satisfying breakfast and the perfect healthy portable snack. I've tried just about every brand in the supermarket. Once I realized how easy it is to make granola at home, I experimented until I came up with just the right blend of fruit, nuts, seeds and grain. You might want to double this recipe because a) it's addictive and b) you should be nice and share with your friends (or teammates).
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
4 cups old-fashioned oats
4 oz. raw almonds, whole
4 oz. pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder (gives the granola a great crunch)
2 Tbsp. flax seeds
4 oz. dried apricots, chopped
4 oz. dried cranberries
Place the oven racks on the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 300 degrees.
In a small saucepan, combine the maple syrup, brown sugar and oil. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the brown sugar is dissolved. Stir in the vanilla.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, pepitas, wheat flour, dry milk powder and flax seeds. Pour the warm syrup mixture over the dry ingredients and use a rubber spatula to combine well.
Divide the moistened oats evenly on two baking sheets. Bake for 20 minutes, then stir with a metal spatula and rotate the sheets to opposite racks to ensure even baking. Bake another 20 minutes, then stir and switch pans again. Bake until the mixture has a fragrant, toasty aroma, about another 15 minutes. Cool the granola in the pan, breaking up any large clumps with a spatula. When the mixture is completely cool, mix in the dried apricots and cranberries and store in an airtight container.
- Garrett Weber-Gale
Garrett's Smoothie
1 banana (rich in potassium)
1 cup frozen mango (25 percent of daily Vitamin A)
1 cup frozen peaches (200 percent of daily Vitamin C)
1 cup frozen cherries (25 percent of your daily Vitamin A and 10 percent of daily iron)
2 Tbsp. milled flax seed (high in dietary fiber, omega-3s and folate)
11/2 cups orange juice (high in Vitamin C)
Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. For a more liquid consistency, you can add more orange juice or even some milk. Do not add sugar or mix in ice cream.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Food Fact: Tofu...Don't be Fooled, It's Good

Food: Tofu (derived from soybeans)

History: First a little background on soybeans... Soybeans are originally from China and have been cultivated there for over 3,000 years. Soybeans made their debut into the USA in the early 1800s as ballast aboard a ship. US farmers began to popularly farm them starting in the 1940s. Tofu was first discovered about 2,000 years ago. It is sometimes referred to as the "cheese of Asia" because it is made in a similar fashion to cheese (coagulating soymilk). Tofu has little inherent taste which is why cooking with it can be so simple, it will pick up basically any flavor it's cooked with.

Nutritional Benefit: Tofu is an excellent source of Tryptophan which is an essential amino acid our bodies need to maintain health. Manganese also has high concentration in tofu which helps your body maintain healthy and strong bones, helps synthesize fatty acids and cholesterol, and helps maintain a normal blood sugar level. Four ounces of tofu contains 33% of our daily needs of Iron. Iron is an essential nutrient our bodies need to maintain the production of red blood cells which carry oxygen.

Ways to Cook: Tofu is one of the most underrated foods with a terrible rep. But why? It's delicious! It has the ability to take on any flavor that it is dressed with. Some Top Chefs even fry it in pork fat to give it that meaty taste. But to all you vegetarian friends out there, have no fear, it doesn't take fat to make it taste good. One of my brilliant friends sent me this recipe that she claims is delicious, especially when served with steamed spinach and squash (yup, the squash made it in there). In the recipe that follows my friend used 2 tbs of Garam Masala instead of the paprika, cumin and coriander. The Garam Masala adds a bit of heat and is complemented with the drizzle of honey.

When asking around how others prepare their tofu, baking seemed to be a preferred method--cut into slabs or cubes, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and fresh cracked pepper, and heat at 350 until browned on both sides.

You can buy tofu in three basic types:

  • Soft tofu: nutritional substitute for milk in smoothies; eggs in a scrambler
  • Firm tofu: cubed and sauteed/baked, found in a lot of Asian dishes
  • Extra-firm: sliced and used as a meat substitute (ex: Lettuce and Tomato sandwich)

Spice-Crusted Tofu

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Get to Vancouver...For FREE!!!

  • Help AT&T Support Team USA by downloading never-before-released songs, from top recording artists like Mariah Carey and 3DD
  • You can also download ring tones and answer tones for these exclusive songs
  • Proceeds from all downloads go directly to support Team USA
Text USA to 2257 or go to for more information

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday Tweet of the Week: Social Media and Honey

A few interesting tweets...

@JasonFalls...Ways to move your Facebook fans to action. Nice stuff from @marismith on @smexaminer today -

  • Jason is a social media expert and speaker. His blog helps readers learn about the crazy world of social media and the internet.
@NutritionExpert...Did you know? To make 2.2 lbs of honey, bees have to visit 4 million flowers, travelling a distance equal to 4 times around the earth!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Food Fact: Dried Fruit vs. Fresh Fruit

For the Holidays my parents got me a food dehydrator. Since then I've dehydrated apples, nectarines, tomatoes, bananas, strawberries and cantaloupe. I've really enjoyed trying new things and seeing how they turn out. However, I was unsure of the nutritional differences in the dried fruits vs fresh fruits so I decided I'd do some research.

