Professional athletes don’t get to the top by accident. It takes superhuman levels of time, dedication, and focus—and that includes paying attention to what they put in their bellies. In this series, GQ takes a look at what pro athletes in different sports eat on a daily basis to perform at their best. Here’s a look at the daily diet of pasta-loving Olympic track star Christian Taylor.
Christian Taylor was on top of the world after winning his first gold medal in triple jump at the 2012 London Olympics. Then, knee issues put into question whether the USA Track and Field star would ever be able to jump at a competitive level again. But instead of just hanging up his spikes, Taylor and his coach devised a plan: No more pasta. No more pizza. No more carbs, which were causing inflammation in his joints. That change, combined with a new jumping pattern, allowed Taylor to go on and win a second gold medal in Rio. We caught up with the gravity-defying champ while training in the Netherlands to discuss how his new diet reinvigorated his career and why so many Olympians love McDonald’s.
GQ: You’ve now won back-to-back gold medals at the Olympics. Is there a celebratory meal that has become a ritual for you?
Christian Taylor: It’s pretty cool to be able to have that conversation. [Laughs] In 2012 I went to a burger place with my parents and I just had a regular cheeseburger with avocados, bacon, literally the works. In Brazil, I just had a rack of ribs and some fries. Nothing in particular, but it’s that point where you’re no longer eating to eat. You can finally enjoy food and not feel guilty about things. I actually was eating McFlurries before the London Olympics, though.
McFlurries from McDonald’s? Seriously?
It was my first Olympics. I was so nervous that I actually was having a lot of McFlurries while I was in the Olympic Village. Going into the London games I was so strict on my diet and watching all of my calories and everything that I just had to find something that would help ground me a little bit. So I figured maybe a little ice cream here and there would calm my nerves down and make me feel regular again, because I was so strict going in.
I’ve actually heard before that there is always a McDonald’s in the Olympic Village, but I just assumed no Olympic athlete would be touching that stuff after working so hard to get to this point. Are you guys really chowing down on McDonald’s?
Oh, yeah! McDonald’s is probably the most popular food source at the Village. Especially in Brazil. The food was a little different and so I think people wanted to play it safe. Also in Beijing, I was hearing so much about McDonald’s. McDonald’s is probably the hardest line to get into because everyone is eating there.
That’s insane. In your experience between London and Rio, how was the food aside from the McDonald’s at the Olympic Village? Did you typically get all your food from right there, or were you able to explore off-site and experience some of the local establishments? Or maybe you just bring a ton of your own food in?
Both London and Rio had the cafeteria setup where you can go and get almost everything. There’s pizza stations and carb loads, meat loads, things like that. I’ve grown fond of—in London and in Brazil it was almost like an outdoor grill setting where you could get grilled chicken, grilled fish, even shrimp. But in London especially I was exploring a lot. The Tube is super easy to get the hang of and everyone speaks English. I would just go around and say, “Hey, what would you recommend around here?” Everyone would have the “best spot.” So in London I was exploring a lot. Brazil, with the safety issues I was a little… I just wanted to play it safe and didn’t explore so much. And when I did, I was going to the Nike hospitality or the USA house, places like that.
I think most people often forget that track and field athletes are competing in different championship events all year long, and it’s not just the Olympics every four years. But does your diet change at all once you have the Olympics approaching?
For me, it’s all about consistency. I’m very mindful of the things that I am putting into my body. My coach is really big on lowering the carb intake because I have bad knees and bad joints. The carbs really sit and cause a lot of inflammation in my joints. So focusing my diet on getting meats, vegetables, and fruits is really important. Don’t get me wrong, I do have my cheat days. After a hard Saturday workout, say it was a really solid week, I’m going to have a slice of cake. I’m going to have something to reward myself. But I can’t say that my diet would change in an Olympic year as opposed to the year after or the year before. The only real difference would be the week or two weeks before where I’m going crazy mentally with stress or anticipation and I say, “Let me have an ice cream to bring me back down.”
