Hint: It is many, many more than you can handle. 
cross country skier calories per day
Credit: Lars Baron/Getty Images

The diets of professional athletes, especially those at the Olympic level, are endlessly fascinating to us regular people. Many of them, from Michael Phelps to Carli Llyod, are on rigorous eating schedules that seems to defy logic (whole tubs of Ben & Jerry’s before bed, for instance) and seem to transform eating from an activity that should be pleasure to one that causes dread. Same goes for Olympic cross country skiers, who typically eat as many 8,000 calories per day while training and competing—more than three times the amount of the average person.

In a new report from the New York Times, Greenland’s Martin Moeller reveals that he often gets tired of eating because he has a meal every two hours. To meet that lofty goal—which the Times writes is equivalent to “20 plates of lasagna or 40 scoops of ice cream”—skiers often have to trick their bodies into eating more food. That means eating mashed food, carrying around snacks like nuts and beef jerky everywhere they go (which they have to eat during races), and downing protein drinks.

Caitlin Patterson, one of the female cross country skiers the newspaper spoke with, estimates that she eats around 3,500 calories per day, but that the practice feels normal to her. Patterson says that she typically eats two fried eggs (slathered in butter), two pieces of toast, and “no guilt” for breakfast.

Her diet isn’t always super healthy though: While she typically has fruit to snack on throughout the day, and eats a big salad for lunch, she’ll often follow the salad with cookies or ice cream, before taking a nap. Once she wakes up, the next round of training begins.

Moeller eats even more: fried eggs, beans, and oatmeal for breakfast, pasta with meat sauce and a piece of fish and a salad for lunch. For dinner, “double portions,” of whatever his family is having. Moeller once tried changing his diet to cut out sugar, but found that the change didn’t improve his performance, so he decided “to go back to eating whatever and whenever he felt like.” Now that's an eating habit I can get behind.

Personally, I like eating for pleasure, but when you’re an elite athlete, I suppose you have to sacrifice everything—including your taste buds—to stay at peak performance level. Besides, once you’ve made it the Olympics, all those bowls of ice cream and plates of pasta probably seem worth it.