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The Olympic Diet of Michael Phelps

Questions and answers about the high-calorie diet that fuels the Olympic swimmer's championship performance.
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 13, 2008 -- 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.

How to Get an Olympic Body

Michael Phelps Diet FAQ
It takes much more than eating lots of pizza and pasta to perform at the level of an Olympic champion. Discover the training and diet secrets of Michael Phelps and other U.S. Olympic athletes in this WebMD slideshow.

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."

Penn State University director of sports nutrition, Kristine Clark, PhD, RD, agrees. "In the course of a day there are only so many hours to eat, digest, rest, and train [reports suggest he trains six hours a day] and it is almost impossible to consume 10,000 calories of whole foods."  She says most athletes are stuffed after consuming a meal of 1,500 calories of whole foods.

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.

Clark suggests he is probably supplementing his meals with specially formulated energy drinks that are concentrated in calories, including easy-to-absorb fats (which contain 2.5 times more calories than carbs or protein) to reach higher calorie levels closer to 8,000 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.

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