SEOUL: It’s no mean feat feeding the hundreds of athletes from 90 countries who will be descending on Pyeongchang in South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Veteran sports nutritionist Cho Sung-sook knows that all too well, having been involved in preparing for the 1988 Seoul Games.
She is now part of the committee in charge of the menu for the Winter Olympics, for both the local and foreign athletes.
“There will be athletes from Western culture ... European culture and even African cultures as well. So we need to think about satisfying all the athletes, coming from all the different parts of the world,” said Ms Cho.
“There will be different kinds of steaks, and salads, bread ... and also Korean meals like bibimbap, and various vegetables. It will be a very rich menu, a combination of both Korean and Western menu,” she told Channel NewsAsia.
“We also need to think about the athletes who have some clinical issues.”
The 57-year-old also spends her days at the Taereung National Training Centre, cooking up new ways to fuel South Korean athletes.
She has overseen some of the country’s top sportsmen in her time. Among them is Ha Hyung-ju who won gold in judo at the 1984 Olympics. Of the hundreds of athletes she manages yearly, 50 will take part in the Winter Olympics.
At the training centre, the athletes receive a generic meal plan based on factors such as whether it is competition or rest season, which influences their protein and carbohydrate consumption.
In some cases, meals are adapted to the athletes’ needs, especially if they are undergoing a particularly intense training regime.
“For example, in 2008 before the London Olympic Games, one of the teams had night time training. So after their training, they had to have recovery food,” recounted Ms Cho.
“At first they said they would eat out, but we said no, we can prepare something for them. So we specially prepared a smoothie which could provide them with more glucose and protein.”
Ms Cho noted how the athletes’ tastebuds have also changed in the last three decades. When she first started at the centre 30 years ago, traditional Korean food was the preference.
“Many athletes didn’t like to have Western food, like steak. That was not very familiar for them. Now, as time goes by, sometimes we can also include fast food, like pizza for athletes,” she said.
This edition of the Winter Olympics will take place from Feb 9 to 25 in the mountainous resort town of Pyeongchang, 80km from the heavily fortified border with North Korea.
The run-up has been overshadowed by an escalating crisis triggered by North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests, but organisers have said the Games will be safe.