Today I had a visit with my nutritionist. I'm a very inquisitive person and always go in to see him with a list of questions. Definitely one of my questions today was about the differences between dried fruit and fresh fruit. Is there a difference in nutritional content? How does the nutritional content change? Are there more calories and/or sugar in one versus the other?

My nutritionist and I discussed some things and after leaving I went to go do some more research. Here's what I learned.

  • Dehydrating shrinks down the fruit causing some nutrients as well as the calories and sugar content to concentrate.
  • Certain nutrients such as Vitamin C can be diminished in the drying process if too high of heat is used.
  • Many dried fruits are higher in fiber than their fresh counterparts.
  • Research has shown that drying blueberries actually increases its antioxidants.
  • Drying with high heat can reduce the effectiveness of the protein in the food. The protein in the food is still there but it is harder for your body to digest and absorb it.
  • Due to having a higher sugar content dried fruits can be easily satisfy a sweet tooth.
  • Dried fruits are a great source of quick they're easy to take with you.
Some useful blurbs I found in the New York Times about the nutritional content in certain dried fruits...written by C. CLAIBORNE RAY

"for apricots, a cup of fresh halves is 86 percent water, with 74 calories, and a cup of dried fruit is 76 percent water, with 212 calories. Fresh apricots have 3.1 grams of fiber versus 6.5 for dried; 0.6 milligrams of iron versus 2.35 milligrams; 15.5 milligrams of vitamin C versus 0.8 milligrams; and 149 retinol activity equivalents of vitamin A versus 160."

"A cup of fresh Thompson seedless grapes is 80 percent water, with 104 calories, and a cup of raisins is 15 percent water, with 434 calories. The grapes have 1.4 grams of fiber, versus 5.4 grams for the raisins; 0.54 milligrams of iron versus 2.73 milligrams; 288 milligrams of potassium versus 1,086 milligrams; and 16.3 milligrams of vitamin C versus 3.3 milligrams."

I'll be drying the heck out of fruits in the coming weeks. The important thing I'm going to remember is to ration the amount I intake. Dried fruits should be a supplement to the fresh fruits. I won't need too much to satisfy my needs. In the past I've always taken dried fruits with me to competitions. Dried cranberries and prunes were the two I had with me in Beijing. If you're going to buy them in the store always make sure there is NO sugar added.

Happy Healthy Eating My Friends.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuesday Tweet of the Week: Apolo Ohno

The Olympic movement is so unbelievably inspiring to me. Watching the athletes of the XXI Olympiad compete in Vancouver is such a treat. I'm literally addicted to it! My pride to be an American and watch our fellow Americans battle for the Stars and Stripes is out of this world. The Olympic movement's beauty is the purity in it's efforts and in the competitions it holds.

@_Katie_ brought the following tweet to my attention and I think it summarizes the Olympic movement's ideology and existence more perfectly than anything else I've seen.

@ApoloOhno tweeted, "Live this....everyday."

Monday, February 15, 2010

  • Help AT&T Support Team USA by downloading never-before-released songs, from top recording artists like Mariah Carey and 3DD
  • You can also download ring tones and answer tones for these exclusive songs
  • Proceeds from all downloads go directly to support Team USA
  • Text USA to 2257 or go to for more information

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sweeps to Win a Free Trip to Vancouver!

Help AT&T Support Team USA by downloading never-before-released Ring Tones and Answer Tones, from top recording artists like Mariah Carey, 3 Doors Down and Rascal Flatts. Proceeds from downloads support Team USA. To purchase, go to
Trip Details:
Winner leaves to Vancouver on 2-20 and returns on 2-24. 5 day 4 nights in 4 Star accommodations, tickets to 5 Olympic Events, airfare and tax incentive.

Text USA to 2257 or go to for more information

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Food Fact: Travel Meet Eating Tips

Traveling to swim meets (and even on business and/or for pleasure) can easily throw our general dietary regimen out of whack. The comforts of our own homes are lost. No longer do we have the refrigerator stocked with all our essentials, a pantry where we can find healthy snacks, nor do we even have the option to cook our own meals. The reality that our eating habits at times of travel are going to be a bit different is not necessarily a problem. What's important is that we have a plan for how we are going to manage the situation.

For those of you who know me, you'll know that I'm not much of a planner. Logistics and thinking ahead on travel is not always my strong-suit. However, I generally do a pretty good job of bringing along some of my essentials that I know help contribute to my healthy diet. Here is a list of some ideas I try and do during travel:

