August 10, 2016 12:03 pm
Updated: August 12, 2016 10:18 am

Rio 2016: How Michael Phelps’ diet changed in the past 8 years

WATCH: What Michael Phelps eats: then vs. now

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He’s traded in his cheesy fried egg sandwiches and chocolate chip pancakes for oatmeal and fresh fruit.

Twenty-two-time gold medallist Michael Phelps’ 12,000 calorie diet in 2008 was the stuff of legend. But the Olympic superstar is 31 years old now and his eating habits have changed.

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“I don’t eat many calories a day. I just really eat what I need,” Phelps said in a Facebook live session from his home last May.

He said he now eats grilled chicken, plenty of lean protein and Mexican food.

After helping the U.S. team win the 4×100-metre freestyle relay on Sunday night, Phelps loaded up on carbohydrates — against his will.

“I think I had a pound of pasta and spaghetti,” he told the Associated Press. “And I’m not a spaghetti fan but I forced myself to eat it,” he said.

He’s come a long way compared to his eating habits while preparing for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Then,  his diet made worldwide headlines.

2008: 12,000 calories per day
Breakfast:
3 fried egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayo
2 cups of coffee
1 five-egg omelette
1 bowl of grits
3 slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar
3 chocolate chip pancakes

Lunch:
1 pound of enriched pasta
2 large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo on white bread
1,000 calories in energy drinks

Dinner:
1 pound of pasta
1 entire pizza
More energy drinks

READ MORE: 6 misconceptions about nutrition and healthy eating

2016: 3,529 calories per day
1 large bowl of oatmeal
1 large omelette with ham and cheese
Fresh fruit
Coffee
1 foot-long meatball marinara sub from Subway
2 plates filled with whole grains
Lean meats
Fresh vegetables

It makes sense to experts, too: he’s training less, down substantially from his five hours of daily training, six days a week. Reports suggest he trains for only about two to four hours a day instead.

He’s older, too, which means the proud new father’s metabolism isn’t as revved up as it used to be at 23 when burning through too many calories in the pool was a concern.

And finally, he’s making healthier choices — a movement that wasn’t as widespread in 2008, according to Jennifer Sygo, a dietitian in sports nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic Canada. She works with Canadians athletes on the track and field, gymnastics and triathlon teams.

READ MORE: 9 diet and weight loss mistakes you’re making

“A lot of athletes are starting to pay attention to the role nutrition plays in performance and longevity. In the early stages of their career they may not pay attention to diet and they’re young and don’t notice the effects,” Sygo told Global News.

“But they mature, they suffer more injuries, and age catches up to them. They dial into nutrition and see that it affects if they get to the games, their ability to repair and how they recover. That wisdom that comes with age teaches athletes it’s worth making [dietary] changes,” Sygo said.

While 12,000 calories is enough to make the average person feel sick, Phelps needed that fuel, said Katie Jessop, a registered dietitian and nutritionist with the Canadian Institute of Sport Ontario.

“He was swimming at four hours a day or more and doing lifting as well — these are significant energy burners and what he’s primarily burning is carbohydrates,” Jessop said.

But she’s glad he’s cleaned up his diet.

READ MORE: The 41 most nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables

“It’s true he can eat whatever he wants but he’s better off being much more strategic about his choices. It’s not about training only — recovery becomes so important. By repairing, he gets stronger so they’re providing him with better sources of fuel so he can recover more quickly,” she said.

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Graphics created by Janet Cordahi/Global News

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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