Professional athletes must stick to strict dietary plans in order to compete and perform at their best. Endurance runners, swimmers and bicyclists often struggle to keep on weight and keep up their energy since no form of exercise burns calories faster than cardio. This is why these athletes often carb-load with rice, bread, pasta and even Papa John’s pizza before a big competition.

Why the Professionals Eat So Much

Marathon runners and triathletes compete in rigorous races that push their bodies and metabolic rates into overdrive. It is not uncommon for the average endurance athlete to burn upwards of 20 calories per minute. With the typical daily exercise routine lasting up to five hours, 4,000-6,000 calorie deficits are the norm.

Let’s put that into perspective. These people burn through as many calories in one day that most of us consume in two to three, so it’s no wonder they have to eat, eat, eat! Failure to replenish their expended calories by refueling with healthy meals can spell big trouble for athletes. To maintain a healthy metabolism and stay full all day long, they need to eat five or six times per day.

A well-balanced diet is key with carbohydrates comprising the bulk of an endurance athlete’s intake. It is a common misconception that high protein consumption is crucial, but for individuals who primarily train Type I (slow twitch) muscle fibers, a healthy carbohydrate-protein-fat ratio is more important. Energy levels must be sustained for long periods of time, and this is where slow-burning carbs come into play.

As such, a sample meal for a marathon runner may be a Papa John’s pizza, a large serving of pasta drizzled in olive oil (a great source of healthy fats) and ice cream. At first glance, these food choices may seem horrible for an athlete, but the fact is endurance runners have more leeway as far as selection goes.

Remember, the end goal is sufficient caloric intake, so if that means ordering pizza to go from one of the best pizza places in Atlanta, then so be it! Given the intense nutrition demands professional athletes must endure, making sure they get enough to eat can be just as challenging as crossing the finish line.