  • If you're really on your game you might want to scope out a few places to eat before you arrive. Find some healthy spots. Ask around or even tweet a question to followers about where to go.
  • Hydration is a big issue when traveling. Sometimes we don't even realize how dehydrated we become during travel until it's too late. If you're on your way to a competition then you'd better be thinking about hydrating throughout the trip. I like to pack something called ElectroMix and mix it into my water to help keep my body full of electrolytes.
  • Packing snacks is easy and will make your life a lot easier. Some of the things I bring are dried fruits (apples, mangos, strawberries, cranberries, prunes, cantaloupe, and blueberries), nuts (walnuts and almonds), and energy bars (Cliff Bars and Powerbars).
  • My workouts always include a sport's drink during exercise and a post-workout drink after exercise. Be sure to pack enough of these with you so you don't run out. I always try and pack more than I need in case something time a Black Bear snuck into my room and was eating my recovery powder right out of the bottle...we got into a fight...naturally I won.
Most meets include dining out at restaurants. The ultimate is to have meals prepared for you which are in keeping of what you ate in training. At the Olympic Trials in 2008 and the World Championship Trials in 2009 my parents prepared meals and brought them to the meet for me. What a lucky guy I am! If you are going to dine out it's important to have some things in mind:
  • Go for things that look the least processed. If I have the choice of a whole baked sweet potato or sweet potato casserole I'll always chose the whole food. No need to mess with nature.
  • Ask for your veggies steamed without salt. Most places will heavily salt them as they saute them in oil.
  • Always ask for whole grain and whole wheat breads.
  • Do your best to stay away from the desserts...if you're competing you surely don't need them.
  • Keep the sodas and heavy sugar drinks out of your hands. Drinks high in sugar will spike our energy levels suddenly but will then drop dramatically and put us in a valley. At meets it is important to keep our energy on a level playing field. We want our adrenaline to pump us up, not sugar.
Trust me when I say it's hard to do all of these correct. We're are all humans and sometimes we make mistakes and need cheats. The important thing is to be mindful of the good habits to have during travel and put them into action whenever and wherever we can. Keep up the good work.

AT&T TEAM USA Trip Give-Away

Help AT&T Support Team USA by downloading never-before-released Ring Tones and Answer Tones, from top recording artists like Mariah Carey, 3 Doors Down and Rascal Flatts. Proceeds from downloads support Team USA. To purchase, go to
Trip Details:
Winner leaves to Vancouver on 2-20 and returns on 2-24. 5 day 4 nights in 4 Star accommodations, tickets to 5 Olympic Events, airfare and tax incentive.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuesday Tweet of the Week: Tasty Tweets

Twitter is undoubtedly a pretty sweet way for all of us to stay connected and also follow some of our favorite personalities. Today's Tuesday Tweet is not actually a specific tweet. Rather it is an article referencing a few of my favorites to follow in the food world. The only difficult part in following some of these chefs, foodies, and down-right food junkies is that they post some pretty delectable photos...and they make me wish I was there.

One thing I've found really great in following some of these people is that I often find inspiration in what they're doing. Generally I've come to the point in my cooking that I don't use recipes. I like to look at what's around me and create something from whatever is in my environment. Sometimes it's difficult to do this however. Viewing pictures of @Emeril, @BFlay, and @RuthReichl's food and/or reading what they think really helps me think outside the box. Follow some of these fellow food friends and see what comes to your mind.

Tasty Tweets

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Food Fact: Brussels Sprouts

I know sometimes this food comes with bad wrap, especially with kids, but give it a go...I really love these things and eat them often. You gotta always try something at least once:)

Brussels Sprouts

These little greens that look like small cabbages originated in Europe and were named for the capital city of Belgium. Brussels sprouts were first introduced to England and France in the 19th century and were later brought to North America when the French settled in Louisiana.

Nutritional Benefit: Although Brussels sprouts are small they are packed with nutrients. They are high in vitamin C, A and E which are great anti-oxidants and also provide anti-inflammatory protection. They are very dense in vitamin K and folate. Vitamin K helps the body absorb calcium and promotes bone health in addition to help in the prevention of hardening arteries. Folate helps in the production of red blood cells and also helps prevent anemia.

Ways to Cook: First you want to make sure you wash them. Many times there is dirt on the outside that we don't want. After washing them I generally discard the outer layer that has bruised or torn leaves. From here you can do one of two things.

1) Cut the bottom off perpendicular to the sprout. 2) Cut an upside down V in the sprout and remove the hard stem.

If I'm going to steam them I use the first method. If I bake them I cut an upside down V. My favorite way to prepare them is to cut them in half after cutting the stem out in a V. Then I put them flat side up in a baking pan, drizzle with olive oil, grind some fresh black pepper, sprinkle on some garlic powder and thinly sliced red onions and then bake at 375 until lightly browned. If you like you could sprinkle a little bit of sea salt over the top but due to my high blood pressure, and my feeling that you simply don't need to for great taste, I don't.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tuesday Tweet of the Week: Good advice on eating well from other foodies

One of the really fun things about Twitter is that it brings people and information to you that you might not otherwise see. To help share some of what I see, I plan to start showcasing a tweet every Tuesday in my new "Tuesday Tweet" feature. For the first one, I saw some foodies tweeting about Michael Pollan in reference, I think, to his new book, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. Dang, I need to get going and read that thing! Then I would know for sure which book it came from.
RT @erinelberson RT @jennsutherland: Oooh, good one! RT@fourchickens: Michael Pollan: "If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't."
Check back next week for my Tuesday Tweet. Or stop in Friday for my Friday Food Fact. Meanwhile if you see a food and nutrition tweet or a story or blog that's cool, send it my way. I might just feature yours. Remember, you can follow me on Twitter at @G_WeberGale.

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