Diet of champions: what our star athletes eat

Some athletes eat light, others have to gorge themselves on food to build muscle. Some need energy for explosive but short periods of exertion, while others have to sustain themselves for hours on huge cross-country marathons.

“When Sunday rolls around everyone knows that’s “The Hulk’s” cheat meal day.”

Soa ‘The Hulk’ Palelei is a mixed martial arts fighter from New South Wales who competes in the heavyweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the USA. And he likes his food.

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“I eat clean six days a week and when Sunday rolls around everyone knows that’s “The Hulk’s” cheat meal day, but we keep it at a meal not a whole cheat day even though sometimes I would like to!” Mr Palelei said.

Check out the daily intake of a cricketer, swimmer, MMA fighter, ballerina, ultra distance runner, wrestler and a boxer below.

If you don’t see your favourite sport here, the Australian Institute of Sport has a database full of nutrition recommendations for Alpine Skiing right through to Volleyball.

Ellyse Perry Plays Cricket and Soccer for Australia
Australian Soccer and Cricket player Ellyse Perry. Source: Supplied.

Ellyse Perry is a sporting Wunderkind, playing as both a football defender and cricket all-rounder, while also a student at the University of Sydney. Understandably, she needs a fair bit of energy to keep her going.

Her favourite health foods are natural peanut butter and raw cacao. To treat herself, she goes for ice cream, chocolate or carob.

Bircher muesli with green tea and water.
Bircher muesli with green tea and water.
Water and an oral hydration sachet.
Salad and lean meat, piccolo and water.
Banana and peanut butter sandwich on rye bread, water and oral hydration sachet.
Fruit and yoghurt or natural peanut butter and crackers.
Water, Red Bull sugar free.
Veggies and lean meat.
Post-game protein shake or yoghurt and fruit, followed by dinner of lean meat and veggies.


Soa ‘The Hulk’ Palelei Mixed martial arts fighterMixed martial arts fighter Soa Palelei. Source: Getty.

TrainingFight night
Oats cooked in water, no milk, and a teaspoon of peanut butter.
Egg white omelette with grilled mushrooms and tomatoes.
Half a chicken with both leg pieces, and sometimes the thighs as well.
Handful of steamed white rice, chicken thighs and steamed vegetables.
Egg white omelette and steak.

Imogen Chapman Ballerina with The Australian BalletBallerina Imogen Chapman. Source: Supplied.

Imogen Chapman, a ballerina at The Australian Ballet and one of six nominees for this year’s Telstra Ballet Dancer Award, has a much more petite diet than a Tongan fighter. Lighter meals like smoothies, sandwiches, fruit, cheese and yoghurt make up the bulk of her diet, balanced with meat, veggies and pasta.

After a massive week, practising for seven hours a day or performing until 10pm every night, she is definitely partial to a treat.

“Yeah, I love a bit of chocolate,” she said.

Blended smoothie with baby spinach, baby kale, half an apple, banana, pineapple, a few almonds and chia seeds.
Tuna or egg sandwich.
Meat, vegetables and bread.
Bowl of pasta a few hours before she goes on stage, and then a light meal after.

Richard Bowles Ultra distance marathon runnerUltra distance marathon runner Richard Bowles. Source: Supplied.

A typical day for Richard Bowles is 12 hours of running. He often runs two marathons a day for weeks at a time over very treacherous terrain.

Because of the vast distances he covers, a lot of his diet is sweet and sugary.

“Usually high GI foods work best, such as rice pudding and cookies and that type of thing.”

His favourites are ice cream and sweets from the bakery.

“I also enjoy red wine, and as my partner is a non-drinker that means I get to drink a bottle to myself!”

Two poached eggs on toast, banana, white coffee.
Bowl of Nutri-Grain. White coffee.
Meat and salad sandwich.
For every hour of running, 100 calories in the form of sports drinks, gels and bars.
Pasta or meat and vegetables.
Pasta or meat and veg x 3.


Ellie Cole Paralympic swimmer
Paralympic swimmer Ellie Cole. Source: AAP.

After losing her right leg above the knee to cancer, Ellie Cole took up swimming as a form of rehabilitation, and discovered a hidden talent.

She has won two bronze medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and six medals at the 2012 London Paralympics.

Her competition diet often varies depending on where in the world she is racing.

“Sometimes it is hard to get a meal before racing, and our hotel room will not have any cooking equipment, so I might have to make do with what I can sneak out of lunch or buy some extra muesli bars from a local store.”

Porridge with almond milk, honey, banana and an egg. After training, another breakfast of burrito with eggs, bacon, avocado, baby spinach, chilli sauce and cheese.
Muesli with almond milk and blueberries, a coffee and vitamins washed down with fruit juice.
Kway teow, mee goreng or sushi.
Salad and tuna sandwich, or a stir fry with rice, or a BBQ chicken wrap.
Grilled fish with potato mash, asparagus and green beans. A rare dessert might be yoghurt with berries, a bowl of ice cream, or a berry smoothie.
Always a mix of an animal protein, plenty of carbs, and something green.


Mohamadreza Ashori Wrestler
Wrestler and Iranian asylum seeker Mohamadreza Ashori. Source: Hus Erzurumlu.

Mohamadreza Ashori, 30, is an Iranian asylum seeker who won the 74 kilogram division at the Australian Cup of Wrestling in May.

His dream is to compete at the Olympic Games, and he would have qualified for this year’s Commonwealth Games if he had gained citizenship in time.

His secret pre-wrestle super food is lentils.

“If you use, for example, meat or bread and butter with honey, it is not good because they do not keep your body powerful, but lentils gives you enough energy to to carry on with the match,” he told The New Daily through a translator.

He is a big fan of meat. Chicken and fish are his favourite healthy foods. For a snack he likes chocolate, coffee and ice cream.

TrainingDay of wrestling match
Haleem (a Persian stew made from wheat, meat and spices), or buttered bread with honey.
Red meat or chicken, with veggies and salad. No carbs.
A very light meal.

Cherneka Johnson Boxer
Cherneka Johnson. Source: Supplied.

Cherneka Johnson, 19, based in Redland Bay, Queensland, was the gold medallist in last year’s 54 kg division in the Australian Boxing Championship, and is this year’s silver medallist in the 51 kg division. She is also a Jetts personal trainer.

Her diet is vastly differs between training and “making weight” before a match, due to the strict weight class requirements.

“When I was making 51 kgs, it was a real struggle for me. Pretty much the whole week out I was only having maybe one meal a day,” she told The New Daily.

The day before weigh in, she eats and drinks nothing, and spends a lot of time in the sauna.

TrainingCutting phase
Poached egg on toast or oats with 30 grams of blueberries. Protein shake.
Chicken rice stir fry with lots of vegetables.
Meat and vegetables.
1 x protein shake for the entire day.
Snacks (3 times a day)
Rice crackers with cottage cheese or avocado and tomato. Handfuls of almonds. Fruit. Cans of tuna. Protein bars.


Fuel your body before, during and after workouts with the Paleo Diet for Athletes. Buy it here.

paleo-diet-for-athletes-guidePaleo Diet for Athletes is a wonderfully delicious approach to maximizing your workouts by fueling your body with lean proteins and quality carbohydrates. You'll build strength and endurance through specific meal plans designed to build energy before you exercise, while you exercise, and as you rest and recover. Let Paleo Diet for Athletes be your guide to changing the way you eat before, during, and after you exercise: More than 50 nutritious recipes created with the athlete in mind.
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