A Nugget of Speed

In the 1950s, a Cornell University professor named Robert C. Baker invented a product which is common, plentiful, and has had an impact on the lives of people around the world. It didn’t cure any disease or solve any major problems, however, but it did play a role in extending human performance beyond thresholds previously unknown.

The product? Chicken nuggets.

Their achievement? Usain Bolt explains.

Bolt is widely regarded as the world’s fastest man — he’s the current world record holder in both the 100 meter and 200 meter dash (and, for that matter, a bunch of other race lengths and variants as well). He either set or improved upon both of those records in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and also set a world record in his other event, the 4×100 meter relay, during the Games. And he did so with flair. Take the 100 m final, for example (watch it here). As Wikipedia notes, “not only was the record set without a favorable wind (+0.0 m/s), but he also visibly slowed down to celebrate before he finished and his shoelace was untied.” Bolt won, and it wasn’t close.

His successes, however, were not a function of his nutrition. After the Games, Bolt hired a well-known (in those circles) dietician named Leslie Bonci. Before Bonci began working with Bolt, according to a press report, she noted that he “had horrible eating habits.” Those habits included a distinct disinterest in trying the local cuisine of Beijing, apparently, because in his 2013 autobiography “Faster Than Lightning,” Bolt noted that he didn’t eat much if any Chinese food while in Beijing, finding it “odd.” Instead, he confessed to a fondness for Professor Baker’s invention. As noted by TIME magazine, Bolt’s 2008 Olmypics diet was, by and large, Chicken McNuggets:

In the ten days Bolt spent in Beijing, he downed approximately 1,000 nuggets, averaging 100 a day. At 940 calories per 20-piece box, that means that Usain ate about 4,700 calories worth of Chicken McNuggets a day and 47,000 calories over the course of his stay in China. (And that’s without Sweet ‘N Sour Sauce, which, let’s face it, only a fool would pass up.)

“At first, I ate a box of 20 for lunch, then another for dinner,” Usain writes in his soon-to-be released autobiography Faster than Lightning. “The next day I had two boxes for breakfast, one for lunch and then another couple in the evening. I even grabbed some fries and an apple pie to go with it.”

The end result, other than what had to be a wicked stomach ache? Three gold medals, all with world records attached.

But please, don’t try to change your diet over to the highly-processed fried chicken etc. that we call McNuggets. (And if you have a weak stomach and/or really liked chicken nuggets, don’t click that “etc.” link.) That could be a really, really bad idea. That should go without saying, but in 2012, a 17-year-old British girl ended up in the hospital with severe anemia — because her diet, since age 2, had centered around at least one meal of McNuggets each day. In other words, eating too many McNuggets won’t get you to the Olympics, but may send you to the emergency room.

Bonus Fact: The world’s largest chicken nugget weighed 51.1 pounds (23.2 kg) and probably wouldn’t be sold at McDonald’s. Why not? Because it was kosher. The enormous nugget was made by Empire Kosher Poultry in 2013 to promote the company’s 75th anniversary (and, per the company, their improved chicken nugget recipe). The nugget was the size of approximately 750 regular sized nuggets — or about 75% of the estimated amount of nuggets eaten by Bolt during the 2008 Olympics.

From the ArchivesInterstate Drive Thru: Why your drive-thru order at McDonald’s travels faster — much faster — than Usain Bolt ever could.

Related: “Faster Than Lightning” by Usain Bolt (perhaps with the help of a much slower ghost writer).