Breakfast of Champions

The training regimen of Olympic athletes can be complicated, but their food doesn’t have to be. Pasta, oatmeal, yogurt, rice, chicken, fresh fruit, and granola: these basics, paired with a lot of hard work will send 18-year-old Charles Conwell, Jr. to Rio de Janeiro this summer as part of the USA Olympic boxing team. Conwell, who just graduated from Cleveland Heights High School, will compete in the middleweight (165-pound) division.

Conwell has a big family cheering him on, including eight siblings. He’s been boxing since age 11, first with his father, Chuck, as his coach, and now with his uncle, Otha Jones II, from Toledo’s Soul City Boxing. His mom, Annette Steen-Conwell, in addition to being his biggest fan, also makes sure he gets the right food he needs to train and compete at such an elite level.

That food turns out to be wholesome and nutritious, but no more exotic than any typical healthy eating. Conwell will happily eat whatever Annette puts in front of him, but loves pasta and rice dishes the most. A bowl of cereal or oatmeal is often breakfast, and he waits until he gets home from school for lunch.

“I try to have something light before practice, like yogurt,” he says. Conwell’s afternoon snacks also include fresh fruit, such as pineapple, oranges, and apples, plus granola bars, and green juice. His last meal before a fight is usually a big plateful of pasta. Annette combines sautéed chicken breast, onions, bell peppers, and sauce for the fettuccine Alfredo that he loves so much.

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While there has been a lot of attention in recent years given to the oddities of some Olympic athletes’ diets—Michael Phelps’ claimed 12,000 calories per day—the reality is that the basics of proper nutrition for Olympic athletes aren’t too different from what they should be for anyone trying to be healthy. However, different types of high-intensity athletics can benefit from dietary adjustments.

Feeding a student athlete can be a budget buster. Kylene Bogden MS, RD, CSSD, LD, CLT, a board certified sports dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, has a few simple tips for parents with athletes at home to increase nutritional value while keeping costs low. Begin with reading the label. Whole foods have minimal added ingredients, if any at all. Switching from highly processed and refined carbohydrates like pasta to equally carbohydrate-dense whole foods like quinoa, sweet potatoes, or bananas can reduce inflammation and provide a sustained source of fuel. Not to mention the added bonus of fiber. Bogden also suggests occasionally replacing meat and fish with eggs and tofu for protein-rich savings, and making nutrient dense snacks like nut butters at home instead of purchasing them at a specialty food store. These small adjustments can cut costs while maintaining a diet fit for an Olympic-class athlete.

Charles has little time left for enjoying his mom’s homecooked meals before he’s off to Brazil for the start of the Games on August 5, with hopes of hearing the National Anthem from the winner’s podium. We’re pretty sure a favorite meal will be waiting for him when he gets back.

A GoFundMe page has been established to help send Conwell’s family to Rio to cheer him on. To contribute, go to GoFundMe.com and search for Charles Conwell.