At his peak, Michael Phelps was consuming 10,000 calories a day. For anyone else, this would be enough to see us become a rotund mass, largely unable to move albeit for the small hand movements as we rubbed our ever-expanding bellies in discomfort. But then, Michael Phelps was something of a demi-god, a superhuman athlete burning staggering amounts of calories in the pool as he trained exhaustively. After all, you don’t become one of the most decorated Olympians ever with 28 medals to your name simply by eating big. You have to put in the work, too.
But while most athletes tend to consume a large number of calories when training, the difficulty comes when you step away from competition. Numerous athletes are all too familiar with the turmoil that comes with retirement and adjusting your fitness and nutrition needs accordingly. It’s hardly surprising that weight gain is a common factor for many during this period of their lives.
Since retiring, Phelps has had to work hard to find a fitness and nutrition regime that works for his civilian life. He’s no longer spending five hours a day in the pool and consequently, no longer needs those calories. That said, he’s a father of three and still active (even away from exercise, having three kids will keep you on your toes), so he does need to consume a decent amount. Recently, the Olympian detailed his diet in an interview with GQ and explained how things have shifted for him during the pandemic.
Phelps explained that he wakes early (again, it’s a result of having kids), usually at 5:30 or 6 a.m., and then proceeds to make breakfast. His typical breakfast consists of a smoothie “that has spinach, almond milk, cacao nibs, figs and Silk Ultra [protein powder]” along with a cup of coffee, though Phelps said he also sometimes makes eggs, depending on what his boys are feeling.
After dropping his kids at school, Phelps and his wife head to the gym. “I’m used to going to the gym and the pool, and like many others I’ve had to make due at times with whatever we can find around the house to piece together a quick workout. I’m big on HIIT training. Working out helps me be the best me.”
He added, “At the gym, my wife and I lift three days a week for about an hour to an hour and a half. Then, the other days we typically do some type of cardio. We might do it together, we might not. She’ll do Pilates and yoga, whereas I’ll swim or hop on the elliptical or something.”
Speaking about how his diet has changed since retiring from competitive swimming, Phelps explained that it is challenging. As he puts it: “For 25 years, eating was a part of my job, it was a part of my profession. Because of that, I have a deep understanding of what my body needs. I’m not trying to plow food into my system now. It’s different. After I retired I put on 30 to 35 pounds to end up at just under 230. It was a significant body change for me, and I knew that I had to get back into some kind of routine.”
He added, “I really want to make sure I’m giving my body the best chance to be healthy and be the best me. Right now, my goal is to build and repair muscle. Back in my heyday, I had a trainer and a team who had every stat on me possible to help me perform and be the best. So maybe thinking of foods this way is easier for me because I’ve been an athlete and I understand how everything works.”
For Phelps, cleaning up his diet means sticking to a rather consistent lunch and dinner where lots of vegetables are consumed. He incorporates a salad into every meal and also eats at a decent hour. Another thing Phelps credits is sleep, telling GQ, “I wanna be the best every day, and my best is getting 7 to 9 hours [of sleep].”