MY OLYMPIC JOURNEY: What’s my Rio diet? It’ll make sense when I explain

A few years ago, I went with my sister and a good friend on a three-day hike of the Grand Canyon. At the outset, our guide gave us each a bag of snacks – greasy stuff like Fritos and corn nuggets. We canvassed the snack bags with some apprehension over the sheer unhealthiness of the products inside.

Our guide, perhaps sensing our bafflement, paused and then said with a smile:

“Enjoy it. It’s the only time you’ll be able to eat this stuff without worrying.”

His point was clear. For the next three days, we would be scaling mountains, carrying backpacks, and burning massive amounts of calories. We wouldn’t just want those snacks, he was saying; we would need the empty carbs to stay nourished.

I thought about that conversation the other day in Rio as I stared at my dinner plate of fried fish, egg noodles, and French fries.

Surely, this isn’t healthy, I thought. But I need to stay nourished.

Such is the state of mind at the Olympics, where I have essentially hit the halfway point of a three-week assignment. Several days into Week 1, I noticed my belt felt a little looser than normal; I quickly realized I had already lost enough weight to drop a whole buckle. I also saw my daily step counts reaching the 15,000 mark and my daily sleep count dropping toward the five-hour mark.

I knew then I needed to eat more frequently – and more heftily – than I had for the first few days.

Since then, I have adjusted my eating schedule. I used to eat three big meals a day with the occasional fruit or snack in between. Now I eat roughly eight mini-meals. I arrive at 6 AM and have a croissant; then I come back at 7:30 and have some combination of eggs, fruit, and whatever else is available at the NBC commissary. I return every hour or so, still eating a traditional lunch and dinner but also snagging a handful of snacks whenever my appetite demands them.

You might say I indulge, Grand Canyon-style.

On Tuesday, feeling an afternoon lull, I popped into the commissary and grabbed a couple of macaroons – one of the highlights in an impressive but admittedly limited supply of free food NBC makes available. On my way back to my desk, I bumped into a colleague who asked me, “What do you have there?”

I showed him my supply.

“You know,” he said, “it seems like every time I see you, you’re holding some kind of dessert.”

I couldn’t argue. I have raided the commissary’s stash of popsicles, frozen yogurt, tortilla chips, and mini-cheesecakes.

(Have I mentioned how thankful I am that NBC provides this?)

I don’t entirely pig out. I try to balance each unhealthy snack with a more mature option; I delighted the other night at the sight of quinoa, and I drink every day 6-8 bottles of water. On the whole, though, I definitely eat with more reckless abandon than I do at home.

And I still haven’t gained back that belt size.

I’m not going to ask questions. In fact, bring on the Fritos and corn nuggets while we’re here. I might as well, right?

Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at

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