McDonald's commercial suggests Olympic athletes and McNuggets go together, but can they?

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comFebruary 14, 2014 

  • AN OLYMPIC REGIMEN

    Tips for athletes from Baptist Health Lexington registered dietitian Fran Bevins:

    Be realistic: Know how many calories you are burning with your exercise. And, determine if your goal is to maintain your present weight, to gain weight or to lose weight. Many recreational athletes gain weight when in training because they over estimate the calories they burn.

    Eat real food: Ninety-five percent of Olympians' diets consist of real food. They do not rely on pills or potions and, if they did, they would not be Olympians. Food is the best source of nutrition. If these athletes can maintain their fitness level with food, so can you.

    Seek expert advice: Olympians and recreational athletes will admit the nutrition component of training is sometimes the most difficult. Registered dietitians trained in sports nutrition can offer individual counseling. You might need some basic information to get going or more intensive counseling with accountability. Seek out the professional who can guide you.

As the inspirational music swells, the athlete playfully bites the gold medal around his neck. Beside him, Olympic rings mingle with McDonald's arches; as the screen fades to black, he is mirrored by the image of a young woman biting into a golden McNugget.

The tagline: "The greatest victories are celebrated with a bite." In the voiceover, the $5, 20-piece McNuggets deal is said to be a great way to "join the celebration."

But the implication from McDonald's, a sponsor of the Games, might be that if you eat McNuggets, you, too, could become an Olympics-caliber athlete.

According to nutrition information from the fast-food chain, 20 McNuggets have 940 calories, 59 grams of fat and 75 percent of the recommended daily intake of sodium.

That is not exactly the lean protein and nutrient-filled veggies being served on training tables, which explains why some people are not fans of the ad.

"Nothing could be less conducive to physical fitness and athletic performance than a steady diet of burgers, McNuggets, fries and sugary sodas," said Jeff Cronin, director of communications for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"Olympic athletes should not abuse their position by endorsing unhealthy foods and drinks to their young fans," he added.

Anita Courtney, a Lexington health advocate and head of The Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition, said: "I found the McDonald's chicken McNugget commercial laughable. Just for the record, winning an Olympic gold medal has nothing in common with eating a chicken McNugget.

"In fact, the two are probably mutually exclusive. You can bet that elite Olympic athletes would never touch the fried, compressed chicken pieces and parts.

"And what a missed opportunity for McDonald's to promote some of their healthier menu items while viewers are being inspired by amazingly fit people. They could have done something good for their customers' health, but instead they encouraged more mindless eating of the foods that are killing us."

Leslie Truelove, director of marketing for McDonald's USA, said McDonald's was proud to sponsor the Games. When the relationship began with the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France, hamburgers were airlifted to feed homesick American athletes, she said.

She doesn't see the McNugget commercial in a negative light. McDonald's has a varied menu with healthful options, and a 20-piece box of McNuggets is shareable, "perfect to eat with friends while watching the Winter Olympics," she said.

"We partner with Olympians to help inspire kids and families around the world to get involved in sports, and we're proud of these relationships and will continue to feature them in our marketing efforts."

Fran Bevins, a licensed registered dietitian with Baptist Health Lexington, sees irony in the McNugget ad. An athlete herself and a fan of the Olympic biathlon, Bevins said world-class athletes probably aren't dipping their nuggets in creamy ranch sauce with abandon.

A fan of dietitian Bob Seebohar, who is known for his work with Olympic athletes, Bevins said even athletes at the top of their games face the same challenges we all do when it comes to tempting — but less-than-nutritious — choices.

She said most people understand what is expected for a healthy diet. But she sees patterns of behaviors that lead her patients to fall short of meeting those expectations. High-level athletes experience the same thing, said Bevins.

Those unhealthy patterns, she said, "pop up again and again. We need to know a strategy."

For example, plenty of people fall prey to late-night eating. But, she said, people can postpone their response to the initial triggers by drinking water or eating a small, healthy snack instead of that leftover pizza that seems so tempting.

The same is true for emotional eating, she said. Instead of instinctively reaching for comfort food, people — whether athlete or couch surfer — can take a walk, redirect their attention away from food or focus on the long-term goal. The Olympian might keep that podium in mind, whereas a civilian might consider those stylish pants that are "this close" to fitting.

It's not about constant deprivation, she said. An occasional splurge is OK as long as it works with an overall healthy plan.

Maybe even a McNugget.

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: Bluegrassmoms.com.

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