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The Olympic Diet of Michael Phelps

His body may resemble the trim, athletic figure of
Michelangelo's statue of David, but the
diet of Michael Phelps sure doesn't sound like the stuff of champions.

The U.S. Olympic swimmer told ESPN that he eats roughly 8,000-10,000
calories a day, including "lots of pizza and pasta." In addition to
stuffing down carbs, he's said that he routinely eats foods like fried egg
sandwiches.

So exactly how do all those calories help fuel the most decorated Olympic
athlete in history? Here are some questions and answers about the Michael
Phelps diet.

How can Michael Phelps eat 10,000 calories a day and still be so lean?

There is no doubt he packs away a ton of food, but it is unlikely that he
actually eats that many calories a day, an expert believes. University of
Pittsburgh Director of Sports Nutrition Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, says eating
10,000 calories a day is almost impossible. "To consume 10,000 calories a
day, he would need to be eating all day long."

Bonci estimates that to support his 6-foot-4-inch, approximately 190-pound
frame, Phelps' rigorous training regime requires roughly 1,000 calories per
hour while he is racing or training; she suggests he probably eats closer to
6,000 calories per day.

What does Michael Phelps eat for breakfast?

NBC commentator Bob Costas rattled off Phelps'
breakfast menu, which includes three sandwiches of fried eggs, cheese,
lettuce, tomato, fried onions, mayonnaise, an omelet, a bowl of grits, three
slices of French toast with powdered sugar, and three chocolate-chip
pancakes.

Without knowing the exact details of the portions,
recipes , and ingredients, this meal probably contains roughly 3,000
calories, about half from carbohydrates, a little less than half from fat, and
15% from
protein . It's not a bad distribution of major nutrients for competition,
according to dietary recommendations, assuming the breads are whole grain, the
cheese is low fat, and the fats used to fry the eggs are healthy. The addition
of fruit would improve the nutritional profile of this meal, Bonci says.

Is it bad to eat high-fat foods even if you don't gain weight?

Athletes need a diet rich in healthy carbohydrates and fats to provide the
necessary energy to compete. "Athletes need fat but, they need to be
selective about the type of fat and whenever possible choose unsaturated fats
such as olive or canola oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds," says Bonci. Fried
and greasy foods are generally not recommended for athletes -- or anyone
else.

Wouldn't Phelps feel bloated during a race?

Managing food intake is a huge challenge to all athletes to be sure they
have enough calories to fuel their event without being bloated. Bonci advises
athletes to take advantage of nutrient-dense liquids like smoothies that empty
from the stomach more quickly than solid foods. "We encourage athletes to
eat foods that are high in calories and small in volume -- so granola with
fruit and yogurt would be a better choice than flake cereal with milk."
Timing of meals and snacks is an important issue for athletes to help them get
the calories and nutrients they need without feeling stuffed and interfering
with competition.

If you're not an Olympic athlete, how much should you eat?

Compared to Olympic athletes, most of us need to follow the general
guidelines of approximately 2,000 calories per day, adjusted for age, sex, and

physical activity levels. The average weekend athlete burns about 200-700
calories an hour
running on the treadmill, whereas Phelps probably burns 3,000 calories a
day
swimming . Most athletes need three to four times as much as the rest of us
to keep their bodies strong and energized for competition.

How does Phelps balance eating, sleeping, and recovering so he is ready for the next race?

It is a delicate balancing act, and sometimes Phelps has had only one hour
to rest between races. Keeping muscles fueled and ready for record-breaking
races requires a regime of eating enough to provide readily available energy,
and then resting and repairing the stressed, overworked muscles to prepare for
the next race. "Within 15 minutes of finishing a race, Phelps should eat a
small meal of two-thirds carbs and one-third protein, with a little healthy fat
to start and optimize the recovery process," says Bonci. Recovery is
critical to repairing muscles and getting them ready for the next event. Bonci
advises athletes to think of recovery as the appetizer -- followed by a meal
within an hour or two -- and then rest. She warns that eating too much can
interfere with the body's ability to
sleep or get a good rest.

By Kathleen Zelman
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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