The Greening of the Games

Picking local in the produce aisle, checking for sustainability at the seafood counter, paying premium for organic milk...decisions that more and more of us make on a daily basis in our efforts to take better care of ourselves and the planet. This isn't always so easy. Things happen. A sudden shortage of organic milk, the price of sustainable salmon spikes one week, and the next thing you know your grocery cart's off kilter. Now imagine committing to those higher standards when you have to serve roughly14 million meals to spectators alone. Welcome to the other main event--the London 2012 culinary Olympics.

The Sustainability Promise

I'll admit it. Sustainability was not on my radar as I awaited seeing Phelps swim, Bolt run, and gymnasts fly in Olympics 2012. I happened upon London's pledge to go green when I delved into what Olympians were eating for my post, The Olympian's Plate. Until then, I would have assumed the chance of broad sustainability at the Games to be almost as remote as winning the gold in swimming sitting on the side of the pool.

I was wrong. Sustainability and promising to "deliver a tastier, healthier, greener Games" were at the core of London's bid to host the Games. The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOPG) made the pledge a priority. This was much bigger than when Norway introduced the concept of green into the Olympics in the Winter 1994 Games. With a promise of sustainability from pre-Games to post, from athletic venues to food service, London carved out quite a task for itself.

Working towards sustainability for the food alone was a behemoth undertaking and the Committee clearly took its mission quite seriously. Their all-hands-on-deck approach to the hard work at hand was visible from the 36-page report Feeding the Olympics - How and why the food for London 2012 should be local, organic, and ethical authored by a trio of nonprofits to the manifesto Food Vision for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games produced by the Game committee after 18 months of consultation. London obviously knew it would take a village to make greener Games a reality.

GAME ON!

Described as both visionary and ambitious, LOCOGP wove its sustainability pledge and Sustainable Sourcing Code into their Food Vision for hosting a "tastier, healthier, greener" Olympics. Tasty was a given, with 150 different dishes on the menu for spectators, 1,300 from myriad cuisines for the athletes, and the head of catering, Jan Matthews, planning to create the atmosphere of a food festival.

The burning question for me was how they could make healthier and greener a reality with so much food to order, fast food and soda sponsors, and disposable eating utensils everywhere. In my search for answers, I discovered that they had enough breadth and depth in their planning to make a Go-Green advocate's head spin. Here are some important commitments in the greening of what will likely go on record as the "greenest Games yet."

1. Supporting Fairtrade: London is actually the world's largest Fairtrade city. Their commitment to Fairtrade, paying producers in developing countries fair prices for their goods, is evident in the Games. Part of their Vision pledged to serve Fairtrade tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar, bananas, wine, and oranges. That's no small shakes when you're looking at an estimated 10 million Fairtrade bananas from the Windward Islands and South America, 14 million cups of Fairtrade coffee, and 7.5 million cups of Fairtrade tea. Those numbers reflect scores of lives that will be positively impacted by the Committee's decision to take the worldwide friendship of the Games to the next level by playing fair in purchasing.

2. Red-Tractor Assurance: Buying as close to home as possible helps reduce your carbon footprint. The British have a special Red-Tractor logo that lets buyers know that foods can be traced back to a British farm and have met strict standards of safety, animal welfare and environmental protection. The Committee's benchmark standards indicated that fruits, vegetables, salads, cereals, milk, butter, cream, British cheeses, beef, lamb, veal, mutton, and poultry for the Games were to ideally be Red-Tractor Assured. If they were not, they had to be fully traceable, which helps support sustainability. The meats in the Athletes' Village and Media Center are taken one step further and raised to the UK's leading animal welfare charity, RSPCA's standards (Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) because chefs will be right there to use the entire animal.

3. Sustainable Suppliers: The Committee searched for suppliers that were sustainable in their practices, with high scores in environmental, ethical, and animal welfare standards. They then took the next step, encouraging employee training to help boost individual employability post-Games. Cadbury, a Game sponsor, is on-board with their mission, working with dairy farmers to reduce the carbon footprint of milk, a key ingredient in their luscious milk chocolate, an already Fairtrade product.

