The Michael Phelps Diet: Don’t Try It at Home
Swimmer Michael Phelps’s next career may be in competitive eating. Besides grabbing five gold medals at the Beijing Olympics so far, making him the winningest Olympic athlete ever, he’s got to be setting new marks on the chow line.
A New York Post account of Phelps’s… wait for it… 12,000-calorie-a-day diet, gave us a stomachache. Could one human being really consume that much and still be in Phelps’s shape? And could this possibly be healthy for Phelps, even considering his five-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week exercise regimen?
Here’s Phelps’s typical menu. (No, he doesn’t choose among these options. He eats them all, according to the Post.)
Breakfast: Three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. Two cups of coffee. One five-egg omelet. One bowl of grits. Three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar. Three chocolate-chip pancakes.
Lunch: One pound of enriched pasta. Two large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo on white bread. Energy drinks packing 1,000 calories.
Dinner: One pound of pasta. An entire pizza. More energy drinks.
Does a diet like this make sense even for a calorie-incinerating human swimming machine? We checked in with Mark Klion, a sports medicine doc and orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. He reminded us that the eating game all comes down to basic math.
If you eat fewer calories than you burn exercising, you lose weight. But an athlete like Phelps, who exercises up a storm, has to worry about eating enough to replenish the scads of calories he’s burned. If he doesn’t, Klion explains, his “body won’t recover, the muscles will not recover, there will not be adequate energy stored for him to compete in his next event.”
But what about the choice of foods? All those eggs and ham and cheese can’t possibly be good for him, can they? Says Klion, “I think for him, because of his caloric demands, he can probably eat whatever he wants to.” And besides, Klion says, if you’ve got to eat that much, it better be enjoyable, or you won’t be able to keep up. Phelps might not be so eager to shovel down a pound of tofu in a sitting, Klion points out.
Still, Klion cautions that he knows plenty of athletes who’ve been training for marathons and have gained weight because they thought they could eat whatever they wanted. So it really does take some planning. Some resources on the Web might help, such as this calorie-use chart from the American Heart Association and a calorie calculator from Runner’s World magazine. This calculator from the Calorie Control Council includes a bunch of different activities, from dusting to playing ice hockey.
But these kinds of calculators don’t really apply to a someone like Phelps, who exercises way more vigorously than the typical person, says Kathleen Laquale, an athletic trainer and nutritionist who teaches at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts. Even by athletic standards, Phelps is in his own league. Laquale says cyclists in the Tour de France commonly consume a paltry 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day.