The Last Time the Olympics Were in Beijing, Usain Bolt Was Eating 100 McDonald’s Chicken Nuggets a Day

The insane anecdote resurfaced following a conversation about the cafeteria food at this year's Games

Usain Bolt at the starting line during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. According to his autobiography, Bolt was eating 100 McDonald's chicken nuggets a day during those Olympics — the only thing he ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
This man moves to the beat of his own drum. And loves chicken nuggets.

In a recent TikTok video that’s racked up 3.5 million views, star snowboarder Shaun White took his followers behind the scenes for a look at the Olympic Village cafeteria in Beijing. This is almost certainly the final Olympic campaign for the 35-year-old veteran, so he’s spent much of the last few weeks documenting the experience online and answering questions from fans.

After news broke that food options were absolutely deplorable in China’s “quarantine hotels” — the isolation zones where athletes get sent after a positive COVID test — Americans back home have wondered if our medal-hopefuls are getting the fuel they need. (Here’s a visual of the meal one quarantined Russian has apparently had to stomach for breakfast, lunch and dinner for five days in a row. It makes Fyre Fest look like Noma.)

According to White, though, athletes in the Olympic Village are eating well. In the aforementioned video he pans around the cafeteria, showing signs for fruit, salad, pasta, pizza, Asian cuisine, you name it. He also claims it’s “really good.”

That’s good to hear, considering many of these athletes couldn’t take their personal chefs or nutritionists on the plane with them, and their nutritional routines are critical to their success — especially when they’re trying to perform the most important athletic endeavor of their entire lives. It also shows some marked progress from 14 years ago when food options were so limited that a Jamaican superstar resorted to eating 100 McDonald’s chicken nuggets a day.

That’s right. During the Olympics that Usain Bolt stampeded onto the international scene, cementing his status overnight as the fastest man who’s ever lived, he was subsisting solely on the Golden Arches.

In his autobiography The Fastest Man Alive, Bolt wrote, “Honestly, I ate nothing else in all my time out in China except chicken nuggets. They were the only food I could properly trust which wouldn’t affect my stomach. On arriving at the [pre-Olympic] training camp I’d tried a local Chinese meal, which wasn’t like the ones we we eat in the West, and my body didn’t react well. So, knowing I could rely on nuggets, I made up my mind that was all I would eat. And eat them I did, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, washed down with bottled water.”

Now, it’s highly unlikely that the 2008 Olympic Village was giving athletes the mystery meats and sauces that are being served in 2022 isolation zones. China had far too much to prove at that point in time, and if Michael Phelps couldn’t get his hands on a single good dish, we would’ve heard about it by now. Instead, it sounds like Bolt sampled a Beijing hole-in-the-wall, had a tough night on the toilet, and decided to stick with something he was familiar with from there on out.

Which was … chicken nuggets. An estimated 1,000 of them over the two weeks he was in China. On one hand, this defies all logic and nutritional science. It’s a huge win for the likes of Chad Ochocinco Johnson, who professes a bizarre brand of “dirty bulking,” and spent his career crushing sausage McMuffins and chocolate cake. (He might have an acolyte these days in the young Minnesota Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards, who delayed a presser last week to order McDonald’s.)

Over the last two decades, more and more professional athletes have cleaned up their diets, cut out sugar or gone plant-based, yet there are unicorns here and there who appear to thrive on eating whatever the hell they want. Perhaps it’s the placebo, perhaps they’re really good at taking advantage of protein, no matter the source. Considering what Bolt did in 2008, sweeping gold and breaking three world records, you’d sound like a damn fool to suggest he should’ve mixed in some salmon and orzo. One of the most important, and often unheralded, aspects of being an elite athlete is recognizing the inputs that your body responds well to. If that happens to be hyper-processed fast food, well, fair enough.

Plus, if you’ve ever dragged your weary, hungry bones to a McDonald’s in a foreign city, you know it’s impossible to be taken off guard by the menu. There are a few deviations here and there, but it essentially operates as a factory, spitting out the same widgets every single day for consumption. Perhaps some of that admirable efficiency — evil, life-sucking corporation the place might be — rubbed off on Bolt’s running mechanics.

All that being said, you should not take this anecdote as a permission slip to start eating 100 chicken nuggets a day. Bolt is a 6’5″, 200-plus-pound man who burns calories at an astonishing rate. If you start eating 1,000 nuggets every two weeks, just know you’re probably not going to start breaking world records. But there’s a chance you’ll break your chair.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.