As we prepare to plant ourselves in front of our televisions (a common activity for Americans) to cheer on our fellow countrymen and women in the 2012 summer Olympics, many of us may fantasize about what it must be like to be an Olympian; many of them don’t look that different from the rest of us, and yet they are chosen to represent our country on the world’s athletic stage for all of the nation to revere and admire. Are they really that exceptional compared to the rest of us?
The answer is ‘yes.’
Here’s a snapshot of how the average Olympian compares to the average joe in terms of time spent exercising, body-fat percentage, resting heart rate, and calorie consumption:
A study done by researchers at the University of California found that only 5 percent of the average American’s energy expenditure during the day is on exercise, which comes to about 20 minutes. However, Olympic triathlete Johnny Brownlee, for example, trains 7 hours a day.
In the US, the average body-fat percentage is 22 percent for men and 32 percent for women, although a healthier body-fat content is 15 percent for men and 22 percent for women. But even a healthy body-fat percentage is much higher than that of Olympic speed skater Apollo Ohno, who is said to have 2.8 percent body-fat.
Resting Heart Rate
A normal, healthy, non-athlete has a resting heart rate of around 72 beats per minute. However, the world’s most highly trained endurance athletes have reported normal resting heart rates as low as 28 to 40 beats a minute.
The average person needs anywhere from 1,600 – 2,600 calories a day, depending on age and activity level. The USDA reports that, as of the year 2000, Americans are consuming just under 2,700 calories a day, which, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, has resulted in an obesity epidemic. An Olympian’s lifestyle, however, is anything but sedentary. To fuel the many hours they spend training each day, cross country skiers need 4,000-5,000 calories a day. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, winner of 16 Olympic medals, famously claimed to consume 12,000 calories a day.
Don’t let these figures discourage you; even if you never make it to the Olympics, it’s never too late to strive for better health. Make an appointment with your primary physician for a physical, then take baby steps towards training like an Olympian!
Sources: telegraph.co.uk, scientificamerican.com, livestrong.com, universityofcalifornia.edu, guardian.co.uk, usda.gov