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Michael Phelps - Good or Bad Role Model

Updated on June 19, 2013

Micheal Phelps - Good Role Model

Right up front I am going to say that Michael Phelps is one very cool guy.

One of the things I most admirable about him was at the 2004 Athens Olympic games he gave up his spot in the Mens 4x100m Medley relay so that Ian Crocker could swim the 100m Fly leg. Ian Crocker had missed out on a Gold Medal through illness, but had recovered during the competition. Michael Phelps asked the head coach to let Ian Crocker swim the fly leg an have a shot at an Olympic Gold medal. Phelps stood by the pool to watch just that happen - that is true sportsmanship and is a rare glimpse of the Olympic spirit.

I don't think anyone can find fault with Michael Phelps acheivements. Michael Phelps is so much more than his recent 2008 Olympics Swimming performance. His performance has been outstanding for years and he has a not just a great but an incredible team spirit.

From a physical point of view Michael Phelps at 23 years of age is a giant of an athlete. Standing some 6 feet 4 inches tall with size 14 feet! Genetically he has certainly been blessed.

Genetics alone will not get you 8 Gold Medals at one Olympic Games to add to the 3 Golds from another. And he cannot be praised for his genetics. He must be very thankful for the great raw materials he has been blessed with.

Michael Phelps adds in the ingredient of training hard - which wins him points for being a good role model.

He works meticulously on the little things that let so many others down.

He hasn't picked the easiest of routes for a swimmer. Being an individual medley swimmer means he has to be outstanding in all four strokes. Five strokes if you count kick as a stroke - or perhaps that is another of his little secrets!

To hold a World Record in one stroke is an incredible feat, but to hold World Records in more than one stroke - that is true brilliance.

Michael Phelps' training regime is something like 6 days a week for 5 hours a day. This gruelling day in day out training regime, combines both water-based and land-based training. To get up day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year to train like this, shows true dedication, determination and strength of character.

It is said that a year or so ago Michael Phelps handed his Coach Bob Bowman a piece of paper with his goal for the year. That goal was to bring home 8 Gold Medals from the Beijing Olympics.

Yet another trait of a great role model - have clearly defined goals, write them and set a time frame. I think he got ticks for all of those.

So the big question is how could I possibly think that Michael Phelps is a BAD role model?

Michael Phelps - a Bad Role Model

Why do I think that Michael Phelps is a BAD role model?

It is hard, he does have so many positives, but he also has one very big negative to his success.

He recently revealed his rival defeating secret weapon. A 10,000 to 12,000 calorie a day diet.

Based on his work out regime, I can understand that perhaps 12,000 calories a day to support that is required.

There is no doubting it, he does look great. But where I really have a problem with this is when you realise where he gets his calories from.

Michael Phelps says he doesn't worry about what he eats, he is more focussed on getting enough calories!

This is an example of his dietary intake:


  • 3 fried-egg sandwiches,cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise.

  • 3 egg omelet and grits

  • 3 slices of French toast with powdered sugar

  • 3 chocolate chip pancakes
  • 2 cups of coffee


  • 500g of enriched pasta - which is a family sized packet!

  • 2 large ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise

  • 1,000 calorie energy drink.


  • 500g of pasta with a sauce like carbonara!

  • 1 whole pizza

  • 1,000 calorie energy drink.

No wonder Michael Phelps was recently quoted as saying:

"Eat, sleep and swim, that's all I can do."

I was gagging at the first 3 fried egg sandwiches!

Put me out of this equation, I am certainly not an olympic athelete. But I do have an interest, I have a budding young swimmer in my family and I am always looking to find her good role models.

If she knew what Michael Phelps ate, boy would I have a problem! She would LOVE to eat like this!

How can you explain to an 11 year old, that Micheal Phelps has been blessed with a genetic make-up that allows him to eat all this high fat, high sugar diet and still perform at peak levels.

For most people this kind of diet is a recipe for disaster. It could be setting Michael Phelps up for many diseases in later life, like heart problems, vascular disease and diabetes to name a few.

How many athletes have you seen in later life struggling with weight problems and these types of diseases?

Whilst I hope that this is not the case for Michael Phelps, I do think his diet is certainly not a positive model for anyone to be following.

I think from a dietary point of view Michael Phelps is a bad role model.

So next time you are hailing his achievements and thinking you should follow his example or get your kids to role model him - remember what he eats.

I would love to see my daughter achieve her dreams, but not at the cost of her long term health.


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    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 5 years ago

      Anonymous - pity you don't leave your name. However, you will note that this article was written a few years ago and the comments are open for a discussion.

      I note your comment is on the side of the bad role model, which is quite fair to mention.

