Michael Phelps Diet Explained: Should We Eat as an Olympic Swimmer?

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Aug 29, 2011

Michael Phelps Diet Explained: Should We Eat as an Olympic Swimmer?

What should I eat before a competition? How much of protein should I consume? Is too much pasta bad for me? There are many questions about the right eating habits for athletes floating out there on internet among the athletic community. Brett from Force Factor feels that Michael Phelps might just have the answers to your athletic dietary needs.
An Olympic Swimmer - Michael Phelps
by feastoffun.com

Enter Brett Warren
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, flattery is nice but some people take imitation to the next level. When it comes to following in the footsteps of those we admire, creative mimicry knows no bounds. Aspiring actors are always imitating the mannerisms of their movie star heroes. Little Leaguers constantly imitate the batting stances of their favorite ballplayers. And those of us who try to work out regularly and continually struggle to keep ourselves in good shape are always looking at those who are already in great shape while asking ourselves "How in the world do they manage to do it?"

If you are an amateur swimmer, one of your heroes is probably Michael Phelps. Heck, you don't need to be a swimmer at all---if you are an aspiring athlete of any type, or just a regular Joe who works out a few days a week and tries to stay in shape, then Phelps is very likely on your role model radar screen too. After all, very few of us are in his kind of shape, right? So if you want to be fit and are looking for someone to imitate, you can't make a much better choice.

OK, we want to look like Michael Phelps so where do we start? Well not too many of us can imitate Michael's swimming, but we all know how to eat. Maybe we can imitate him by following his eating habits. Many of you are already familiar with the gargantuan Phelps appetite, but for those who aren't, let's take a peek at his typical daily intake regimen (as reported in the New York Post):

  • Three fried-egg sandwiches with lots of cheese, fried onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise;
  • A 5-egg omelet;
  • 3 pieces of French toast topped with powdered sugar;
  • 3 chocolate-chip pancakes;
  • A bowl of grits;
  • Two cups of coffee.
  • A pound of enriched pasta;
  • 2 large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo;
  • Energy drinks.
  • Another pound of pasta;
  • A large pizza;
  • More energy drinks.
Yikes! Try selling that to your cardiologist. When you total it up, Phelps actually consumes upwards of 12,000 calories a day! If most of us did that, we would look more like an Olympic stadium than an Olympic athlete. Does this mean the Phelps diet doesn't work? No, of course not; it obviously works very well---for him. But he can get away with a lot more than you or I can. He is able to absorb all those calories because he burns up so many as a result of his almost super-human daily training regimen.

So rather than mimicking his diet, maybe what we should do instead is take what works for him and adapt it to our own lifestyles---in other words, learn from his diet! Here are some aspects of the Michael Phelps diet that we can all put into practice:

1) Replenish the calories you burn. It all comes down to basic math. The math is the same for Michael Phelps as it is for us. The only difference is in the size of the numbers. Calories consumed replace calories lost. An athlete like Phelps, who exercises like a mad demon, has to eat enough to replenish the enormous amount of calories he burns daily. So do we, but we need to know what that number is. We also need to factor in our size. Phelps is a relatively large guy, which is another reason he needs a larger caloric intake. Here is a helpful calculator from the Calorie Control Council that will help you adapt the Phelps dietary strategy to your own lifestyle.

2) Muscle gain needs special attention. To be an Olympic-caliber swimmer or just an effective athlete, one thing you need almost more than anything else is muscle. Swimming works just about every muscle a human has in his body. The Phelps diet is rich in the two ingredients most important to muscle gain: protein and carbohydrates. This is not a coincidence. The pizza and pasta supply plenty of the carbs and the rest of the diet is very rich in protein.

3) Be careful not to over-consume. This almost sounds like a contradiction when you look at the amount of food Phelps eats. But look more closely. Knowing that he needs a large number of calories, he is packing it in densely---in other words, he is not filling his stomach with a lot of lower-calorie items that take up a much larger volume. If Phelps tried to consume the same number of calories in a more low-fat way, he would have to eat a whole lot more food, which would be uncomfortable to his stomach. This does not mean that you and I should not opt for a low-fat diet---in fact, just the opposite. For a normal person's caloric requirements, low fat is most often the optimal way to go. Either way, don't eat more than you need to.

We can't all be Michael Phelps, but we can all aspire to reach his heights or to become better swimmers. Those of us who take swimming seriously can get better by watching what he does in the water. And all of us can learn from what he does outside of the water. Eating smartly does not mean that we should copy his diet. But when we realize why his diet works for him, we can use the same principles to help construct a diet that works for us.

From Swimator Blog: Well, there you have it. In order to perform better, your diet should also consist of the right ingredients. So, next time you are at your local grocery store, give a bit of thought to what you are going to eat. Having a healthy varied food supply will not just make you perform better in your sport, but it will also make you more energetic and enthusiastic about your life.

This is a guest post by Brett Warren, a biochemical research scientist based in Boston, Massachusetts. He puts his expertise to work on a daily basis by developing sports supplements for Force Factor. Brett loves weightlifting and working out at the gym almost as much as he loves his job. In addition to his work, Brett also spends lots of time with his family hiking, biking, and enjoying the outdoors.
Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.