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What Do Olympians Eat? 5 Crazy Training Diets

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Back in 2008, during the Beijing Olympics, we were regaled with stories about the monstrous 12,000 calorie daily diet that American swimming sensation Michael Phelps consumed while gearing up for the Games. Alas, Phelps revealed last month his diet has never been that gargantuan. "I never ate that much," he said. "It's all a myth. I've never eaten that many calories." Although what the Olympic gold record-holder actually eats might remain a mystery, athletes around the world are trying out different meal plans that they believe will help propel them to competitive stardom this summer in London. Here's a look at five of the strangest (and in some cases, frightening) diets.

1. The insanely high-calorie diet

MOHAMMAD KHURSHEED/CSM/Landov

While nobody actually takes in 12,000 calories a day, some athletes come awfully close. Phelps's swimming teammate Ryan Lochte says he relies mostly on McDonald’s for his meals, translating to between 8,000 and 12,000 calories. Before you freak out, consider that Lochte's diet also "includes salad and fruit." Canada's Dylan Armstrong, a shot putter, requires between 6,500 and 9,000 calories per day. "But it's easy to eat a lot of calories," he told the National Post earlier this month. "I like a lot of salmon. Obviously, beef and chicken. I’m on a high-protein, low-carb diet. I’ll eat five or six times a day."

2. The oddly specific diet

NIKLAS LARSSON/EPA/Landov

For American sprinter Tyson Gay to keep up with sprinting champion Usain Bolt this summer, he'll need to be in the best shape of his life. He's been working with EAS Sports Nutrition to design his perfect training regimen. In addition to taking some legal supplements, Gay subscribes to a tailor-made diet provided by a nutritionist who strictly monitors his intake. "I eat 230 grams of protein daily, 308 grams of carbohydrates, maybe 70 grams of fat," he told AskMen this spring. To achieve that, Gay had to adjust to eating six meals a day, consisting of everything from raisins and yogurt to ground turkey and fish. "It’s going to be a diet plan to really set me up to be the best I can be," he said.

3. The 'fruit only' diet

Fruit stand image via Shutterstock

Is the secret to Olympic success in fruits and vegetables? That's what the new "80/10/10" diet claims. It consists of a diet built around 80 percent fruits and vegetables, ten percent protein and ten percent fat. Michael Arnstein, an American marathon runner hopeful began on the 80/10/10 plan several years ago when he read about it, and has taken it to another level since. He writes on his blog, The Fruitarian, about his decision to turn entirely to fruits and vegetables after trying out some other diets, "Veganism is a logical choice. But Fruitarianism is the healthiest form of veganism. There are countless benefits, both to the person eating a Fruitarian diet, and for the world we live in." He assures that he never cheats, either: "A late-night snack might be grapes, mango, or some other more exotic/seasonal fruit."

4. The starvation diet

CARLOS BARRIA/Reuters/Landov

South Korean gymnast Son Yeon-jae has one of the strictest diets of any competitors, having to stay in tip-top shape over the next few months and perhaps even beyond. "She practices for seven hours a day, eats a sparrow's breakfast and lunch and skips dinner," reported the Chosen Ilbo in May. Son points out that some of her fellow gymnasts are blessed with an easier time maintaining their bodies. "Western gymnasts have longer limbs, so even if we weigh the same, they look slimmer. As such, I have to weigh less to look as good," she said. Son believes that any hope of medaling, and the burden of raising South Korea to the upper echelons of the sport, will require her to reduce every gram of fat she possibly can.

5. The 'eat whatever I want' diet

BOBBY YIP/Reuters/Landov

He's the oldest Olympian this year and like many 71-year-olds won't let anyone tell him what to eat. Japanese equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu was also the oldest athlete at the 2008 Beijing Games, and he has a knack for his training by now. "I eat whatever I want to eat. I think I was born very lucky. I don’t get fat, even if I eat a lot...I don’t care so much about what I should eat or shouldn’t eat and what I should drink," he told The New York Times last month. Unlike most athletes who require a team of assistants to work with them before and during the Games, It sounds like Hoketsu has his whole schedule and regimen under his control. "I normally wake up around 7:30 in the morning and I do a little walk about 25 minutes for stretching, eat breakfast, then go to the stable and ride two horses in the morning, come back, eat lunch. I do some business work for two or three hours, then go back to the stable and either I get on the horse and take her to the farm nearby and walk or I lead her in hand and walk together." Just your typical septuagenarian.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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