You’ve undoubtedly heard tell of Michael Phelps’ ridiculous 12,000-calorie diet.
Perhaps you’ve even engaged a healthy-ish sense of schadenfreude by watching someone try to eat it… or a decidedly unhealthy sense of curiosity by trying to eat it yourself.
But aside from the gargantuan task of simply ingesting that much food, have you ever stopped to consider how much a diet that insane would cost?
Even if you could stomach the massive meal, your wallet probably couldn’t — at least not every day.
In fact, it’s possible Phelps felt the pinch himself: Word on the street is, he’s not eating quite that much this time around.
(The eight years that have elapsed between Beijing and Rio might also play a part in that change. Apparently age comes a-calling for everyone’s metabolism.)
But what did it cost him to eat the infamous “one of everything” diet in 2008? And how much is he saving on his scaled-back Rio regimen?
Here’s How Much It Costs to Eat Like Michael Phelps
To find out exactly how much it would cost to consume this smorgasbord each day, I headed to my local grocery store and priced out all the ingredients. Obviously, my St. Petersburg, Florida, location is not the same as Phelps’ native Baltimore, much less Beijing, so prices might vary a bit.
I gave Phelps the benefit of the doubt and tried to find the cheapest items available.
After all, training Olympians don’t usually make very much money, so it makes sense for them to hoard pennies.
(Obviously, following his incredible success and ensuing most-decorated status, Phelps no longer falls into this category — he’s raking in the cash from commercial deals and sponsorships.)
All right, ready to dive in? (Sorry, I had to.)
Here’s what Phelps ate — and spent — while training and competing in 2008.
The most important meal of the day is a real belly-buster for Phelps, who has to rally his energy for a full day of training — four hours in the pool and two hours of running at a minimum, with a side-dish of weightlifting.
He’d start his day off with:
- three fried-egg sandwiches complete with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise
- one five-egg omelet
- “a bowl” of grits
- three slices of french toast dusted with powdered sugar
- three chocolate-chip pancakes
- two cups of coffee
Let’s say those egg sandwiches contain only one, single-ounce slice of cheese and one egg each (which I find kind of hard to believe).
Let’s also say Phelps uses this recipe for delicious, fresh fried onions he can use throughout the week… but doesn’t have quite enough time to whip up French toast and pancakes from scratch every morning, so he buys frozen.
The text says nothing about what he takes in his omelet or coffee, or how big his “bowl” of grits is.
An omelet just isn’t an omelet unless there’s cheese involved, but I’ll give Phelps the benefit of the doubt and throw in a vegetable — the only one that’ll show up in this version of his diet, if you don’t count his sandwich toppings. And since he likes ham sandwiches at lunch, I’ll assume that’s his meat of choice here, too.
I’ll serve him a hefty two-cup portion of grits, and say that he tops those grits with butter like a proud American should.
And finally, because he is pretty badass, I’ll say he takes his coffee black.
Here’s the price breakdown for a single day’s breakfast:
8 eggs: $0.86 if he buys a flat of 30 large eggs like he really should; $0.92 if he gets a dozen Jumbo
4 ounces cheddar cheese: $0.60 if he buys a block and shreds it; $1.50 if he buys pre-sliced
1/4 head lettuce: $0.42
1/2 tomato: $0.41
1 onion: $0.89
2/3 cup milk: $0.17
2/3 cup flour: $0.10
1 cup vegetable oil: $0.70
3 ounces mayonnaise: $0.35 if he goes off-brand, but if he’s gotta have Hellmann’s, $0.57
3 ounces deli ham: $1.90
1/2 red bell pepper (hope you like your omelet like I do, Mike): $0.47
2 cups cooked grits: $0.28
1 tablespoon of butter: $0.12, unless he springs for grass-fed fancy butter, $0.18
3 slices frozen French toast: $1.50
1 ounce powdered sugar: $0.06
3 frozen chocolate-chip pancakes: $0.75
2 cups of coffee: $0.39
Total cost of breakfast: $9.97 — which is surprisingly low, given the insane amount of food.
Unless, of course, he just went to Denny’s… in which case the total is much, much higher.
