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Breakfast (and lunch, and dinner) of champions: What this Olympian eats

Army Sgt. Matt Mortensen, a two-time Olympian, has been competing in doubles luge since 2011 as a member of the Army World Class Athlete Program. (U.S. Army photo) Army Sgt. Matt Mortensen, a two-time Olympian, has been competing in doubles luge since 2011 as a member of the Army World Class Athlete Program. (U.S. Army photo)

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. — March is cheat-meal month for Army Sgt. Matt Mortensen, a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program who trains for or competes in doubles luge events 11 months of the year.

“My guilty pleasure is a nice, greasy cheeseburger,” Mortensen said. “But I kind of watch it because I know whatever bad weight I put on this month, it’s got to come off when the season starts up again.”

Such is the nutrition discipline of this two-time Olympian who started sliding as a preteen in New York. He joined the Army in 2010 and the World Class Athlete Program the following year.

“Lucky for me, we’re always in the business of trying to gain muscle weight,” said Mortensen, who’s about 6 feet tall and weighs 187 pounds. There’s a physics explanation for it but basically, “We’re a gravity sport. The heavier we are, the faster we go.”

To compete in doubles luge, Mortensen and his civilian partner, Jayson Terdiman, start in a seated position on a sled and use their hands to get it moving. Then they lie flat and travel face up, feet first along a curved, icy track with high banks. As “top driver,” Mortensen does most of the steering with leg and shoulder movements. 

Mortensen competed in the 2014 Olympics in Russia with a different partner and placed 14th. During the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, Mortensen and Terdiman placed 10th in men’s doubles, and fourth as part of Team USA in the relay. The three-sled relay event also included a men’s singles sled and a women’s singles sled. (Two other WCAP members competed in luge in the Winter Olympics. Sgt. Taylor Morris placed 18th in men’s singles. Sgt. Emily Sweeney crashed during the final run of the women’s singles and was unable to complete the event.)

Mortensen is based at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York. “When I was younger, I could pretty much eat whatever I wanted because I had a high metabolism,” said Mortensen, who’s 32. “But when I got to be around 25 or 26, I was like OK, I definitely can’t eat like I used to.”

With the help of a sports nutritionist, Mortensen said he’s learned to eat so he can gain and maintain muscle weight. He aims for 10-percent body fat. His eating plan works for him, but he doesn’t want anyone to blindly follow it – or, for that matter, any diet they’ve heard or read about.

“There’s always a right way and a wrong way to do things,” he said.  “I would encourage anyone to talk to their health care provider. What works for one person may not work for another.”

Mortensen eats anywhere from 3,000 to 3,500 calories a day:

  • Breakfast: Three eggs over medium, wheat toast, bowl of yogurt with granola.
  • Midmorning snack: Protein shake made with whole milk.
  • Lunch: Two chicken breasts, salad with dark greens and other vegetables.
  • Afternoon snack: “It all depends on what I feel like that day,” he said. Options include a turkey or ham sandwich made with wheat bread, or a fruit smoothie that include protein powder.
  • Dinner: Two chicken breasts “or whatever lean meat is available,” and a salad.

“If I start feeling like I’m lagging in energy, then I’ll eat more carbohydrates,” he said. “I’m not really a big sweet-tooth guy,” but natural sugars from fruits provide energy, particularly for weight-room training sessions.

Mortensen lifts weight three times a week, for two hours each session. Twice a week, he does cardio for 30 minutes – either running or bike riding – followed by exercises to strengthen his core muscles.

Mortensen said it’s challenging to eat right while traveling for competitions. In Germany, which dominates luge events, “We’re eating a lot of fattier meats. And a lot of potatoes – they love their boiled potatoes, right?”

He also enjoys German beer and may drink one after a competition. But when it comes to alcohol consumption, he has a longtime routine:

“I don’t drink Monday through Thursday,” he said. “I may have alcohol on Friday or Saturday, if we’re not competing. But we usually compete on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.”

“I won’t drink the night before sliding,” Mortensen said, and then laughed as he referred to his top-driver luge role. “Don’t drink and drive – that’s it exactly.”


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