Kiwi athletes will tuck into an international smorgasbord of gold medal-winning meals as they chase Olympic glory in Rio.

The New Zealand team will join 10,000 elite competitors using a massive communal dining hall within the bubble of the Olympic Village.

The impossible speed, muscle density and endurance of the world's greatest athletes is not just down to physical training and mental toughness - nutrition plays an important part on the road to a podium finish.

Jeni Pearce leads a 13-strong team of nutritionists from High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ), who are tasked with ensuring our squad of 300-plus athletes are in prime condition.


HPSNZ performance nutritionists work with athletes on their individual meal plans, as well as nutrient timing and desirable body composition. They also support injury and immunity programmes.

Pearce said top performers such as Valerie Adams and Eliza McCartney will run a daily gauntlet of culinary temptation inside the Olympic Village. Among the fare being served is pasta for breakfast, curried goat and baba ganoush and chips.

"Walking into the athlete dining hall at the Olympic Games is like entering the largest supermarket in New Zealand, where all the food is free and it is open 24/7," she said.

"Athletes may find they end up over-eating or eating "treat" foods once they get into the dining hall because they are so hungry by the time they have been through their post-event recovery regimes.

"They need a plan going into the dining hall, and athletes who compete in weight class need to be especially disciplined in food choices and portion sizes before their events and avoid the temptation of experimenting with anything outside their normal diet."

The timing and nutritional value of the athletes' usual snacks and fluids is important - but the good news is Kiwi athletes tend to be self-sufficient and well disciplined because they travel more than most of their rivals.

Athletes from different sports will also have different dietary needs.

Champion shot-putter Adams needs a lot of protein and a modest amount of carbohydrates, while rising teenage pole-vault star McCartney will require more carbs than her famous teammate.

"Valerie consumes a lot of calories for power and strength but still eats really well," said Pearce.

"Eliza is 19 and still growing so she will eat a lot more carbs than Val."

 Michael Phelps smiles as he arrives for a swimming training session. Photo / AP
Michael Phelps smiles as he arrives for a swimming training session. Photo / AP

Although these days athletes will have a nutritionist or a dietitian working with their coaches to build tailored eating programmes, that wasn't always the case.

Marathon runners have been known to down pints of Guinness or dark stout beer the night before a race.

And New Zealand's most successful Olympian, kayaker Ian Ferguson, revealed he would sometimes munch into plates of fish and chips before big events.

Ferguson competed at four Olympic Games, winning three gold medals in Los Angeles in 1984. He also lifted gold and silver at the Games in Seoul four years later.

He recalled seeing German rivals who were downing glasses of lager every day while preparing for the Games.

"In my day, we knew to have plenty of vegetables and lean meat and not to have too many sugary drinks," he said.

"The power drinks we had back then were ghastly and the creatine we put into fruit drinks was a shocker, it tasted like shit.

"For me, you couldn't beat fish and chips, or anything with mashed potatoes or rice - as long as it was in moderation."

But Ferguson said he and his colleagues realised it was "good old-fashioned common sense" not to overindulge in the greasies.