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Evolution of food provision to athletes at the summer Olympic Games


FE Pelly, School of Health and Sport Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, Queensland 4558, Australia. E-mail:, Phone: +61-75-430-2898.


The history of food provision at the summer Olympic Games (OG) over the past century (1896–2008) provides insight into the evolution of sports nutrition research and the dietary strategies of athletes. Early research favoring protein as the main fuel for exercise was reflected in OG menus from 1932 to 1968. Despite conclusive research from the 1960s demonstrating the clear benefit of carbohydrate on exercise performance, a specific emphasis on carbohydrate-rich foods was not noted until the 1970s. Athlete food preferences and catering complexity evolved rapidly between 1970 and 2000, driven predominantly by a dramatic expansion of the OG and the emergence of systematic sports nutrition research. Nutritional advice by experts and sponsorship by food companies became increasingly important beginning with the 1984 Los Angeles OG. More recent developments include nutritional labeling of menu items and provision of a nutrition information desk (Barcelona 1992), demand for a “high-starch, low-fat menu” (Atlanta 1996), the addition of a dedicated menu website and the systematic gathering of information on athletes' apparent consumption (Sydney 2000), and appointment of the first international dietetic review committee (Beijing 2008). The history of catering at the OG tracks the evolution of sports nutrition practice from anecdotes and myth towards an established specialty in nutrition and dietetics grounded in evidence-based science.