3. Organic, whenever possible: This was the Committee's benchmark standard. All of the milk served by McDonald's is organic. Although the preference for organic produce was clearly communicated pre-game, reports are in that the Organizers were unable to hit their aspirational target of all organic. This isn't surprising given the sheer volume they're serving. All organic would have been fantastic, but I'm sure their standards helped move more organic to the plates.

4. Sustainable Seafood: Food Vision mandated that all fish and seafood served at the Games must be sustainably sourced (i.e. from fishing that does not deplete resources) based on specific guidelines and sustainability lists. Even wild-caught fish falls under regulations. Ideally, all seafood was to come from a broad range of species, in order to avoid depletion of a group. One source estimates a whopping 82 tons of seafood consumed at the Games. Will all 82 tons be sustainable? The jury is still out and I don't know that anyone will ever be sure. However, I think it's safe to say that whatever the actual percentage of sustainable seafood consumed, it will be higher than it would have been without the Organizer's mission!

5. Environmentally-Friendly Packaging: LOCOPG directed that every scrap of food and beverage packaging at the Games be compostable or recyclable. The food and drink served in the Olympic Park is packaged in wrappers, cartons, and boxes made from bioplastic or other compostable materials. Even the restaurant trash is green, with bins presorted into plastic, compostable, and non-recyclable bins to help maximize an environmentally-friendly process.

6. Healthier Choices: The Committee's pledge to go healthier didn't mean taking this international group outside of reasonable comfort zones. Instead, healthier Games meant taking some simple steps:

-Offering more whole grains -Giving away free water in all venues at all times -Making lower fat, salt, and sugar options available and highlighting them -Showcasing a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables -Offering more meat and fish-free menu items -Moving towards grilling and steaming as cooking methods -Encouraging responsible eating habits by backing away from huge servings and optimizing servings, especially of meat and fish

We could all take a page from their healthier eating strategies. We don't have a scorecard yet on how green the Games actually are but I hope they hit as many targets as possible.

During Ramadan, What's the Most Important Meal?

Breakfast is “the most important meal of the day.” Or so the American adage says. During the month of Ramadan in Muslim culture, breakfast becomes even more important and takes on a whole new meaning as a meal.

Ramadan marks the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and an annual holy occasion. Those who observe it—as mandated by the religion’s sacred book, the Koran—must fast from eating and drinking from dawn until dusk. Even water is not allowed.

The annual event begins with tarawih, a communal prayer session traditionally held in a mosque, the Muslim place of worship. Each day, followers of Ramadan resolvedly abstain from food and drink, and each night, they break the fast.

Iftar represents the Arabic word for “breakfast,” specifically during Ramadan. Most often, breakfast signifies first meal served after the sun rises, to break the (short) fast of sleep. During Ramadan, however, Muslims serve breakfast only after the sun sets, to the fast of an entire day. As well as in homes, this evening meal is additionally hosted in mosques; community members congregate to dine and pray together.

Specifically what food an iftar consists of varies by the culture. As one of the world’s major religions, Islam is globally practiced by millions of people, and Ramadan is observed just about everywhere, from Afghanistan to Algeria to America. Still, what almost all iftars serve dates, which trace back to the way the Prophet Muhammad broke his own fast.

Ramadan seems, on the surface, to only test a person’s bodily limits. In reality, though, the month is as much spiritual as it physical. Once observers cast aside corporeal needs, they are invited to look inward—examine who they are as individuals, re-explore their relationship to God, their family and friends, refocus on a pure lifestyle, participate in charitable activities, and do away with bad deeds. The month does not only signify a detoxification of the body, but of the soul, as well.

In the same way that Lent asks Christians to abstain from a choice life luxury for the 40 days leading up to Easter and Yom Kippur asks Jews to fast for the Day of Atonement, Ramadan asks Mulims to fast every day for a month—not so much to lose something, like food, as to gain a new perspective.

