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What Do Olympians Eat? 5 Crazy Training Diets

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

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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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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Curling: A Beginner's Guide to Where and How to Learn to Curl
Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

To the casual spectator, curling raises several questions. What are the players yelling about, for instance, and is all the sweeping really that important? The viewers who are only aware of the sport for two weeks every four years may also wonder if curling is still a thing when the winter Olympics are no longer in session. The answer, of course, is yes, and you don't need to be training for the big event to learn the game.

Curling may not have the mainstream appeal of other winter sports like skiing or ice-skating, but it's still accessible to amateurs if you know where to look. If you're a complete beginner, the best way to jump into the sport is to find your local curling club. Some clubs have spaces of their own dedicated to curling, while others are part of larger rinks that are also used for general ice skating. Team USA and the Shot Rock Curling Supplies company both offer interactive maps on their websites you can use to search curling clubs in your area.

Once you've found your club, the next step is learning the sport. Many curling clubs offer classes for beginners to develop the rudimentary skills required to deliver stones and sweep ice. Programs might consist of one session or a course spanning several weeks. Once you have a handle on the basics, you'll be prepared to get back on the ice and compete.

But unlike other sports, finding the right tools, people, and space necessary to actually play the sport isn't so easy. Fortunately, curling clubs also organize leagues for varying skill levels that provide all of that for you. To play you'll first have to pay a membership fee, but once you've signed up you'll be a part of a team that shares your commitment to the game.

This is the same way many Olympic athletes got involved in the sport, but it's a worthy hobby whether or not you aspire to go for the gold one day. The Oakville Curling Club in Ontario writes on their website: "It is a lifelong sport that can be learned at any age. Whether playing in a fun league or in a competitive ladder the emphasis is always on sportsmanship and fair play. Being a social sport by nature, it is not uncommon for teams to socialize off the ice where lasting friendships are often made."

Check out these cool facts about curling to learn the basics of how the game is played.

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