What is it like to eat like an elite athlete? With Olympic fever upon us, we asked four Hong Kong sports stars to divulge details of their dining habits. Competitors in high-energy sports seem to be eating machines, whereas those in less demanding sports have eating habits more similar to us mere mortals.
Some athletes are acutely aware of what goes into their mouths, while others eat as they please. One thing is for sure: everyone has a different idea of how to fuel up for athletic success.
Swimmer Ivette Kong Man-yi
Kong, who will compete in the 100 metres breaststroke in Rio, trained hard ahead of the Games – around 30 hours per week, or five to six hours per day. To power through her gruelling exercise regimen, she chomps through six meals a day (three big meals and three snacks). Michael Pollan’s Food Rules has influenced her natural-food-dominated diet. In Rio, the swimmer will only dine at the Olympics’ athletes village. “Since the Olympics is a world-class event under much scrutiny, I believe the organisation will do what it takes to ensure the food available will be safe and good,” says Kong.
Typical meals: breakfast is a protein smoothie (bananas, blueberries, coconut water and protein powder). Lunch is rice or pasta with baked or pan-fried fish or chicken. Dinner is a smaller portion of carbohydrates plus cooked vegetables. Kong usually snacks after training, which can be rice cakes with peanut or almond butter; a tuna salad or protein bar in the afternoon; and a protein shake or celery with hummus before bedtime.
Favourite healthy snacks: yogurt with fruit, granola and cinnamon. Home-made banana bread made with honey and coconut oil instead of refined sugar and butter.
Favourite places to dine out: Din Tai Fung for dumplings, and dessert shops in Kowloon City for sweet potato in ginger sweet soup. Kong also loves milk tea at cha chaan teng.
Supplements: protein powder, vitamin C, multivitamins, and fish oils.
Recovery food secrets: eating frequently gives Kong energy spikes to stay fuelled all day. She also uses hydration tablets placed in water to produce a replenishing electrolyte-rich drink.
Favourite cheat meals: she goes out once or twice a week for a burger, dessert or pizza. “I eat whatever I want, it’s a mental release from what I do.”
Diet challenges faced in Hong Kong: Kong gets randomly tested by the World Anti-Doping Agency so she scrutinises food labels and is acutely aware of what she eats when she dines out. She checks for prohibited substances such as clenbuterol, which can be found in meat. “I’ll buy organic food as much as I can, even if it costs more; I practise this not just to be cautious about doping issues, but because it’s healthier to eat chemical-free food,” she says. Kong is adamant about consuming the best and safest food possible since it affects her performance.
Fencing star Cheung Ka-long
Cheung will participate in the Rio Olympics in the men’s individual foil, and the 19-year-old has been training every day for four or five hours in preparation. The world No. 24 fencer proclaims that unlike athletes like boxers who have to control their weight, he doesn’t follow a strict diet regimen. “I eat like a normal person and I don’t plan my meals,” he says.
Typical meals: since he lives at the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI) in Fo Tan, in Hong Kong’s New Territories, he dines in its canteen. Breakfast is toast and eggs. Lunch and dinner are usually rice with meat and vegetables.
Refrigerator staples : Endurox R4, a muscle recovery drink formula that contains glutamine, salts, proteins and carbohydrates.
Favourite healthy snacks: Caesar salad.
Favourite places to dine out: “I don’t really have a favourite restaurant but my favourite food is steak and pasta,” he says.
Supplements: creatine, which Cheung says is great for muscles.
Recovery food secrets: after exercise, he gulps down Endurox R4.
Favourite cheat meals: since Cheung eats as he pleases, he doesn’t have cheat meals.
Diet challenges faced in Hong Kong: “I don’t have to worry too much, I eat whatever I want,” he says.
Karate athlete Lau Chi-ming
Lau Chi-ming, along with his younger sister Grace Lau Mo-sheung, are on Hong Kong’s national karate team. Chi-ming is currently ranked 15th in the world in the male individual kata category. Recently, he won gold at the WKF Karate 1 Premier League in Salzbug. Chi-ming trains about five days a week, but doesn’t plan his meals since he lives and dines at the HKSI.
Typical meals: breakfast is Hong Kong-style macaroni or rice noodles with beef. As prescribed by his nutritionist, lunch and dinner meals are 50 per cent red rice, 25 per cent vegetables and 25 per cent meat. For lunch, he sometimes eats chicken satay with red rice and boiled vegetables. “Our nutritionist taught us to eat more colourful food, such as more red, yellow or green vegetables, or colourful fruits such as berries,” he says.
Refrigerator staples: fruit such as apples.
Favourite healthy snacks: fruit from the HKSI canteen and milk.
Favourite places to dine out: cha chaan teng for Yeung Chow fried rice. He also loves iced lemon tea and milk tea but avoids having them too often because of their high sugar content.
Supplements: glucosamine and chondroitin (great for joints), multivitamins, Science In Sport’s Overnight Protein powder (high in milk protein with vitamins and minerals) and Rapid Recovery drink formula (proteins, carbohydrates, electrolytes and minerals).
Recovery food secrets: SIS Rapid Recovery.
Favourite cheat meals: burgers at Texas Burger in Tin Hau.
Diet challenges faced in Hong Kong: “There is so much oil used in restaurant meals and too many sugary drinks.” Lau likes Milkis, a South Korean soft drink, but tries to avoid this sugar-heavy drink.
Ten-pin bowling world champion Wu Siu-hong
Last year, Wu became the first Hongkonger to win the world bowling champion title at the 51st QubicaAMP World Cup in Las Vegas. This was the apex of the cancer survivor’s 17-year career, which has included gold medals at the 2001 East Asian Games. He trains six hours every day.
Typical meals: breakfast is a bowl of rice noodles with meat and eggs. Lunch is usually red rice with meat (Chinese chicken, for example) and fruit (banana or apple). Wu eats something similar for dinner but with fewer carbohydrates, like rice noodles with beef or chicken. Since he lives at the HKSI, most of his meals are from the institute’s canteen.
Refrigerator staples: yogurt with banana.
Favourite healthy snacks: mango and strawberries.
Supplements: vitamins C and E.
Recovery food secrets: after training, Wu replenishes with Endurox R4, then has a massage.
Favourite cheat meals: Korean barbecue and steak.
Diet challenges faced in Hong Kong: Hong Kong is filled with great restaurants and snack places at almost every turn, so he finds it difficult to manage his weight when surrounded by many opportunities to indulge and dine out. When he does go out for a treat, Wu usually has junk food like potato chips.