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What does a nutritionist do at an international Games?

October 6th, 2010

I went to the Delhi 2010 Athletes Village for the first time yesterday (generally lovely, if a little rough around the edges in places), to chat with Jon Kolb, the head of sports science for the Canadian team here, and Trent Stellingwerff, the member of Kolb’s team responsible for nutrition. We had a really interesting talk about the kinds of things they’re up to behind the scenes, which I’ll try to describe in the coming days. To start, here’s a great example of what Trent was doing in the days leading up to the Games.

While the cafeteria at the Village is excellent, many athletes will be too far away when they’re competing to return for lunch. In these cases, it’s standard practice at major Games to order an “athlete venue meal” (AVM) that will be delivered to the venue at a specified time. Given the hot climate and the ever-present risk of “Delhi belly,” Trent decided he’d better check out the AVM system. So, a few days before competition started, he ordered the very first AVM — “AVM 001” — asking that it be delivered at noon to the cycling venue. Then he showed up at the appointed time… and waited.

“It came 30 minutes late, in a warm cooler,” he said. “It was a raw salmon sandwich with mayonnaise — basically the worst possible scenario for food poisoning.” That was enough to convince the team staff. No Canadian athletes are relying on AVMs here — instead, they shipped in some familiar non-perishable food from Canada, and are also bringing easily portable food (e.g. bananas) from the dining hall.

Of course, Trent was left with the dodgy AVM he’d ordered — while the delivery guy, happy to have made his first successful delivery, sat beside him and waited for him to eat it. Trent finally asked for a spoon, and when the delivery guy went to get, he stashed the sandwich in his bag for later disposal!

On the topic of food, here are the first two meals I had in Delhi:

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img_0002In my defence, my flight arrived at 7 a.m., and by the time I got to my hotel and got checked in, I was jet-lagged and furiously hungry. I went wandering down the street in search of food, and the first place I found was a McDonald’s. I haven’t been in one in years, but I’d heard that McDonald’s in India are quite different because of the lack of beef — so I figured it would be a cultural experience! (The verdict: “special sauce” is indeed interesting when it’s spiced up with curry, but I don’t feel any need to sample it again.)

My second meal, thanks to a suggestion from one of the Games volunteers, was a masala dhosa from Saravana Bhavan — much, much better!

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