This year, Ramadan began on July 20. Because it begins roughly 11 days earlier each year, it evolves by season, in addition to year, time period and location. For the first time in 32 years, Ramadan is currently intersecting with the Summer Olympic Games. An estimated 3,000 athletes and officials participating in the international event are Muslim, and the dietary restrictions of Ramadan are clearly very different than those usually expected of an Olympic athlete. Sports 101 says to “always stay hydrated,” but during daylight hours on Ramadan, absolutely no fluids are allowed—water, Gatorade, or otherwise.

So, what are the athletes to do? The Koran indicates that those who are “sick or on a journey” may fast for “a number of other days.” Subsequently, many athletes have opted to forgo fasting during the games. Others, though, are choosing to still follow the religious regiment.

This Ramadan has been noted as especially challenging for its timing, since in the summer, the days are longer—and hotter. The Olympic athletes observing, then, are particularly inspiring. As they persevere in spite of hunger, heat, and thirst, perhaps everyone following the games should reconsider whether it’s coffee that wakes us up in the morning or the way we get out of bed. Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Or is iftar the most important meal of the night?

The Olympian's Plate

My culinary curiosity kicked in the other night as I watched the hyper-competitive swimmers jettison through the water with the grace of dolphin-sharks. How do these uber athletes fuel their bodies to be able to consistently sustain this level of physical output? Might there actually be such a thing as a Breakfast of Champions? I did some digging and just as I suspected, there is no magic meal that can turn us mere mortals into athletic forces to contend with. My peek behind the curtain did turn up some interesting info that makes the Games that much more interesting. Who knows, it might possibly help you improve your own athletic prowess a bit.

There was the story about what the athletes are actually eating, but how about a look at what they should be eating? To get to the bottom of this, I asked around and came up with this:

1. Sports dietitians are key members of the Olympic team. Food & Nutrition describes nutrition as one leg of a three-legged stool that makes athletes great. Genetics and training/coaching are the other two legs. Fortunately, the athletes don't have to go it alone in the nutrition department. Starting with the 2000 games, the International Olympic Committee mandated that licensed dietitians work with the caterers and consequently nutritional info is available for all dishes. In addition, our athletes have a record-breaking four sports dietitians of their very own in London to help shepherd them through what to eat and drink before and after training and competition. A dietician can be a help if you're pushing your body to its limit.

2. One size does not fit all for nutrition advice. Not only are an archery contender's needs different from a basketball player's, but the soccer goalie's needs also differ from the midfielder's. Senior USOC dietitian Shawn Dolan, PhD, RD, CCSD finds cookie-cutter nutritional info to be less than fully helpful and instead tailors her advice to meet the physiological needs of the athlete, the sport, and the position.

3. Calories are not the cornerstone of eating in the Olympic world. Michael Phelps' rumored 12,000 calorie/day intake is the food-fantasy legends are made of. Both Phelps and dietitians scoff at this figure, stating a true intake closer to 7,000-8,000, far in excess of the 2,000 plus/day range for most men. Some dietitians and athletes actually prefer listening to one's body to counting calories. That's a fine strategy for these energy-burning athletes but nixing calorie counts altogether will leave many regular people packing a few extra pounds.

4. Both carbs and protein are on their plates. I believe in balance and was thrilled to find that sports nutrition research puts us on the same page. They are not just packing protein or carb loading to within an inch of their lives. They are eating both. Fruits, veggies and whole grains vs. refined sugars are their carbs of choice. Carb-rich foods give them the muscle glycogen stores they need for fuel while protein helps the muscles repair.

Dolan describes the women's volleyball team as dining on oatmeal, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, English muffins with PBJ and bananas, smoothies, fresh fruit, hummus and veggies, sandwiches or wraps - a solid blend of carbs and protein. Smoothies and pasta are all-round favorites and salmon, tuna (think Omega 3's) and chicken are protein staples for many of the athletes. Turkey sandwiches are also a favorite snack. The list can also be translated into the same foods we should be eating (just less).

