PARK CITY, Utah – A secret potion could boost the performances of Team USA athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
It took 10 years for Susie Parker-Simmons, a senior sport dietitian with the United States Olympic Committee, to design a hot recovery drink.
“Recovery foods have a specialized composition,” Parker-Simmons told reporters at the Team USA Media Summit. “There are a lot of foods there for summer athletes, but nothing there for winter athletes to help repair the human body so they’re ready to perform optimally the next day.”
The temperature of the elixir is critical for encouraging them to drink.
“If it’s cold, they’re not going to touch it,” Parker-Simmons said.
While Parker-Simmons saw athletes heat up Powerade or turn to that old stand-by hot chocolate, she thought she could develop a new hot drink to provide the essential nutrients.
After “a large amount” of failures, two years ago Parker-Simmons hit the right formula.
She keeps the ingredients more closely guarded than KFC’s blend of 11 herbs and spices.
“It is a little bit of a deep, dark secret,” said Parker-Simmons, a native of Australia who has been with the USOC for 11 years.
She will divulge only that it has a certain amount of carbohydrates, a certain amount of protein and low fat to help the body digest it quickly. She hinted that there might be honey, an organic sugar or a modified juice component.
Parker-Simmons did not use milk or caffeine.
There are three different drinks, which she jokingly calls the “Susie Special,” but for the moment has officially named the “Winter Sport Recovery Drinks.”
One tastes like a tea with lemon, another like chai tea and the third like apple cider.
Parker-Simmons performed the taste tests herself, and would run trials with athletes whenever a new protein powder came on the market.
The final test was competition.
“You’ll notice with athletes that win, they’ll drink anything, no problems,” Parker-Simmons said. “But if they lose, then it’s really hard to get recovery food in because they lose their appetite.
“I need them to recover quickly so they’re ready for the next day of competition.”
The drink also had to sit well with an athlete who was suffering from nausea after so much exertion.
Parker-Simmons has worked closely with the U.S. cross-country skiing team. She remembers one event in Alaska when she was on the course for six hours.
“All my drinks were freezing and this wonderful person, I never knew his name, came out of nowhere and built me a fire,” she said. “I put all the drinks around it and then he just disappeared as quickly as he arrived.”
While cross-country veteran Kikkan Randall said she hasn’t tried the super-duper hot recovery drink yet, she said she has worked with Parker-Simmons since 2002 and counts on her as a great resource.
“She used to bring over these giant gummies from Australia that were the perfect blend of carbohydrates right after an event,” Randall said. “It’s wonderful to know that she’s with us at these camps and that when we get to the Olympics in Korea that they will have the nutrition all dialed in for us to perform.”
Teammate Jessie Diggins added that it is “a treat to work with Susie on how to keep myself healthy. Training twice a day six days a week since May, we’re purposely wrecking our bodies and then building them back up.”
Parker-Simmons said cross-country athletes expend more energy than any summer sport, including the Tour de France and marathons, because they use both their upper and lower bodies.
That means they need even more carbohydrates than summer athletes.
“As soon as you’re out in cold weather with minimal clothes on, their speed suit, an 18 percent increase of calories is needed because of shivering,” she said.
Parker-Simmons said that “maybe” her drink could be available for weekend warriors. But for now, it is a Team USA exclusive.
In PyeongChang, she will brew her concoction boiling hot, then store it in thermoses or pizza bags that will be carried by a team of sport dietitians to various venues. The liquid will drop down to a lukewarm consistency so athletes can drink it.
The drink will also be available in a large heated pot in lounges and at two nutrition centers that are part of another unique initiative.
Parker-Simmons said the United States is the only country designing an Olympic menu available at its own nutrition centers and prepared by a chefs brought in for the occasion. One center will be on the coast, less than 100 meters from the Olympic Village in Gangneung, while the other will be a five-minute drive from the mountain village.
As the president of the international sport dietitians group, Parker-Simmons has seen the PyeongChang menu for the Olympic Villages and worked with the International Olympic Committee and local organizers to get the best food and drink for the athletes.
But Parker-Simmons also realized that when athletes gather in the dining halls, they are surrounded by people from other countries who have a different immunity to various viruses.
“That’s the area where you can get sick,” she said. “I want them to be in a safe bubble. I want them to focus on what they need to do.”
Also recognizing that many Team USA athletes have been on the road for three or four months, she wanted to provide them with American food that is familiar and that their bodies are used to absorbing and digesting.
“We’ve got high goals,” Parker-Simmons said. “We want to be the best in the world at this Olympic Games, so we will do everything we can to make sure they’re ready.”
Only athletes who are still in competition will be allowed to go to the nutrition centers. If they are finished with their events, they can eat at the village.
“The goal is to provide all competing athletes with the fuel that they need and the recovery foods,” Parker-Simmons said, “so we can make sure they go in totally fueled and healthy when they compete.”
In other words, she said, “Go out there and kick butt.”