How Michael Phelps Stays in Shape These Days

At 35 years of age, and having won more medals than anyone else in his illustrious Olympic career, you could be forgiven for thinking that family life has slowed down Michael Phelps. Instead, working out at home has created a new wave of positive fitness gains.

Now a happily married father of three boys, Phelps has taken to family life like a duck to water, and loves nothing more than taking control of the kitchen, where plant-based food now plays a more prominent lifestyle role in his household. The 23-time Olympic Gold medalist has recorded a “Sweat Session” that can be followed by anyone for a great home workout. The campaign, in partnership with soy protein beverage Silk ULTRA, also encourages those working out to Phelps’ fitness session to upload a sweaty selfie, to be in with a chance of winning a home gym upgrade.

Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps drinking a carton of Silk Ultra
Courtesy of Silk Ultra

Your 8,000- to 10,000-calorie diet while training is still legendary. However, was eating that much each day fun or did it become more of a chore?

You’re one of the first people who’s asked me about it in that way! Yeah, it was more of a chore—it was part of my job. I could have days when [my weight] would fluctuate between five and 10 pounds, and that’s not water weight. When I’m swimming 10 miles per day, and spending  more than an hour in the weightroom or doing some kind of circuit cardio, it became a nonstop job. I was eating around the clock, getting my hands on whatever I could, whenever I could, and as much as I could.

How does that approach compare with life in your 30s?

To look back then, and now, fast-forward 10 to 20 years, it’s completely different. I’m not someone who always enjoys to eat, because it was such a part of my life, I had to basically force myself at times to eat food, because I had to maintain that weight. So, I am now in a transition where I give my body what I think it needs. I don’t overindulge on a bunch of different things. I’m very specific in what I put into my diet, so I have transitioned more into a plant-based diet. I’m a lot leaner than I’ve probably ever been, in a post-swimming phase.

Do you get involved in the kitchen?

I’m the chef of the house. I cook most of the breakfasts and I cook every dinner.

How do mealtimes work? Do you have to juggle different menus or make compromises?

We have a mixed diet, it’s not all plant. We do incorporate everything into our diet, but we don’t have as much red meat as perhaps typical families do. Beckett, our middle child, likes leafy green vegetables, where as Boomer [our oldest] is coming around to that a little bit.

Avocado is something that we can get into him. Balancing their diet is something that you have to try and do. It’s just been trial and error. It has been fun because it’s given me a challenge in the kitchen. But we don’t eat different meals.

One thing that I wanted to do, and wish I had more of growing up as a kid, is that I cherish dinner time. I cherish meals with the kids and the family. That, for me, has helped me slow things down, whereas previously in my life I was competing against the clock and trying to shave off hundredths of a second, [dinner time] has become extremely special to me.

Do you guys enjoy a treat at the weekend?

There are definitely pizza nights. The kids love pepperoni pizza, they love cheese pizza, so whether that’s once a week, or every other week, I guess it depends on the mood of the chef [laughs]! 

Michael Phelps training and working out at home and outside
Courtesy of Silk Ultra

How have some of the COVID-19 restrictions impacted your training, and how important is it to stay active at home?

This past year has been extremely challenging. Myself, and my wife are still in the process of building a home gym… We are still waiting on a few products to come to the house, but we’ve been able to make do with the things that we have, and kind of make up some new plans along the way, and some new exercises. So, to be able to give anyone out there a chance to upgrade their gym (via the Silk ULTRA competition), get something at home that can help them be the best self that they can be… As one of the biggest believers in the world of [the importance of] recovery, this is like a dream come true for me.

Your Instagram posts show that you have a great workout partner in your wife, Nicole. Are you able to motivate each other and do you enjoy training together?

For sure. It’s different. I was someone who was always very serious, especially when I’m working out, and to be able to have my wife in there with me, lifting with me for three days per week, has been amazing. As a husband, it has been fun watching her try some of these new movements and these new lifting routines. This is something that’s so different for her, but something that I’ve been doing for 15 or 20 years, so being able to see her take that challenge and come out even when she’s tired or sore, she’s always trying to get stronger and for me, it’s extremely motivating to watch.

At this point, you don’t really have to put pressure on yourself in the gym, but do you still find that having goals is a great way to focus?

Yeah, I have a lot of goals on what I am trying to do in the gym. My biggest thing is that I’m trying to get a lot of mobility back, so I’m trying to build muscles, actually for golf. Golf has been a hobby of mine for a little bit, so I want to really open up my hips and be able to get some more flexibility and a little bit more turn.

I’m working with a trainer that I’ve worked with my whole life, Keenan Robinson. He’s been writing my workouts for almost 20 years. So, he knows my body better than anybody and he’s not here with me, but I send him a lot of videos and we are very interactive with one another… I guess it’s not a hobby, you know, working out for me is not a hobby. I’m going in there very determined on making gains and trying to get better.

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