July 30, 2012
Representing your country at the Olympic Games is a high honor thousands of fortunate athletes enjoy every four years. However, these athletes need far more than luck to get there, many working hard, educating and training since childhood in pursuit of Olympic dreams. There are many negative stories of athletes taking products that may or may not have contributed to doping test failures, but there are also many stories of athletes that found a safe way to choose and take supplements, and have benefited from them in their athletic pursuits.
INSIDER spoke to U.S. Olympians about their nutrition and use of supplements during training and competition, including their nutrition goals and needs, as well as what they look for in a dietary supplement.
Susan Francia, Princeton, NJ, is a four-time World Champion rower who won the gold medal in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. She's also won a U.S. National Championship and a World Cup gold medal. She is a favorite to win again at the London Olympics this summer.
INSIDER: When did you start taking dietary supplements?
Francia: It was relatively recently, maybe February of this year. I didn't take anything before then because as an Olympic athlete, you fear what goes along with taking products that can affect your performance. However, a teammate of mine, who is well-read on nutrition and supplements, told me about supplements she takes, and I trust her. I felt I was getting stale with training and needed some help.
INSIDER: What supplements do you take?
Francia: I take vitamin D3, a B complex, fish oil and a combination magnesium-zinc-calcium. I also take ribose before and a little bit during practice, then I mix it with whey protein after practice for recovery.
INSIDER: It is interesting how much you must be in the sun, yet you take a vitamin D3 supplement.
Francia: The team has blood work done by a doctor, who recommends certain vitamins and minerals when tests show a low level. We definitely protect our skin when we are out on the water, so maybe that affects our vitamin D synthesis.
INSIDER: What benefits have you noticed from your supplement use?
I notice ribose keeps my energy level more even-keeled. Before I started taking ribose, I felt I was dragging. I would finish practice and be on a high from the workout, but then I'd crash, regardless of what I ate. With ribose, the high subsides, but there is no drag; it simply brings me back to a normal energy state.
INSIDER: When considering a new supplement, what goes into your decision-making? Do think there is enough dependable information available on the supplements that interest you?
Francia: I was hesitant, at first, to take ribose. I wanted to have it tested for peace of mind. Bryan Clay [fellow Olympian] and I asked [ribose manufacturer] Bioenergy to test the product to our specifications. They did so, and I've been using it confidently ever since. Still, I hadn't taken any supplements in the previous seven years of my elite training, so I needed assurances. The company sent me an entire report including information on how the product worked. My mother is a biologist at the University of Pennsylvania, so I went over all the information with her. She approved.
INSIDER: Are you and your fellow Olympians aware of and favor certain programs that certify that certain supplements are safe for sports?
Francia: These programs definitely have an influence. The Olympics are so strict about what we ingest; none of us wants to be called a doper.
INSIDER: You didn't become a competitive rower until your sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia is known for its less-than-healthy foods (cheesesteaks, etc.), so how hard was it to adopt and maintain the right healthy diet to succeed in world-class rowing?
Francia: In the beginning, it was hard. I'd notice during exercise that the food I was eatinghigh in fat and sugarwas making me feel like crap. We rowers have to eat so much4,000 calories per dayit is hard to find high-calorie foods that are also healthy. However, I truly find what you put into your body will immediately show its worth. When I eat one cookie, instead of something healthier and balanced, after practice, I will crash. I've learned a lot about health and nutrition throughout my career, and I think it will stay with me even after I'm done. Bad food almost doesn't taste good to me anymore.
Laura Bennett, Boulder, CO, is a world-class triathlete. She placed 4th at the 2008 Olympics and is vying for a medal at this year's Games in London. She is a former U.S. Champion and won medals at several World Championships. She is married to fellow world class triathlete Greg Bennett.
INSIDER: How do you approach your nutritional need?
Bennett: I like to call it "no senseless eating." I try to eat all my macronutrients with what purpose they will serve for my goals. I do the same with any supplementation I would do as well.
INSIDER: What supplements do you take, and why?
Bennett: I don't believe the nutritional level of our produce is what it used to be. So I feel a bit of supplementation is necessary. To keep my battery running all day, I supplement with BioEnergy Ribose. I find I don't get any lulls in the day with about 20 g/d, and I don't feel my afternoon training is a burden.
INSIDER: Are you aware of, and do you favor programs that certify that certain supplements are safe for sports? Would more programs or certifications like these make you and other randomly tested athletes feel better about these products?
Bennett: Definitely, we never take a supplement without a certification that it is a clean product. It would be great to have more programs or certifications to make it easier to get products that are clean.
Check out more supplements that benefit athletes at INSIDER's Sports Nutrition Content Library.
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