Eat like an athlete: Lessons Learned from the Michael Phelps Diet

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Pexels Photo 1080X675 1 | Eat Like An Athlete: Lessons Learned From The Michael Phelps Diet

Eat like an athlete

Watching the Olympics makes me want to be an athlete.

I am not even a “TV person”, but this year, I’ve found myself turning my eyes to the tube more than once—checking in with Phelps, Simone (Biles) and the U.S. Women’s soccer team…and it’s nothing short of inspiring.

Power. Strength. Athleticism. Dedication. Perseverance. Heart.

Unfortunately, I received my calling for being an Olympic athlete about 15-20 years too late.

19-year-old Simone got started competing seriously in gymnastics in 2007, at age 10, and never looked back—becoming the first female African-American athlete to win gold in the all-around at the World Championships in 2013, and earning her spot as one of five girls on the 2016 U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team.

31-year-old Phelps competed in his first Olympics at the age of 15, as part of the U.S. men’s swim team. To date, he has set the record for winning the most medals of any Olympic athlete in history (more than 26, now in counting).

How do they do it?!

They EAT!

In order to perform or see results in the gym or have energy and strength in yo’ life, you gotta eat.

(Food IS fuel)

While training and natural talent play a big role, the fuel any human being eats is unarguably a HUGE separator when it comes down to being “good” or “great  (athletes and non-athletes alike)

Eat like an Athlete: Lessons from Michael Phelps

Back in 2008, Phelps famously claimed her ate upwards of 12,000 calories per day. (That’s 10 times the amount many females allow themselves on their My Fitness Pal apps each day). The majority of these foods included pizza, pasta, chocolate chip pancakes and fried egg sandwiches, to which looking back on it, he has realized may have not been the best to fuel his performance (translation: gut irritants, poor digestion and absorption of those types of foods).

Fast forward, 8 years later to 2016, and Phelps says he still eats to fuel his performance and has learned how to do so in a different way—more real food.

He now “eats like an athlete” with a healthy balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates including:

Breakfast: large bowl of oatmeal, a large omelet with ham and cheese, fresh fruit, and coffee.

Lunch– a Footlong Meatball Marinara sub from Subway.

Dinner– a plate (or two) filled with whole grains, lean meats, and fresh vegetables

What this means for you? “Eating like an athlete” doesn’t mean you have to just eat cheeseburgers and French fries to “get more calories in” or you neglect your digestive system; Nor does it mean you eat like a bird (not getting enough fuel in at all) or you are at “war” with your body (only eating enough if you work out hard enough, or overthinking the food or calories you eat).

Eating like an athlete means:

  • You eat to do all the things you love to do
  • You listen to your body (Phelps’ reported to Men Health recently that he now “eats what his body needs” and listens to his body).
  • You eat balanced meals…
  • And you eat enough of it!
    Like a Ferrari, if you put cheap gas OR no gas in the “tank” (Gatorade, fast-food, diet food, restriction, low calorie intake and a car will eventually sputter and “die.”

But put premium fuel and frequent tune ups into that baby, and you’ll be riding, hair blowing in the wind, for years.

Eat like an Athlete: Lessons from Simone Biles

Biles dominates a sport formerly known for breeding eating disorders, such as predecessor, American gymnast Christy Henrich, who once overheard a judge say that she needed to lose weight. The gymnast died at age 22 in 1994, of organ failure, and at, one point, weighed 47 pounds.

Today, not eating is the last thing on the athlete’s mind, and her relationship with food seems more like one of eating to do what she loves, rather than overthinking food, reporting she’s never “monitored her diet” strictly.

In a recent interview with Women’s Health prior to Rio, Biles gave an overview of a typical day of eating including:

  • Breakfast -Egg whites or cereal
  • Lunch– Chicken or fish as the base
  • Pre-workout Snack– Bananas with peanut butter
  • And post-workout (dinner)– a protein-and-carb rich meal, like salmon, and rice and carrots.

(Oh yeah, and pepperoni pizza, especially after a tough meet).

In other words: She ain’t overthinking her food.

While the nutritionist in me sees where Biles could take her game to a whole ‘nutha level with some more healthy fats in her diet, and real eggs girl (eat the yolks!), the moral of this story is that she’s living her life—doing things she loves, and not consumed by food or dieting.

What this means for you? You shouldn’t be (scared) either.

So why are you?

No you (nor I) are Michael Phelps or Simone Biles, but we train like we wana be good—or better—than we were yesterday.

  • You value your workouts.
  • You read up on “healthy eating” choices.
  • You listen to podcasts or post blog articles.
  • You post your progress or food on Instagram.
  • You try to “make good choices” at the restaurant or shop for your own groceries every week.
  • You think a lot about healthy eating or exercise.

So why are you not eating enough?

Why are you worried about counting your calories?

Why are you working out just to justify eating? (instead of moving for the joy of it!)

Or why are you overthinking the fuel you put in your tank?

  • Did I workout hard enough?
  • Can I justify carbs?
  • That’s got too much fat.
  • If I order THAT, then I can’t have THAT.

If you want to train, or “be better” (stronger, leaner, meaner, toner, fitter), you gotta eat.



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