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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.

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.

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