      Today, Michael Phelps made history with his latest Gold medal at the Olympics, which is of course a good argument for the Good Role Model.

      It appears to me, that Phelps will continue to be both a positive and a negative role model for different aspects of his life.

      Thank you for voicing your opinion - though I would prefer to comment to people who are prepared to leave their name.


    • profile image

      Anonymous 5 years ago

      An article about Michael Phelps being a bad role model that doesn't mention his drunk driving record or marijuana use?

      I call shenanigans.

    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 5 years ago

      Jenn, I was quite sad to see Michael Phelps not get a medal today - but fantastic to see Ryan Lochte. I read recently that Michael Phelps has cleaned up his diet a bit, but no details. Sadly, I think it was more motivation catching up with him. It must be tough to go 4 years between the Olympics and stay fully motivated.

    • profile image

      Jenn 5 years ago

      Doesn't look like this diet is doing him any favors so far.

    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 6 years ago

      Thanks Cara for your comment.

      As a parent, I haven't actually been trained on nutrition, save for a small amount when I was at school (too many years ago!). I struggle every day wondering if I am giving my kids and family the correct nutrition to grow, let alone cope with their full on training.

      I went to a nutritionist a few years ago and stated my dilemma that I was not trained to manage the nutritional requirements of my family - each of my children different ages and stages, myself and my husband - therefore requiring 4 different portion sizes and types of food. Let me say, that I left her office, shaking my head and never returned. If a nutritionist cannot give you the answer, then how do you expect the average parent too?

      The reason I say this, is that it is exactly the reason people WANT to know what Michael Phelps is eating or any of the other athletes so they figure if it works for him, it could work for me/my kid....

      Whether that is right or not, I don't know. But it is human nature to look t what others are doing.

    • profile image

      Cara 6 years ago

      I'm pretty sure as a professional athlete he probably has his own nutritionist who will be thinking about trying to get a balance between future health and convenience. Also I agree with Hub-ninga, that it is worrying how many young athletes actually don't consume enough calories. I am know swimmers who train four hours a day, and spend time at school, yet still only consume about 2000 calories a day. Which for someone who is still growing is certainly not enough. This is due to the fact they are either worried about putting on weight, or they don't want to 'eat like fatties' in front of their friends. Overall eating habits have been publicized far too much in the media, whether they are good or bad and I believe this is an issue to be addressed separately to good sporting role models.

      You should just tell your child about the good aspects of him (dedication, training and medals) and leave nutrition as a separate issue, which as a parent you ought to be teaching yourself.

    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 8 years ago


      I could agree with you more. That is so true for values, habits and attitudes. And as you rightly point out when you are looking at a field outside your expertize, then you do have to look to those others. In sport, nutrition is an area where people look for an edge! Not sure Michael Phelps edge is for everyone! Thanks for your comment. Hope.

    • bill yon profile image

      bill yon 8 years ago from sourcewall

      looking outside at someone in a field that you are interested in entering is O.K.But we must remember that values,and habits,attitudes,are learned in the home.

    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 8 years ago

      Thanks for your comment Bill. I understand your point of view. They are just ordinary people like you and me, but their activities mean that they are in the spotlight. Our greatest role models should be mothers and fathers, but not all parents have achieved what their children want to achieve. So there is a tendency to look outside to those who have already walked the path you want to walk, which is why sportsmen and women, actors, entertainers, artists etc are often held up as role models. I am not advocating they should be role models, merely questioning whether this particular one is a good or a bad role model and what we can learn from both sides.

      Thank you for sharing your point of view.


    • bill yon profile image

      bill yon 8 years ago from sourcewall

      athletes and entertainers are not role models,their people like you and me.role models are parents,teachers,and pastors,you can't have a total stranger be a role model to your child no matter how succesful he/she is.being a role model is firmly the mother and fathers responsebility,if your child is on the same path as some one like phelps you can use him as an example,or a standard(after all phelps is the best ever at what he does)but being a role model is not his job or anyones job but the mother and father.

    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 9 years ago

      Hi KK's Mom,

      I guess only time will tell if we are right to accept Michael Phelps' excuse and apology this time. I understand that he did get booked for drink driving a few months after the previous Olympics, which is showing a pattern of behaviour. I do hope for his sake and for the sake of all the kids who look up to him that he does keep his word.


    • profile image

      KK'S MOM 9 years ago

      Phelps = loser in my book now. Yeah, "everybody makes mistakes" I am so sick of hearing that for an excuse. Yes, everybody does make mistakes. But everyone also makes CHOICES.

      Good one Michael. Real good.

