Since winning a record eight gold medals at this summer’s Olympic games, Michael Phelps has rocketed to international stardom with an appearance on Saturday Night Live, tons of endorsement offers, and an impressive list of pro-athlete pals. Lucky for us, Phelps dropped by the Men’s Fitness office to give MF the lowdown on his training, supplements, and what he’s been up to since making history.
Have you done much swimming since Beijing?
Nothing. I’ve never taken a break before. I’ve gone 12 years of pretty much straight work. My coach said after 2008 I could do whatever I want. I was like, ‘Alright, well, I’m not going to swim for a few months then.’ It’s tough. It’s weird. You go from having something as a part of your everyday life to waking up and doing absolutely nothing. I’ll wake up and say, ‘Hmm, what am I going go to do today? Lets see what’s on TV.’
Do you have a time-line for when you’re going to start training again?
Oh, I don’t know. Just getting back in shape is the biggest thing. January or February is when I’ll start. It’s weird, because I go from swimming pretty much every day of my life to not really doing anything. It’s a little strange. I kind of miss having some kind of routine. I used to wake up at 6:30 every day and go work out and then come back and go to bed. Now I don’t get up until noon and don’t really have a set schedule.
Do you plan on going back and doing the same type of training?
No. We’re going to do completely different event training. We’re throwing everything out, and we’re going to start from scratch. We’re going to try different events. I won’t swim all the same events. I won’t swim nearly as many events.
What’s the reasoning behind scaling back on the number of events you swim?
I think the older I get, the more challenging it really is to put my body through that kind of training. I’ve been in the same mode of training for 10 to 15 years. It’s tough to put your body through four more years of that. It’s tough both mentally and physically. There are specific goals I want to accomplish and it’s going to involve me focusing on a few events and not worrying about whether my back-fly, back, breast, and freestyle are all getting the same attention.
So what are you watching on TV with all your downtime?
It’s football season and that’s my favorite sport to watch. I’m a huge Ravens fan. We finally have a good quarterback now. I just got season tickets, so I hit the games on Sundays when I’m home.
Men’s Fitness recently profiled Ray Lewis, you know.
Ray and I worked together a few times. He’s a cool dude. I like him a lot. I was in the locker room two or three weeks ago, and he was singing and getting in the zone. I just started getting chills from being around somebody like that who’s so powerful and so electric. He’s a real nice guy and an amazing athlete. When he comes out of the tunnel for the games, there’s nothing like that. Absolutely nothing like that.
How does it feel to be a big star?
We just ate lunch, and I got up to go to the bathroom, and overheard people say, ‘Oh, that’s Michael Phelps.’ I think it’s hysterical. It’s something you get used to. I’ve never been in this situation, but I think by meeting some of the people I’ve met I’ve been able to learn how to handle it.
Who are some of those people?
Anyone from Demi Moore to Peyton [Manning] to Baron Davis. I haven’t really talked to Kobe about it, but I’m sure if I have any questions he wouldn’t mind. We’ve shot texts back and forth the whole time. The thing about those guys is they’re all down to earth. We’re all just the same. You can tell that. They’ve definitely helped me a little bit just by giving me their two cents.
We’ve got to talk about your diet.
I’m interested to hear what you guys are hearing — 12,000 calories? 8,000? 10,000?
How far overblown is that?
Well, 12,000 calories is far from the truth. It’s impossible to eat 12,000 calories in a day. My doctor told me when I was growing up that I should eat 8,000 to 10,000 per day but that’s literally eating around the clock. I’ve worked out maybe two or three times since Beijing and maybe put on five pounds. But I’ve been losing a lot of my muscle because I haven’t been doing anything.
Has your diet changed?
I don’t eat nearly as much. I maybe eat two meals a day since I’m not up at 4 a.m. But I’ll snack here and there too.
Were you really eating things like chocolate chip pancakes while you were training?
Oh, yeah. When I’m training like that, I can eat anything. If you look at how much time I’m working out, I have to eat that many calories to be able to not drop weight. I could lose five or 10 pounds in a week if I wasn’t getting enough calories, so I needed to eat that much.
When you’re competing, how grueling are those one to two minutes. Does that factor into needing extra calories?
Pure Sport [performance sports drink] really helps me. I was able to get it into my system and recover much faster. Recovery is such a big thing for me, especially when I’m doing a program like that because I have to be ready at every single one of my races to be at my best.
What other supplements do you use?
Really not much. I had tried other things, but when you think of a recovery drink, you think of something that’s usually a milk-based protein product. But when you’re competing in 17 or 18 races in eight or nine days, it’s tough to put a milk product into your system and then turn around 20 minutes later and go swim.
Mark Spitz was 22 when he competed in the Munich Games. He didn’t try to compete in the Olympics again until he was about 40. Has your motivation reached its pinnacle?
I’ve got to get back in shape first. It’s going to be a struggle. I still want more. There are time standards that I want to hit. I’ve always said that I want to do something more for the sport. I want to become the first Michael Phelps, not the second Mark Spitz. I want to change the sport, make it better, make it more than an every four-year sport. It’s not going to happen over night for me; it’s going to be something I’m going to have to work towards my whole life until it’s changed.