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Triathlon Nutrition: Eat Like An Olympic Champion

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Janet Evans. Photo: courtesy of Angela Dansby
Janet Evans. Photo: courtesy of Angela Dansby

Triathlete editor Brad Culp discovers what you (and your diet) can learn from swimming legend Janet Evans.

While Janet Evans may not be a triathlete, she knows a thing or two about swimming really, really fast and staying healthy. Triathlete caught up with Evans to chat about sports nutrition and her favorite pasta recipe.

Triathlete: Swimmers are able to eat pretty much whatever they want without worrying about weight gain. Michael Phelps is known to eat around 8,000 calories per day. Do you find yourself eating healthier now that you’re not competing? What major changes have you made to your diet since retiring?

Evans: I definitely had to make some changes to my diet after I stopped competing. I don’t think I made any drastic changes, I just learned how to eat a more balanced diet. I cut my caloric intake big time, which took a little getting used to. When I was training full-time I ate as much protein as I could. I needed all that protein for both recovery and energy. I think that’s where I was able to cut out the most calories. Now I just eat like a normal healthy person.

Triathlete: Triathletes tend to eat healthier than the rest of the public, but their diets certainly aren’t without flaws. What are some areas where you see athletes in general making dietary mistakes?

Evans: I think a lot of athletes don’t get enough healthy fats. We hear a lot about eating a low-fat diet but you need to eat plenty of healthy fats, especially if you’re training. Fat helps you stay full, burn calories and absorb vitamins and minerals—you need it!

I also think that athletes need to watch their protein intake. Athletes need protein both before and after training or racing. In 1994, we went to Rome for the [swimming] World Championships. I ate nothing but pasta for three weeks and I had no energy by the end of the competition. When I got home I went to see my doctor and he told me that my iron levels were way too low. I know a lot of athletes swear off red meat but I think they need it.

Triathlete: About 15 years ago, when you were breaking world records, how long were each of your training sessions and what did you eat immediately before and after workouts?

Evans: We trained three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening almost every day. I was averaging about 18,000 meters of swimming each day. I tried to eat as many carbs as possible before I worked out, which usually came in the form of a bagel or something like that. After workouts I just grabbed whatever protein I could get my hands on—I really didn’t have a specific recovery food. I was never really into sports drinks, so I just stuck to water during workouts.

Triathlete: Even the healthiest people have something that they splurge on occasionally. What do you reach for when you need a treat?

Evans: Ice cream. We almost always have some in the house. There’s nothing quite like cookies n’ cream right out of the carton.

Triathlete: Since you work as a motivational speaker, I take it you’re on the road quite a bit. Do you have any advice for eating healthy while you travel?

Evans: Yes, I spend a ton of time on the road and it’s definitely hard to stay healthy, especially in airports. I’ve found that you have to be somewhat demanding with a waiter or waitress. Tell them to hold the mayo on a sandwich or put the salad dressing on the side. I try not to eat all my meals at restaurants when I travel, because you never really know what’s in their food. I make some meals for myself at the hotel. That way, I can make a relatively healthy sandwich or something like that.

Arrabiata Penne. Photo: courtesy of Angela Dansby
Arrabiata Penne. Photo: courtesy of Angela Dansby

Janet’s Arrabiata Penne Recipe

For my family, I like quick, easy and healthy meals. One of my favorites is pasta with a spicy tomato sauce. The key to a great sauce is layering flavors and it all starts with canola oil in a sizzling pan. With high-heat tolerance and a neutral taste, canola oil is the perfect first ingredient.

Arrabiata means “angry style” in Italian and it’s named because of the heat of the peppers. This simple spicy sauce goes well with plain penne pasta. Adding fresh garden tomatoes to the sauce makes it hearty enough to go well with chicken or fish. If you like hot spice add more chili flakes!


•    3 tbsp. canola oil
•    1 onion, diced
•    1 garlic clove, minced
•    1 tsp. red chili flakes
•    8 cups Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
•    1 tsp. salt
•    1/4 tsp. granulated sugar
•    3 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
•    3 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
•    Pepper to taste

1. Heat canola oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté onions in canola oil until softened. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Add tomatoes and simmer with lid on for 20 minutes.

2. Remove lid, stir and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt, sugar, oregano and basil. Stir to combine. Season with pepper to taste and serve. Makes about four cups or eight servings.

Tip: You can substitute fresh tomatoes with two 28-ounce cans of low-sodium diced tomatoes.

Based on a 1/2 cup serving:

Calories: 100
Total fat: 6 g
Saturated fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 300 mg
Carbohydrate: 11 g
Fiber: 3 g
Protein: 2 g