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Eat it, Phelps

Published: Monday, March 2, 2009

Updated: Monday, March 2, 2009 15:03


Joseph Herr / IC

IC Sports Editor Jason Mack attempts to eat a pound of pasta as part of the Michael Phelps diet on Thursday.

I might be bordering incompetence in the pool, but I am on par with Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps when it comes to eating. I might even surpass him.

During the 2008 Olympics, the 12,000 calorie diet of Phelps was widely reported. While writing a story on the Olympian, I decided to push my limits and see if I could eat the diet for a day.

In preparation for the diet, I sought the medical advice of Timothy Gaspar, the Dean of the College of Nursing at UT. He said, "I cannot recommend this diet. It could cause undesirable effects on you. The bolus of calories could create some issues relative to blood sugar depending on how your body metabolizes the nutrients of large quantity."

He made plenty of good points, but I attempted the diet anyway.

It is important to note the size difference between myself and Phelps. While I do work out, I am far from prepared to compete in the Olympics. I am 5 feet 8 inches and 160 pounds. Phelps is a 6-foot tall, 200 pound swimming phenom.

"You don't burn the calories the way Phelps does," Gaspar said. "He burns it all up. Your body is just not capable of digesting and metabolizing all of that. You take somebody like Phelps, and his body is used to that. It's used to metabolizing and burning a lot of fluid."

For breakfast, Phelps drinks two cups of coffee and eats three fried egg sandwiches (with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise), a five-egg omelet, a bowl of grits, three slices of french toast with powdered sugar and three chocolate chip pancakes.

I set up a deal with Doc Watson's to spend my day of gluttony at the bar/restaurant. I ordered the mammoth breakfast just after 11 a.m. on Thursday. To say the presentation of the food was intimidating would be an understatement.

I have always struggled with pancakes, so I decided to save those for last. After eating the sandwiches, omelet, oatmeal (grits were unavailable) and french toast, I was feeling fine. The food was delicious, and I was actually enjoying myself. However, as expected, the pancakes proved to be a challenge.

"They tend to hang there and are harder to digest," Gaspar said.

The diet only called for two cups of coffee, but it took me five cups for the meal to get through the pancakes. Upon further inspection, I ate considerably more than Phelps for breakfast. The pancakes and french toast I ate were considerably larger than in his meal, and the bowl of oatmeal I was served was twice the size of his grits.

I might not be able to swim for five hours likes Phelps does during training, but after breakfast I went to the UT Rec Center to weigh myself, play basketball and go swimming. I needed to burn off some of the calories after gaining five pounds from breakfast.

"I don't know how much work it takes to burn it off, but I know how much work it takes to eat it," said UT men's basketball coach Gene Cross. "I can't imagine what it would be like to eat 12,000 calories."

For lunch, the diet called for a pound of pasta, two ham and cheese sandwiches and a 1,000 calorie energy drink. The energy drink required so much powder to reach 1,000 calories it was closer to the consistency of mud than liquid.

On a normal day, I could eat the lunch without difficulty, but I don't normally eat five pounds of food for breakfast. I started lunch around 5:30 p.m. with the sandwiches, struggled through the pasta and chugged the shake.

By the time I headed to dinner at 11 p.m., I knew I was in trouble. Dinner called for another protein shake, another pound of pasta and a large pizza. By the time I took the first bite, I knew I wouldn't be able to finish by the original goal of midnight. I managed to finish the shake, but the goal was changed to finish by 11 a.m. the next morning to finish the diet in 24 hours.

"The volume would be really tough on your gastrointestinal track," Gaspar said. "Your stomach isn't meant to handle that volume of food. The type of food impacts how your gallbladder will respond to a volume like that. Your liver, kidneys and everything that impacts the metabolic side of your body are going to be abnormal for a bit just because of the sheer volume."

I woke up at 9:30 a.m. and rushed to the store to pick up a large frozen pizza. While the pizza was in the oven, I measured out and ate a pound of pasta. I swallowed the last bit of pizza crust at 10:59 a.m., just in time for victory.

I measured my blood pressure before and after the diet. I was at 127-68 before the diet and 134-82 afterwards.

"You aren't going to see anything in a one-time shot, because you would have to span it over time to measure the impact," Gaspar said. "If you measured your blood glucose, you would have seen that go up dramatically eating that volume of food alone. Your body is not used to metabolizing that many calories. I'm sure you had a high blood sugar for a while."

I weighed in at 158 pounds on Thursday morning and jumped to 165 pounds by the end of the diet.

"It could be just the food you ate. You aren't going to gain weight that quick," Gaspar said. "Most of the weight will go right out. It went in, but I'm sure your bowels were working on overtime, and it eventually came out the other end."

No comment.

Eating 12,000 calories was a fun and worthwhile experience, but I join several medical professionals in urging you not to try it at home.

For additional coverage of the diet attempt and links to videos from Thursday, read my blog at

There is nothing like a little shameless self promotion.

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8 comments Log in to Comment

Sat Aug 22 2009 11:37
I'd like to see the track a digestive makes. Believe that's tract. There's alway one more typo. Interesting concept, though I hope your poor body forgives you!
Fri Mar 6 2009 11:47
When I was a competitive bike racer in my 20's I ate more than Mr. Phelps. I was a big guy too 6' though not as muscular and I ate around 15,000 kcal/day. I can remember dinners of a large salad slathered with blue cheese dressing followed by 3 large pizzas washed down with a pitcher of beer. My problem was that even after I quit racing I continued to eat a lot. When I eat whatever I want and as much as I want I end up eating 5,000-10,000 kcal/day but I don't ride the bike for hours a day like I used to so now I'm rather obese.
Wed Mar 4 2009 23:39
Wendy, as a "writer" please learn how to spell the word. And when did being a writer make you out of shape???
Tue Mar 3 2009 22:54
I was actually thinking of doing that one day. I love to eat and if I had it my way I would eat day and night - and not all healthy foods. However, I was told that this is one of the worst things you can do to your body.
Tue Mar 3 2009 22:37
Wendy--We all burn calories by resting. Not just athletes.
Tue Mar 3 2009 21:23
I am a little surorised that you would put your body through that. I recognize the curiosity and the comparison to Michael Phelps diet may be valid in the wake of everything that has been reported about him since he won the Olympics , but you are 4 inches shorter than he is and have not beentraining five to eight hours a day the way he was when in the olympics. He is incredibly physically active and you are a writer, being a weriter myself I know that the difference between the two is tremendous. I can barely believe you were even able to eat all of that, Michael Phelps body is accustomed to the physical demands he put it through. He probably burns calories while resting.
Tue Mar 3 2009 17:48
Yuck. It might have been easier if you had started earlier in the morning, and I think I would have spread it out over the day by eating constantly. Also, I would have thought you would have tried to sub. a comparable size of serving when you couldn't get the same thing. But to try it, NEVER. Not worth the way you would feel, and then dieting off the pounds you would put on.
Tue Mar 3 2009 16:48
job well done.... but i remember some japanese guy who can eat 50 hot dogs and he is just like 5 6 "

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