August 19, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Michael Phelps

I was a little surprised when I visited your site tonight and couldn't find anything on Michael Phelps, or more specifically his much talked about 8,000-10,000 calorie a day diet.

Yes, he is an athlete who trains 5 hours a day and probably burns calories just getting dressed in the morning (due to his muscle mass).

But this "olympic phenomenon" could choose better/healthier choices than his daily consumption of 2 fried egg sandwiches, 2 pizzas, 2 ham sandwiches on white bread (the list goes on).

Yes, he is a mean lean calorie burning machine, but can't these poor diet choices still lead to potential health risks such as high cholesterol.

Or what about his sugar levels with all those large portions in one meal?

And doesn't his eating habits give substance to the public notion out there that you can eat whatever you want as long as you're exercising

Just curious what your thoughts on the subject are.

-- Becky (last name unknown)
Via the blog

You raise some very good points, Becky.

By the way, for those of you not familiar with Phelps' "diet," The New York Post breaks it down:

"[Breakfast is] three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise.

He follows that up with two cups of coffee, a five-egg omelet, a bowl of grits, three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar and three chocolate-chip pancakes.

At lunch, Phelps gobbles up a pound of enriched pasta and two large ham and cheese sandwiches slathered with mayo on white bread - capping off the meal by chugging about 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks.

For dinner, Phelps really loads up on the carbs - what he needs to give him plenty of energy for his five-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week regimen - with a pound of pasta and an entire pizza."

Let's keep a few things in mind.

We are not just talking about "an athlete." Mr. Phelps is an Olympic athlete, which means heavy-duty, constant, hardcore training.

This is not someone swimming for 45 minutes three days a week at the local YMCA.

Mr. Phelps trains by swimming approximately five HOURS a day. Then there's the additional weight lifting he needs to do to keep his muscles in top shape!

Add to that youth (he is, after all, 23 years old,) a super fast metabolism that is the product of genetics, and plenty of muscle mass (and very little body fat,) and you have a body that needs pretty extraordinary amounts of fuel (food) to operate the way it does.

I suspect that part of the reason why Mr. Phelps' diet is low in fiber is to prevent him from getting full too quickly and not eating as many calories as he should.

I also suspect there are appetite stimulants involved here.

What also makes Mr. Phelps a special case is that although his diet isn't necessarily "heart healthy," his lifestyle certainly is.

Remember, physical activity -- which Mr. Phelps is getting PLENTY of -- increases HDL cholesterol, lowers LDL cholesterol, and reduces the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

I certainly hope no one is taking away that you can eat as much as you want as long as you're exercising. Mr. Phelps is not "exercising," he is devoting every second of his life to an athletic career.

He is the very definition of a "special case."


jenninat0r said...

I can't help but think that all the reports surrounding his food choices (i.e. "Breakfast of the Champions") is a conspiracy to encourage and perpetuate American fast food consumption to the American public. I'm aware as an Olympic athlete he's certainly a special case but long term consumption of all those refined starches, saturated fats and whatever else processed foodstuffs can't be all that heart-healthy right...?

Andy Bellatti said...

Well, but again, his physical activity is so high that it sort of negates a lot of the health issues surrounding what he eats.

This is why his diet ONLY applies to him.

You can bet that the second his swimming career is over his diet will drastically change.

Becky said...

I completely agree with you that Mr. Phelps is a "special case". But I just don't understand why an Olympic athlete who has devoted half his life to becoming "the best swimmer" - spending countless hours training, wouldn't attribute the same emphasis/respect to what he is putting into his body? As you mentioned the fuel(food)is one of the key players to performance.

For instance, I can't imagine buying a Ferrari and filling it with regular unleaded fuel. No! You would fill it with premium fuel for optimal performance and longevity. You would think that these basic principles would also be followed by an Olympic athlete...or should I say "Phenomenon".

Nonetheless, congratulations to Mr. Phelps on an outstanding performance. And thank you Andy for commenting on this topic.

Andy Bellatti said...


I think the answer here is "because he can."

The amount of physical activity he performs pretty much overrides what he eats.

To put it in the context of your analogy -- he might not be putting the best fuel in his Ferrari, but he is taking it to the shop every single day...

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I don't agree with this.

While he is a special case in the extraordinary amount of exercise he does, it doesn't change the fact that what he is eating is garbage.

Why is it that Americans think that to get fat you have to eat crap? He can get a ton of energy and do even better by eating natural foods that are high in calories and actually HELP his body. So while I agree that he needs a lot of calories, I do not agree that eating garbage is the way to get them.