5. Rainbows rule. The message to eat a wide range of colors every day is resonating with many Olympians, including volleyball powerhouses Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings. This simple mantra is easy enough for everyone to remember and guarantees a great start at packing in a broad range of flavors, textures, and nutrients.

6. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. It's no surprise that the athletes have to replenish fluids at regular intervals with water, fruit juice or a sports drink. Plain old water remains the fluid of choice for many. The surprise is that a little underhydration actually trumps overhydration. Believe it or not, swimmers are the most likely to become dehydrated because they can't get out of the pool to take a sip.

7. Everything in moderation. The dietitians come with a disclaimer. They are not, in fact, the food police. Instead, they promote healthful eating at the core with a little wiggle room for moderation. Ryan Lochte was a long way from moderation when a typical breakfast consisted of 2-3 Egg McMuffins, hash browns and a chicken sandwich. He capped it off with 3-4 sodas/day and a bag of chips for a pre-training snack. He's turned the corner to scrambled eggs, oatmeal, and fruit for breakfast, wraps and salads for lunch, and 3-4 sodas/week. Could the dietary changes be responsible for his stellar performance Saturday? We'll never know for sure but we do know one thing. Healthier food choices undoubtedly helped propel him to the finish line.

It might be worth taking a lesson.

What Would You Eat? A Look at Olympic-Sized Diets

Performance in the Olympics is everything, but what you consume is as important, if not more so, than everything else. For these athletes you have to treat your body like a car. If you put bad fuel in it, it won't run well. If you put great fuel in it, it will perform to your ideal expectations and you will lower the chance of burning out. Olympians take this to an entirely new level.

Imagine training for hours on end, waking up at the crack of dawn only to be pushed to your physical limits for the next seven hours. Sadly, Olympic athletes can't run on a cup of joe and a bagel with schmeer. To celebrate the big wins of team USA (including the 100 meter backstroke gold by 17-year old Missy Franklin) we've put together a roundup of not only what our favorite Olympians are eating (think sixteen bananas a day) but what they're putting in their bodies to help recover, digest and prepare for the biggest athletic competition of their lives.

1. Powerhouse (and Michael Phelp's biggest rival) Ryan Lochte has completely switched up his diet since the 2008 games. For preparations in London this year, Lochte has cut out all sugar and fat from his diet, in particular those trips to fast-food central McDonalds. Before, a typical breakfast for the swimmer would be "two or three McDonald's egg McMuffins, some hashbrowns and maybe a chicken sandwich," Lochte has said, but these days his diet reflects a much more health-conscious lifestyle, focusing on eggs, fruit, oatmeal and plenty of protein for fuel.

2. There are 100 calories in one banana. Multiply that by sixteen and you've got the caloric count of Yohan Blake, the 100-meter world champion Jamaican sprinter. To stay fit and full of energy, Blake has been said to eat sixteen bananas every day

3. While loading up on calories and carbs is certainly important for fuels sake, Olympic athletes need to stay healthy in their everyday life as well. Noshing on greens, fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water, and incorporating health-conscious snacks into their everyday lifestyle is incredibly imperative to an athletes performance. Kerry Walsh, the American medalist in beach volleyball, sticks to snacking on sandwiches chock full of honey and almond butter. Giving your body plenty of endurance, almond butter is known to provide energy for hours, something Olympians know a thing or two about.

4.  Feeding the Olympians is something that London may not have known a thing or two about. We can all guess it would take tons of beef, bread and potatoes to keep the athletes well fed, but because they burn an awesome amount of calories, food supply is beyond imaginable because the athletes need to reboost just as quickly. The Olympic Village in London ordered 100 tons of beef and 330 tons of fruits and vegetables, and that's just a start.

5. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant all have to stay in shape to get first place this summer, especially with tough competition against Spain and Argentina. Ever wondered what they do to keep up the pace? These are the tips of the trade that they follow, which include eating greener, chewing slower, and watching the amount of animal food they eat to remain in the best shape, both inside and out.