    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 9 years ago


      I figured it was only a matter of time before someone commented about "that" Michael Phelps bong incident. Unfortunately, as the mother of a budding young athlete, I see it adds further weight to the side of bad role model.


    • NDBEES profile image

      NDBEES 9 years ago from DEVON

      The way he draws on that bong deserves a gold medal every time.

    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 9 years ago

      Hi Natural030,

      I totally agree that Michael Phelps is an outsanding athlete with amazing records. I also agree that he would burn loads of calories, but my question really is in search of an answer I don't know the answer to, is there a better way, a more healthy way he could get his calories.

      A way that might prevent him suffering from many of today's lifestyle diseases in later life?

      His diet seems to be a standout extreme for a swimmer, there are swimmers that are so totally focussed on eating healthily and they still achieve great things too. I once read that Australian longdistance swimmer Grant Hacket only eats a piece of cake once a year! For his birthday his mom makes him a cheesecake!

      Now that is also extreme! I just wonder what the happy balance is? And can we have some role models from that camp put their hand up?

    • natural030 profile image

      natural030 9 years ago

      In my opinion Michael Phelps is a great athlete and to hold records he holds is one great accomplishment. However, you cannot really explain to young children why he can eat so unhealthy but still be a great athlete because they are just too young to understand why he eats that way.

      If you were to tell an eleven year old what he eats, they would probably go out and eat like Phelps and expect success like him. Well obviously they will not get the same results, but when they become older and more mature, they will understand why he had to eat all of that even if it was unhealthy.

      He trains very hard, hours per day, and I am no swimmer but I am an athlete, and I am sure he burns TONS of calories by swimming hours per day to train.

    • TravelMonkey profile image

      TravelMonkey 9 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great hub and comments following.

    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 9 years ago

      Well there you go!

      I remember reading recently that you need carbs and protein afterward workouts to replenish glycogen stores and build muscle. So that makes sense.

    • Hub-Ninja profile image

      Hub-Ninja 9 years ago from in the midwest somewhere

      it is interesting that you should mention protein... sports drinks have recently started adding protein because they have found that contrary to former thinking, endurance athletes get more benefit from sports drinks that have protein in them. It prevents the muscle loss that occurs from heavy endurance training and minimizes muscle damage, thus speeding recovery. Michael Phelps is sponsored by one and appears in their ads. I think it is called PureSport.

    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 9 years ago

      Thanks for that Hub Ninja.

      I am wondering out loud here, but I wonder if someone could come up with a more healthy alternative diet that would deliver him the same calories. Not that I am suggesting he should change his diet, but rather to show other people that you don't have to get the calories that way.  I know people will say that it also comes down to ease, but I maintain, if you are are making sandwich it is just as easy to use grain bread instead of white for example.

      I am guessing that the energy drinks must be protein drinks, as it really doesn't seem like his diet would be giving him anywhere near enough good protein for example.

      No taking it away from him - an incredible athlete.


      PS anyone care to come up with an alternate diet for Michael Phelps?

    • Hub-Ninja profile image

      Hub-Ninja 9 years ago from in the midwest somewhere

      I was a college swimmer, and I know I ate more than football players twice my size. there is something about swimming that requires more calories, and I would worry more about the endurance athletes who are not eating enough. Runners and swimmers have a tendency to worry about their weight, and eating disorders are common in that many athletes aren't willing to increase their intake when needed.

      I did struggle with slowing down my eating when my athletic career ended, but after a while a person with the kind of discipline Michael Phelps has will take care of themselves and eat a healthy diet to control their weight within the parameters of their new lifestyle.

      I think endurance athletes do have admirable qualities that make them great role models... but I also think you are right. It might have been a little irresponsible for the media to make such a hoopla about his caloric intake.

    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 9 years ago

      Paraglider, great comment and very good point.

      I guess my point is indirectly about longevity, but I hadn't put it in the context of repeat performances, I was thinking more of life after swimming.

      Thanks for putting it so well


    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Michael Phelps has taken swimming to new highs of performance. He's a phenomenal athlete and deserves his success and his time in the spotlight. However, I don't think his eleven golds necessarily qualifies him as the greatest ever Olympian. Track & Field competitors simply can't enter that number of events. I'm more impressed with staying power. Steve Redgrave, competing in 5 consecutive Olympics (rowing) and achieving a Gold in each one. That's dominating a sport for 16 years. Michael Phelps has a long way to go to beat that record!

    • petexanh profile image

      Peter 9 years ago

      Its a well written article, but I don't think he does qualify for being a bad role model because of his diet. You can bet he has carefully managed nutritional requirements. This would be part of that devotion. Training 5 hours a day for 6 hours a week burns a huge number of calories and he would need that kind of intake to stay healthy. This would be part of that meticulous detail.

