Top-tier athletes are known for the vast quantities of food they need to ingest to maintain their performance levels.
- You have movie stars like Dwayne Johnson touting his strict 5,000 Calorie diet.
- JJ Watt will eat anywhere between 6,000 and 9,000 Calories per day depending on his workout routine.
- Trek Factory Racing riders ate approximately 6,000 calories per day in the 2015 Tour de France.
None of that compares to the number of calories that the media says Michael Phelps ate during his training for the Beijing Olympics. It was a supposed 12,000 Calories per day to fuel his 5 to 6 hours of training. (He has since come out saying he did not eat that much. Let’s just pretend, okay?) This means that if he had 8 hours of sleep he was consuming an average of 750 calories an hour from when he awoke to bedtime. That is the equivalent to about a double quarter pounder with cheese or large french fries with a medium soda per hour.
It was so newsworthy that Saturday Night Live even parodied it with a sketch about it after Beijing. That amount of calories is hard to imagine for the normal person so below is a picture of competitive eater Furious Pete taking on the Michael Phelps 12,000 Calorie diet challenge. He manages to finish all of this food in under 30 minutes.
Eating 12,000 calories is quite a feat for anyone, but ultra cyclists match that amount in a 24-hour race easily. If conditions are right they can consume 500 calories or more from carbohydrate drinks and whole foods per hour. What’s nice is that you can train your digestive tract to consume more almost like working out and recovery builds muscle. My clients eat and drink calorie-dense things such as:
- Rice cakes
- Baked goods
- Packaged chips
- Assorted Candy
- Various electrolyte mixes
They need to eat easy to digest foods with low fiber content to not create excess bowel movements or accelerate fluid loss. The extra fiber may also produce unnecessary gas and cramping, so processed white foods are a perfect way to go for fueling ultra cycling.
- Andrew Willis on his 2016 Texas RAAM Challenge victory finished 400 miles in 21:50 and did 12227 kJ of work. That’s 555kJ per hour for a guy that weighs ~150 lbs. You need to eat well to make sure an effort like that is maintained.
- Multiple solo-RAAM winner Christoph Strasser consumes a liquid diet composed mostly of Ensure and other electrolyte mixes. Strasser talks about his food consumption around 6:15
Over a whole 24-hour race day an ultra-cyclist will eat more than Michael Phelps during his 2008 Beijing Olympics training. Otherwise, Michael Phelps has an ultra-cyclist beat on any other day of the week.
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Shane Traughber is a sports nutritionist that focuses on helping endurance athletes of all skill levels acquire the nutritional knowledge needed to perform at their peak physical and mental ability.