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Competitive swimmer Michael Phelps rose to fame after winning a whopping eight gold medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing (that was after picking up a not-too-shabby four during the '04 games), and the world suddenly took an interest in all things Phelps, from his devoted mom to his dating life to the number of calories the 6'4" super athlete consumed. But as for those reports that the Baltimore native, now 27, consumes 12,000 calories daily (including full pizzas and two dozen eggs) daily to fuel his rigorous training schedule, well, it's not true … not exactly, anyway.
"People make a big deal out of what I eat, but it's not that crazy. I had a three-egg omelet and three pieces of French toast and coffee this morning," he tells Details magazine. "For recovery, I think it's a big deal to eat within a half-hour after you exercise. Otherwise I just try to put carbs into my system before I swim and then load up on the protein after. I don't count calories. Whether it's Sour Patch Kids or Reese's or a bag of chips, if I feel like eating it, I'm going to eat it."
It wasn't so much Phelps' eating habits as his lack of exercise that has caused him trouble in recent years. After coming off his wild winning streak in Beijing, Phelps found himself facing a frightening question he didn't have an answer for: Now what? "At that point, I just didn't have anything. It was weird going from the highest of the high, the biggest point of your life — winning eight gold medals — and then saying, 'All right, where do I go from here?' I wasn't motivated. I did nothing, literally nothing, for a long time."
He soon gained 25 pounds.
"A friend of mine and I were playing football on the beach in Miami, and somebody got a picture of us and put it all over the place," Phelps recalls. "And he's like, 'Bro, you gotta start working out, man. You are fat.'"
Luckily, he did, but Phelps faced another bump in the road after a photo surfaced of the Olympic medalist smoking marijuana. "It was a learning experience. I'm the kind of person who has to go through the learning experiences myself," he says in the interview "Growing up, my mom taught us to make our own decisions, but also that you have to pay for the consequences of those decisions. I'm thankful for that. I'll be the first to say I've made thousands of mistakes, but I've never made the same mistake twice."
All things considered, Phelps has made very few mistakes when it comes towards becoming the world-renowned athlete he is today. He began training when he was just a tyke and, beginning at age 13, he didn't take a single day off from early-morning training for the six years leading up the 2004 Athens Games … and yes, it was as bad as it sounds.
"I used to have a thing — coach Bob [Bowman] and I couldn't talk to each other before 8 a.m. because I was in a terrible mood. I don't like getting up that early," Phelps admits. Getting into the cold pool just isn't fun. It sucks. But during those six years it was a sacrifice that I made to try to become my best. So yeah, in bed at 10 or earlier every night. Waking up at 6:30 every day. When I was a kid, I would do anything. Whatever Bob told me to do, I would do about 10 times better. I wanted to be the best. I still do."
Still, his training sessions have changed a bit, with Phelps decreasing the number of meters he swims per week from 80,000 to 50,000 with more of a focus on weight lifting. "I'm doing more Olympic-style lifts, like power cleans and snatches and plyometric push presses and box jumps, to get explosive power for jumping off the block and pushing out of turns," he explains. "At this point in my career, everybody has caught up. So I'm fine-tuning the little things that add up to make a huge difference."
Has everybody really caught up? All eyes will be on London to see if Phelps proves himself wrong.
The August issue of Details hits newsstands Tuesday, July 10.
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