For lunch, Phelps stays on his carb-loading train, downing the following midday meal:
- one pound of enriched pasta
- two “large” ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread, “slathered” with mayonnaise
- “1,000 calories worth” of energy drinks
Here’s something you probably haven’t thought about before: What does Michael Phelps like on his pasta?
He’s recently admitted he’s “not a spaghetti fan” (what?) and that he “force[s himself] to eat it” — so to keep things simple and economical, we’ll say he just throws some butter on it and calls it a day. If it’s going to be unpleasant anyway, no need to get crazy with a fancy sauce.
(But, yeah, again… he doesn’t like pasta. As if we needed more evidence he’s some sort of alien.)
1 pound enriched pasta: $2.50 (high-protein pasta was conveniently on sale at 2 for $5 — perfect, since we’ll be revisiting this at dinner time!)
4 tablespoons of butter (hey, a pound is a lot of pasta): $0.48
12 ounces deli ham (6 per sandwich and equal to one whole pre-sliced package): $7.59
4 ounces cheddar cheese: $0.60
3 ounces mayonnaise gives him 3 tablespoons per sandwich, and that sounds pretty slathered to me: $0.35
4 slices white bread: $0.40 by my count, unless Phelps eats the end pieces like a crazy person
9 cans of Red Bull*: $14.61
Total cost of lunch: $26.53
* A note about the Red Bull — the original Post piece on Phelps’ diet talks only in terms of calories, saying he drank 1,000 of them in energy drinks at both lunch and dinner. Since there are 110 calories in one can of Red Bull, he drinks just about 18 of them a day, or nine at each meal.
A 12-can case was $19.49 at my local Publix, and that was on a $2-off sale… so let’s just hope Phelps got his in bulk (or from sponsors).
Phelps’ dinner comes with a helping of déjà vu — and another go at his least-favorite, but effective, carbohydrate.
At least he rewards himself for downing that spaghetti with an entire pizza. Hey, no one said being an Olympian is easy!
- one pound of enriched pasta
- one large pizza
- another 1,000 calories in energy drinks
OK, even if he somehow hates pasta, I’m not going to force Phelps to have it the exact same way both times. For his night-time dish, let’s dump some pre-canned sauce on that pound of ziti.
Here’s what dinner runs:
1 pound enriched pasta: $2.50
12 ounces (again, it’s a lot of pasta) canned alla vodka sauce: $2.45
1 large frozen pizza: $5.47, unless Phelps is, as I suspect, a “Meat Lover’s” kind of guy and spends $15.49 at Pizza Hut, before the delivery fee and tip
9 cans of Red Bull: $14.61
Total cost of dinner: at least $25.03… but easily up to $40.
That brings the total cost of Phelps’ 2008 diet to $61.53. For ONE day.
That’s about half of what some Penny Hoarders spend on groceries in a week… for a family of four.
How Michael Phelps Eats During Rio 2016
After his unstoppable string of Beijing wins, Phelps significantly scaled back his calorie consumption and turned to cleaner eating.
“My main goal used to be to just eat a ton of calories. But over the years I’ve adjusted my diet,” he told Men’s Health. “Now I’m eating less, but I’m getting my calories from nutrient- and protein-dense foods.”
He’s also saving a pretty penny. While specific amounts weren’t listed, Phelps’ average day is looking a lot more, well, average, from both a nutrition and cost standpoint.
His breakfast of “one large bowl of oatmeal, a large omelet with ham and cheese, fresh fruit and coffee” would run about $4.63 if he makes it at home, and his footlong meatball marinara from Subway costs about $5.50 — but what Subway employee isn’t going to comp a meal for Michael freaking Phelps?
Finally, if his dinner consisted of a whole head of broccoli, three large chicken breasts and three cups of brown rice, it still wouldn’t cost more than $15 — bringing a day’s total to $25.13, less than half of what he was spending before.
The biggest savings? Obviously, the energy drinks… and losing them is probably as good for his heart as his pocket.
That said, he might want to splurge on them occasionally — if only to improve his mood.
Your Turn: Have you ever tried to copy Michael Phelps’ diet? How much do you spend on food in a day?
Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot, Nashville Review and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.