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Serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions

Jacque Hamilton cooks the breakfast of champions — and the lunch, dinner and snacks. As executive chef for the U.S. Olympic Committee, she feeds hundreds of athletes in more than two dozen sports that have different energy demands.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Jacque Hamilton cooks the breakfast of champions — and also the lunch, dinner and snacks. She’s the executive chef for the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), and when you see Team USA athletes on the medal stand in Beijing this August, remember Hamilton’s the one who fueled their dreams.

It’s a huge responsibility and an enormous challenge to feed hundreds of athletes in more than two dozen sports that have different energy demands, Hamilton told TODAY’s Matt Lauer on the Plaza at Rockefeller Center on Tuesday.

With her were Carissa Gump, a 25-year-old weightlifter in the 63 kg class (139 pounds) who will be going to her first Olympics, and Myles Porter, a 23-year-old judo fighter in the 100 kg class (220 pounds), who will attempt to make the team later this month. The two athletes pointed out the difficulty of Hamilton’s job. Porter, who does a lot of cardio work to build up his endurance, needs 12,000 calories a day — a week’s worth for many people — just to maintain his weight. Gump, who concentrates on power, needs 3,500 calories a day, about 1,500 more than an average man needs.

“Each athlete has a different energy level,” Hamilton explained. “We have a performance-based menu, and we focus on quality and variety. We serve lean protein, whole grain, fruits and vegetables and even brussels sprouts.”

Sprouting off
Hamilton’s rather fond of her brussels sprouts, which she garnishes with bacon. The bane of children everywhere, the little vegetables became the leitmotif of a taped piece that ran before her interview with Lauer. “Make ’em eat them brussels sprouts,” she urges one assistant in the Colorado Springs dining hall before offering a bowl of sprouts to an athlete herself.

Hamilton has strict rules about nutrition. She does not use butter or trans fats, and her meals are low in sodium. She’ll use a lot of soy and tofu, but doesn’t necessarily advertise that to her customers.

“They don’t ask me, I don’t offer that kind of information,” she told an NBC News reporter.

Gump, who trains in Colorado Springs, said Hamilton and her staff are very accommodating. “They have a menu with a wide variety of options for us to choose, but if we do request something specific they will make it for us,” she said. “I was on a soy-cheese kick for a while, and they would go out and buy the soy cheese for me.”

Porter, who is legally blind — though you wouldn’t know it watching him in action — and has already made the U.S. Paralympic Team, is a different story. Known as “the human garbage disposal” to his friends, he took NBC along for a day of eating that started with mountains of scrambled eggs, oatmeal and sausages, continued with a lunch of pasta, pasta, pasta and more pasta, and ended with a dinner that consisted of a mountain of chicken wings. The next day, he’d lost 4 pounds — proof of how difficult it is to shovel in 12,000 calories a day.

Where’s the beef?Porter eats 3 pounds of ground beef at a sitting — but that’s not even 4,000 calories. To get 12,000, he’d have to eat about 11 fully loaded Double Whoppers at Burger King. Alternatively, he could just go with 24 orders of large fries. Or, if he preferred pizza, he could eat three pies loaded with toppings and meat — and that would still leave him about 2,000 calories short.

On competition days, Porter has to weigh in at about 7 a.m. for matches that begin at 10. He said he’ll prepare for battle with a breakfast of oatmeal and eggs — “nothing too super heavy, but you have to get proteins and carbs” — about two hours before he competes.

As for Gump, she said that before competitions, “I usually stick to a lot of carbs — bagels, pasta.” For protein, she’ll turn to tuna. “It varies, but I know what sits well with me, and I know what gives me the best energy to feel great,” she said.

In Beijing, the athletes will eat in the Olympic Village, where meals will be prepared by the host committee. Hamilton will prepare meals for the USOC delegation, but not the athletes. She said the committee will bring in its own protein provided by official sponsors, but, she added, she has full confidence in the food that the host committee will provide. “We’re going to source everything else locally,” she said. “We have no concerns at all.”