Ryan Lochte and Fast Food

Ryan Lochte versus Michael Phelps 2012 London OlympicsThanks to filmmaker Morgan Spurlock and his movie Super Size Me, we all know what happens when fast food is eaten every day. But what happens when someone stops eating fast food?  And what if that person is an elite athlete?

Last month in an interview in Outside magazine, interviewer Ryan Krogh asked the Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte what happened when he gave up fast food.  His response was powerful.

“I never really noticed how what you put in your body has an effect on how you compete. I tried eating better, and I started seeing improvements almost immediately. I was having weeks and weeks of great practices, and that definitely carried over into competition.”

His success continued to carry over to the 2011 World Championships where he beat Michael Phelps twice and beat him again in the IM at Olympic trials. The question everyone is asking is, can he do it again in London?

Lochte’s quote is invaluable for coaches who try desperately to change the dietary habits of their athletes. It’s also great news for athletes looking to get an edge on the competition or researchers who want to look at the effects of diet on performance.

On a similar note, one of my former athletes and American record holder, Gretchen Hegener, decided to remove sugar from her diet after graduating. She wanted to know how sugar affected her training.

“I called it the ‘C’ Diet: no candy, no cake, no Coke, no cupcakes. I basically gave up sweets,” said Gretchen. “Wow, did it make a difference in my training and performance. I didn’t feel sluggish and I had way more energy.”

As I read Lochte’s interview, I asked myself: what could be more powerful than a world record holder and Olympian saying that removing fast food from his diet made a significant impact on his training? It is exactly the kind of quote I could have used years ago when I was coaching.

As collegiate strength coaches, my co-worker and I were frequently frustrated by athletes who would stumble into the weight room hungover after a long night of binge drinking. (After all, if the athletes didn’t improve their performances or if they didn’t get stronger, we were the ones who got blamed.) We couldn’t make recommendations regarding their nutritional choices, but we decided to take matters into our own hands when it came to alcohol. And since we coached mainly women, we employed a tactic that (we knew) would work wonders for decreasing alcohol consumption.

My co-worker would walk nonchalantly through the weight room over to where I was standing and loudly ask if I’d seen the latest research on alcohol consumption. Acting as if I didn’t notice all of the athletes paying attention to my co-worker, I would tell her that I had not yet read it, but was interested to hear what was discovered.  She would then say that researchers had found a direct link between alcohol and cellulite. The more alcohol ingested, the more hail damage one could expect. She would then go off stating things about it being an “unusual carbohydrate” that the body “didn’t really understand how to metabolize,” but by then, the athletes were no longer paying attention. They immediately started working harder, completely freaked out about alcohol and how it would prevent them from ever wearing short skirts or short shorts again. Mission accomplished.

So, if you aren’t inspired by mythical research on cellulite, could Lochte’s and Hegener’s quotes and real-life experience inspire you to make changes? If removing fast food from the diet can make the best even better, what could it do for you? Besides dramatically lowering your risk for coronary heart disease and diabetes, how good could you feel?  How incredible could you be if you ate fast food once a month instead of once a week? What if you could (ultimately) cut it out entirely?

And what about sugar? In the final episode of The Skinny on Obesity, Dr. Robert Lustig stated that 80% of items in a grocery store contain sugar.  Not surprisingly, in February 2012 Stephen Guyenet reported that Americans eat 100 pounds of sugar annually. That is over 1/4 lb of sugar daily. DAILY. Think about that. Nearly every item in the store has sugar in it. That scenario hardly affords a person sugar-free or high fructose corn syrup-free alternatives. Consumers don’t have to be victims, though. Food affects your life, your health and your performance so your grocery shopping is going to have to change; it needs to be considered and deliberate. It may cost more, but it is way more fun spending money at Whole Foods than on hospital bills.

Challenge yourself to read labels, to make healthy choices, to consider alternatives, and to shop deliberately. Try it for a week and see how you feel. Try it for a month and see if you are hooked.

Please let me know if your changes lead you to extraordinary places!


About The Author

Amy Scott

Amy Scott Erickson has a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. She is currently the dean of the Health Fitness Specialist degree at Globe University and is a certified Muscle Activation Techniques Specialist. Prior to her role as a dean, Amy was a rowing coach and recruiting coordinator for the University of Texas and the Head Strength & Conditioning coach for the University of Minnesota Women’s Athletic Department. A former Division I athlete, Amy now enjoys cycling, aerial yoga, strength training and is considering taking up rodeo as a new sport.