Venancio's unlikely food diet for training for the Olympics

Pizza, burgers and fried-egg sandwiches are some of items on menu for the Dubai-based Portuguese swimmer.

Dubai, Feb 26th, 2012 -- UAE-based Olympic swimming hopeful Tiago Venancio, 24, is photographed at the Raffles International School pool, February 29, 2012. (Sarah Dea/ The National)
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DUBAI // Goodness knows what Morgan Spurlock would make of it. When he was casting for poster boys for his 2004 film Super Size Me, about the effects of eating fast food, he probably had someone in mind who looked a bit like Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars.

The chiselled figure of an elite swimmer would never have fitted the bill. However, judging by the appearance of Tiago Venancio, the Dubai-based swimmer who is in the process of chasing qualification for a third successive Olympics, McDonald's can't be all bad.

Along with pizza, a trip to the Golden Arches is his favourite type of sustenance, yet there does not appear to be an ounce of fat on him.

"We can eat pretty much everything," Venancio said of life as an Olympian swimmer. "We go for fast food, not every day, but we can go once or twice a week."

He is not the first swimmer to make such a claim. Around the time of the last Olympics, it was widely reported that Michael Phelps had a daily intake of around 12,000 calories. And he did not do too badly on it.

The American's breakfast reportedly consisted of three fried-egg sandwiches, accompanied by cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise, a five-egg omelette, two cups of coffee, a bowl of porridge, three chocolate-chip pancakes, and three slices of French toast.

Such gluttony was good enough to earn him eight gold medals at the Beijing Games.

Venancio, who is part of a contingent of Dubai swimmers flying to the European Long Course Championships in Hungary on Saturday, tries to keep to 6,000 calories daily.

The intake is, of course, offset by the fact he swims as much as 14 kilometres per day.

Despite being just 24, Venancio is already eight years in to his own career at the top level. He shocked many in Portugal, his homeland, when he qualified for the Athens Olympics in 2004 aged 16.

He went to Beijing four years later, and now has London firmly in his sights, too. He will travels to Hungary in pursuit of a qualifying standard set by Portugal of one minute, 48.99 seconds for the 200 metres freestyle.

That time is precisely 0.01 seconds faster than his personal best, but is within his capabilities, according to Chris Tidey, his coach in Dubai.

"He is going to be there or thereabouts," Tidey said.

For his part, Venancio seems to be more concerned over where his next Big Mac is coming from than the pursuit of qualification.

"In 2008 especially, I was frayed with nerves but this year I have been very relaxed," he said. "I think I am saving all the energy for that moment.

"You grow up, and use your experiences. I know, two days before [the heats of the European Championships], I am going to be afraid, but now I am relaxed."

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& Paul Radley