Five Olympics Health Shockers: From McDonald’s To Paleo And Vegan Diets To Cupping

From the athletes who can’t stop the tears as they realize they’ve won gold to the thrilled parents screaming in the stands to viewers watching history being made, the Rio 2016 Olympics has brought joy, excitement, and entertainment. And while what happens behind the scenes does not usually make for must-see TV, it does offer insight into just how those world-class sports figures become legends.

From some unexpected diets (a weightlifter who vows to follow the vegan way of life) to an ancient healing technique that has become a familiar ritual (cupping has even attracted celebrities), here are the five biggest health shockers at the Rio Olympics 2016.

Behind the scenes at the Olympic Village for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, athletes follow some unexpected diets.
Behind the scenes at the Olympic Village for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, athletes follow some unexpected diets. [Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images]

Top Olympics Shocker: McDonald’s Meets Its Match

At the Olympics this year, fast food isn’t just a quick-fix option. McDonald’s has become the biggest food game in town. And while the Golden Arches has become a treasured tradition at the Olympics, McDonald’s put a twist on it for Rio, noted Newsweek.

That tradition began in 1968, the year in which McDonald’s jetted hamburgers to athletes representing the United States at the Winter Games in Grenoble, France. Fast-forward about five decades, and now athletes can nosh free at the McDonald’s in the Olympic Village where it reigns as the Rio Olympics’ official restaurant. The lines are so long that they’ve even been immortalized on Instagram.

Thought athletes were supposed to eat healthy ???? #longestlineever #mcdonalds

A photo posted by Stephanie D-Lovell (@stephsailinglca) on

Food from the Golden Arches is so popular that each Olympian is limited to 20 items per order. However, despite that supposed cap, the athletes actually can request even more with the understanding that Olympians asking for 20 or fewer items have priority.

Second Olympics Shocker: Vegan Virtue

On the other end of the diet scale, far away from the hamburgers, is the lonely American competing in the 2016 Olympics men’s weightlifting competition. Kendrick Farris is making a name for himself for more than just weightlifting, however, because fans are fascinated by his vegan diet, reported Quartz.

Kendrick Farris is a vegan weightlifter.
Kendrick Farris is a vegan weightlifter.[Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images]

Forget the usual steak-filled animal protein diet of weightlifters. Farris says he has noticed the improvement in his ability since going vegan.

“My body recovers a lot faster. I feel lighter. My mind is a lot more clear. I feel I can focus a lot better.”

The weightlifter went vegan for several reasons, including concern about food processing and his son’s birth.

“I don’t necessarily trust the way the food is being processed,” explained the virtuous vegan. “I don’t agree with the way the animals are mass-slaughtered. So that’s one thing that kind of got me looking at what they call a vegan diet.”

The athlete’s plant-based diet includes fruit, trail mix, and dishes such as avocado quesadillas and spinach lasagna.

Third Olympics Shocker: Paleo Pride

Seeking a diet to power them through the Olympics, some sports stars have become Paleo believers. Amanda Beard was known as a Paleo princess, according to Popular Science.

The Paleo diet has a simple guiding principle.

“Eat what we’re made to eat, and we’ll be healthier.”

But those disagreeing with the approach point to the variety in hunter-gatherer diets in terms of the percentage of protein (19 to 35 percent), fat (28 to 58 percent), and carbohydrate (22 to 40 percent). Dairy products also have come in for a share of contention, with some Paleo dieters arguing that foods containing lactose should be banned, and others contending that the human digestive system has evolved to handle dairy just fine.

Fourth Olympics Shocker: Acupuncture Challenges Kinesiology Tape

Beginning in 2008, the Olympics have highlighted the use of kinesiology tape. The substance supposedly “alleviates discomfort and facilitates lymphatic drainage” through the use of “lateral tension on the surface of your skin,” according to Popular Science, which argues that it fails to meet the claims while also raising questions about the use of acupuncture at the Olympics.

However, although acupuncture reportedly “has no evidence behind its use to treat disease,” there is evidence to indicate it can alleviate physical pain.

Fifth Olympics Shocker: Cupping Becomes King

Cupping might sound like a summary of celebratory gatherings, with those red cups brimming over with alcoholic beverages raised high in salute of winning performances. But at the Rio Olympics, cupping earned attention courtesy of Michael Phelps, as pointed out by the New York Times.

Thanks @arschmitty for my cupping today!!! #mpswim #mp ???? @chasekalisz

A photo posted by Michael Phelps (@m_phelps00) on

Phelps isn’t the only one to have skin marks, and the dots are caused by the suction cupping creates on the skin. The ancient healing technique from China is viewed simply as a method of recovery by the swimmer’s trainer.

“Because this particular recovery modality shows blemishes on his skin, he walks around and looks like a Dalmatian or a really bad tattoo sleeve,” explained Phelps’s personal trainer, Keenan Robinson. “It’s just another recovery modality. There’s nothing really particularly special about it.”

Special cups are placed on the skin with an air pump or heat used to add in the element of suction. That suction pulls up the skin from the muscles for a few minutes, causing the capillaries to rupture. Michael was calm about the bruises.

“I’ve done it before meets, pretty much every meet I go to,” Phelps explained. “So I asked for a little cupping yesterday because I was sore and the trainer hit me pretty hard and left a couple of bruises.”

[Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images]