Between the London and Rio games, you started dealing with some knee issues and ultimately ended up completely reversing your jumping pattern. Were there any dietary changes that coincided with the leg switch?
Actually, that was the point when I found out that the carbs were interfering with my total recovery. When I say I love carbs, I love pizza. I love pasta. I love sandwiches. They fill me up and I prefer that over eating chicken and fish and things like that. But when I was eating so much of that, I couldn’t recover as well. That’s when we found out that my joints were becoming so inflamed that if I jumped on a Monday, I couldn’t jump again until Friday because my knee would swell up or my ankle would swell up. That’s when my coach said, “Let's try to alter your diet a little bit and see what response we get.” He saw me eating at lunch a big plate of pasta. At dinner I would have a ton of fries and maybe a steak or something like that. He said instead of having the pasta, maybe we could do a salad. Instead of having the fries, maybe we could do asparagus or a zucchini mix or something like that. And that ended up being way better for me. When I was jumping on a Monday, by Wednesday I was ready to go again. I was definitely missing the pasta and stuff, but I told myself that if I’m going to compete at a high level—and now with changing legs I was given this second chance—how am I going to make the best out of this? If that’s the biggest sacrifice I have to make, I’m willing to do it.
"I find the prettier the dinner can be, the more colors that are involved, the better it can be."
Take me through your day-to-day diet. Are you a lunch/breakfast/dinner kind of guy, or do you prescribe to another method?
On a typical training day, for breakfast I would have two eggs with spinach. It doesn’t matter how I do it. Some days scrambled, some days over easy, others an omelet. I love avocado so I try to incorporate avocado in three to four meals out of the day. Some fruits. Bananas, pears, apples. Something that’s not too heavy but can also fill me up for the two hours of training I have. Then between my running and jumping session I have an hour to and hour-and-a-half before my weight session. That’s when I would have a protein shake and lunch. Lunch would consist usually of a salad with some kind of meat or eggs. If I know I have a bigger lifting session afterwards I would usually have chicken, beef, or lamb. I always try to get a little protein in there but the salad keeps it light. Again, I’ll have fruit in my salad. Some strawberries, peaches, mangoes, pineapples. Some sunflower seeds. I love feta cheese, so I throw some feta cheese in there. After weights I usually have a protein bar and banana. Just something to get me over the hump between lunch and dinner. Plus I’ll try to load up on water, trying to replace all the water that I’ve lost throughout the day.
With dinner, it’s very important to keep in mind whatever the session I have the next day. If I were having a lot of running the next day then I would usually have fish or chicken. Something that could break down a little quicker, versus if I know that I have a slower tempo day or something that’s not so intense. Then I would have some kind of steak or lamb again, because I don’t need to feel super light the next day. Then just a ton of vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers. I try to get some color. I find the prettier the dinner can be, the more colors that are involved, the better it can be.
You’ve already mentioned your love for ice cream. Are you ever indulging in some dessert?
My dessert would be some fruit. Pineapple is usually very sweet. Coconut, things like that are usually my dessert.
You’re currently training in the Netherlands. You lived in London. You’ve lived in the States. You’ve travelled all over the world competing. You seem like a good person to ask—where is the best place in the world to get food?
I would have to say Barcelona, hands down. I mean, they love seafood. It just seems so fresh. And the spices! No matter what kind of mood I’m in, I’ve had really good experiences there. Whether it’s the lobster, whether it’s the prawns. I was there two weeks ago and I was just in heaven. Barcelona, Spain would be my number one choice. Second would be Tokyo.
When you have an event in those cities does it make it that much harder to stick to your diet?
Absolutely. When you know it’s right outside the hotel or right outside the Village, you can always find an excuse to go and enjoy yourself. The good thing is when I’m wearing the USA gear it does remind me what I’m there for. This is not a holiday. This is work.
- Real Life Diet
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