During the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Michael Phelps put up big numbers.
Eight. That’s how many gold medals he won–an all-time record. 12,000. That’s the number of calories he ate every day–also, we hope, an all-time record. Indeed, the man is a machine.
And while he’s right back at his old Olympic ways, bringing home four golds and two silvers last week in London, he’s not putting down anywhere near the amount of food he used to–and for good reason.
“My main goal used to be to just eat a ton of calories. But over the years I’ve adjusted my diet,” he says. “Now I’m eating less, but I’m getting my calories from nutrient- and protein-dense foods.” Translation: no more pounding entire pizzas and chasing them with milkshakes. Don’t get him wrong, he still eats way more than the average guy would ever need–he burns more than 1,000 calories in an hour of exercise–but he’s cut back, and his food focus has changed. (Discover how you can eat more food and lose more weight.)
Consider breakfast. Revving up for Beijing, the New York Post reported that Phelps would wake up to three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions, and mayonnaise; two cups of coffee; one five-egg omelet; one bowl of grits; three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar; and three chocolate-chip pancakes.
Nowadays, to prepare for the pools across the pond in London, his breakfast looks more like this: one large bowl of oatmeal, a large omelet with ham and cheese, fresh fruit, and coffee. Lunch is typically a 1,000-calorie Footlong Meatball Marinara sub from Subway–being a famous fan has its perks–while dinner is a plate (or two) filled with whole grains, lean meats, and fresh vegetables.
So what can you learn from his “a-ha” moment and smarten up about your own diet? Get over your preconceptions: “I used to think that ‘healthy’ meant that it wouldn’t taste good,” Phelps says. The reality? There are probably a bunch of healthy foods that you like. Stick with them. In Phelps’s case, it’s his daily sub. (Grill off your gut with BBQ chicken, bacon cheeseburgers, and hot wings! Pick up a copy of Grill This, Not That! today.)
Second: Cleaner, healthier calories are easier for your body to use as fuel, he explains. “It’s like putting higher octane fuel in a car–I run better when I eat better.” And considering he won eight golds running on regular fuel, we have high hopes for him now that he’s switched over to premium.