Eat like an Olympian

Like millions of people, I’ve been glued to the Olympics. The awe-inspiring feats of strength and agility (and those sculpted divers’ bodies) make for riveting television viewing. But there’s a little grey cloud that hangs over me every four years — the sad realization that I’m never going to win a gold medal.

Not that I’m even remotely athletic, but you know, it’s nice to dream.

This time around, I’ve been watching the displays of human perfection from my slumped position on the couch, as I perform my own balancing act of nursing a baby while trying to reach for the chocolate bar that’s just out of reach. I feel about as far away from being an Olympic athlete as it’s possible to be.

But to all the other mothers out there, take heart: we have more in common with elite athletes than we knew!

Sure, we wear milk-stained maternity clothes rather than spandex and neon running shoes, but it turns out breastfeeding mums actually eat like endurance athletes.

Anyone who has breastfed a baby knows about the hunger. The incessant, bottomless need to eat which we tend to attribute to the life being sucked out of us by our sweet little babies.

But we are constantly hungry and deliriously thirsty because motherhood is the ultimate endurance sport. We need serious amounts of fuel and we can basically eat whatever the hell we want. A lot like Michael Phelps circa 2008.

So it makes me proud to say, as a breastfeeding mom of two who can barely zip her jeans, I don’t eat like a pig, or a trucker: I eat like an Olympian!

Until I read this article, I didn’t realize that I had so much in common with US rower Seth Weil. Turns out we both like to start the day with peanut butter and jelly, and end it with ice cream. He likes his coffee too, but I wonder if Seth ever gets to finish his.

In my house, my morning coffee gets rewarmed a few times, then ultimately abandoned in the arena of half-filled mugs of tepid coffee that is my living room.

Like both Weil and US long distance runner Shalane Flanagan, whose diet is also profiled in the article, I too must eat several breakfasts to get through the morning without collapsing. Same goes for the multiple dinners and afternoon snacks.

Water plays just as crucial a role in keeping me healthy as it does for Olympic athletes. Every day is a battle against dehydration for us. For me, though, I choose a nice glass of laborade over Gatorade any day (or any day that it’s mixed and waiting for me in the fridge).

Take out the meat and these athletes’ daily intake of food looks a lot like my own: eggs, hummus, Everything bagels, dried fruit (shoved quickly into the mouth while the kids aren’t looking), sugary breakfast cereals (ditto) and the occasional superfood salad on days when I really have it together.

By the way, they say you need about 500 extra calories a day when breastfeeding, but I say add another 500 for mental stress and 500 more for emotional strain.

Basically, we busy, overtired, freaked-out moms can eat whatever the hell we want. We need the calories. And we need the little rewards and less of the guilt.

Because, unlike the athletes, we don’t get enough sleep. We don’t get regular exercise. Our job is 24/7 and we don’t have professional trainers to help us stay healthy or even showered.

I eat a second dinner around 9pm, not because of my strict gym schedule, but because I have to wake up every few hours to keep another human alive.

It took 9 months to grow my baby, and I know it will take at least that long to get close to my pre-pregnancy physical fitness. In reality, that may never happen. Motherhood changes your body. And it definitely changes your stamina and your idea about what is hard.

I like knowing that, like long-distance runners and competitive rowers, I eat to fuel this amazing machine that, despite feeling a bit worse for wear, is doing something awesome.

We don’t get million dollar endorsement deals. We don’t get gold medals. We don’t even get water breaks; like distance runners we just grab a cup and dump water on ourselves while in constant frenzied motion.

Being a mum, and feeding two kids with my own body, is an endurance sport like no other. And that means we can eat what we want and plenty of it.