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Canada Summer Games: Junk Food Banned For Athletes

08/12/2013 05:38 EDT | Updated 10/12/2013 05:12 EDT
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TORONTO - Athletes who crave fries have had to forgo them at the Canada Summer Games village, which has been declared a junk food-free zone.

Instead, the young competitors are being given a huge variety of nutritious offerings with no cap on how often they can drop by the cafeteria each day.

"The whole point was to try and get athletes off on a good start," with adequate nutrition to help them perform better, said Christiane Azzi, a nutritionist with Sodexo, which is dishing up the food at Bishop's University in Sherbrooke, Que., site of the 17-day event which wraps Saturday.

TV personality and cookbook author Michael Smith, who ran the kitchen for Sodexo in Whistler, B.C., during the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, chose recipes he thought were suitable for athletes.

Azzi says she and Canada Summer Games head nutritionist Martin Frechette then reviewed them to "make sure they have good carbs, they have adequate protein, they have fat but not too much fat and they're not too heavy for competitions."

In the Games village, athletes are tempted by made-to-order omelette, pasta and stir-fry stations. There are deli bars, where they can make their own sandwiches, salad bars, two daily soups and a cold bar with cottage cheese and fresh-cut fruit. Entrees include lasagna, beef stew and chicken tagine and there are also gluten-free and kosher choices.

Even the pizza has been given a healthy twist with whole-wheat crust, vegetables and not too much cheese.

"There's something for everybody," said Michael Little, food and beverages manager for Sodexo, who is based year-round at Bishop's. "If you have specific dietary needs you can have a meal made right in front of you."

Little said the athletes don't seem to mind not having junk food. "People just kind of fall into (eating junk food). Since there's so many hot and fresh options, it's easy to eat well."

Members of the B.C. women's volleyball team, which won a silver medal, appreciated the healthy choices.

"There was always lots of fruits and veggies, which was really important for us, lots of salad and stuff like wraps and sandwiches," said power hitter Kaitlynn Given, 19, of Kelowna B.C. "Then there was stuff for post-game. Big meals like pastas and full dinners, stuff we'd expect at home.

"My favourite food was probably just the different varieties of fruits and stuff. For us, it was really important just to get all of the food groups in. We focused on nutrition a lot before we came here so I think it was important we kept that up once we got here."

A program called 3-2-1-Go! being premiered at the Games advises athletes what to eat three hours before, two hours before and one hour before competition.

"You don't eat the same way three hours before as you do one hour before," Azzi said from Laval, Que.

"You can't eat a full meal one hour before. You won't have digested, you'll be nauseated, you won't have the energy. But you can eat a small snack with a bit of carbs, a bit of protein, just to say you're not hungry any more and you can do your activities."

Brianna Beamish of Surrey, B.C., outside hitter for the volleyball team, said "it was really good just for having a constant reminder of what we should be eating before the match, what we should be eating after the match, just stuff you wouldn't always remember.

"I know a lot of our girls looked at it and it was really helpful," the 19-year-old added.

Three hours before a competition, athletes can eat a complete meal, with one-third of the plate carbohydrates to help replenish glycogen, a source of energy stored in the muscles that's depleted during excercise, said Azzi. Brown rice, pasta, potatoes, legumes, whole-grain bread or starchy vegetables like corn or potatoes are ideal. Another third of the plate should be colourful fresh vegetables, with the remainder of the plate protein, from beef, pork, fish, chicken or certain beans. Dessert can be fruit and yogurt with a glass of milk.

When the competition is two hours away, she advises something to sustain but not a full meal, such as half a tuna sandwich with carrots and a glass of milk. When exercise is one hour away, energy is needed but not anything heavy or fatty and minimal protein because it's too hard to digest. A banana and yogurt or a bowl of cereal with fruit will work.

Refuelling within an hour after exercise is just as important to replenish glycogen, Azzi said. A snack like peanut butter on toast with fruit or yogurt and fruit with a meal following in the next couple of hours is ideal.

Little said the athletes seemed to be enjoy interacting with the cooks, some of whom are trained nutritionists. "It's not every day you can have your omelette made by a nutritionist, so just the freelance advice that we can give on the fly I think there's a lot of value in that," he said.

Beamish said she liked the "ton" of choices available along with the tips.

"When you're young you need a lot of guidance as to what you should eat and I think here because there is a lot of younger athletes it was really good because you saw a lot of young athletes eating what they should be where in comparison to the U-15 games they didn't have that program so they weren't always making the best choices for their body and themselves," she said.

— With files from John Chidley-Hill in Sherbrooke, Que.

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