      Clearly this diet isn't for everyone, and anyone who eats this many calories a day, better be prepared to expend enough energy to accommodate. I wouldn't call him a bad role model though.Anyone who says they can eat that without supllementing it with the right exercise is probably the bad model.

    • profile image

      Alf 9 years ago

      Michael Phelps is an exceptional athlete, no question. He clearly pays a high price to collect his prizes in the pool. Meer mortals marvel at what it takes and for those hoping to emulate (or get close to matching) his achievements, they need to ask some serious questions about how they would get there. The prize comes at a long term price too - you are what you eat! I agree he is not a food role model......but he is a great role model in so many other ways.

    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 9 years ago

      Thanks for all the comments.

      I am really in total awe about his accomplishments, and no doubt he will inspire a whole new generation of swimmers which is fantastic.

      But.. I still think that Michael Phelps diet is quite worrying.

      It is not like he is doing the occassional "bad" food, virtually the entire list is poor quality nutrition in my book.

      How hard would it be to substitute the white bread for some grain bread, or reduce some of those bad fats and put in some good ones?

      I don't think this is a usual diet for swimmers or athletes, I'd love to find out what other athletes with similar training load eat. Anyone out there know?

      Cheers, Hope

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      I loved watching some of the morning shows today with Phelps and his mom who has devoted so much time and energy to help him get to where he is today. My oldest son (nearly 11) has expressed an interest in swim team for the first time as a result of Phelps's accomplishments. I say that is truly a role model!

    • 02SmithA profile image

      02SmithA 9 years ago from Ohio

      Nice hub! I think overall as an America I'm very pleased with how Phelps represents our country and shows himself as a role model.

    • Boss Number 1 profile image

      Boss Number 1 9 years ago from Stayton, OR

      True, Dara Torres probably doesn't eat the way he does, she's also almost 20 years older, smaller, works out fewer hours per week, & she's a woman. All of which would pretty much guarantee her metabolism works at a slower rate than Michael Phelps.

      And as far as kids having to decide good from bad, that's where parents come in. It shouldn't be up to the kids in the first place. And if parents are doing their job right, even if kids prefer the fatty foods, they will understand that healthier options are what fuel THEIR bodies.

    • hopefully profile image

      hopefully 9 years ago

      Wow, what a response. I think there is polarisation on this subject!

      Thanks for all the comments. I really appreciate you all taking the time to write them.

      I am around kids who are budding athletes who do use people like Michael Phelps as their role models.

      They are kids, we as adults struggle to know how to get the right nutrition, and a pound of pasta carbonara and giant pizza a night sounds like kid heaven. It might be hard for them to decide good from bad in this situation.

      I am more interested in how Dara Torres looks so good at 41, bet she doesn't eat a giant pizza after training.

      I appreciate all your comments, I love diversity. Keep them coming.

      Hope W.

    • Boss Number 1 profile image

      Boss Number 1 9 years ago from Stayton, OR

      Honestly, have you ever tried to eat 12,000 calories per day? Most of us eat MORE than enough, and still average right around 3500 calories. Try multiplying that by 3 or 4 times. It would be next to impossible to eat that many calories and not eat some foods that fall into the fatty, high-calorie category. I balked, too, when I heard what his diet was, but honestly, it makes sense that in order to consume the number of calories that he burns, he's going to have to "take one for the team" and eat some less than healthy stuff to get there.

      I think you explain it to kids just like you explained it in this article, "Honey, Michael Phelps trains 30 hours a week, he is a young, strong man, with a body-type that burns through fuel in a way that almost no one else's does. He sometimes has to eat less than healthy foods just in order to try to maintain his weight while he's training to be the best. Maybe if you get to the point where you are training 30+ hours a week, you will have someone tell you to eat the way he does just to maintain your muscle tone. Until then, though, we're going to eat healthier foods."

      I guarantee you he's not alone. Look at Lance Armstrong during the tour de france. Each day the cyclists burn at least 7000-10000 calories while competing, which means they have to eat at least that many just to be able to function properly and continue the race. Can you imagine how hard it is to eat that many calories after you've been killing yourself all day on a course? Of course athletes sometimes take the "easy way" and consume some foods that are going to be more calorie-dense.

      I'm not knocking this article. I think you bring up some good points, but I also don't think Michael Phelps' diet would throw him into the "bad role model" category. I think as an athlete, you sometimes function as an exception to the rule, simply because your body is working so hard.

    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 9 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      I'd commend him for having the discipliine to eat that much. It's incredibly difficult thing to do and when you exercise at the intensity level he does, you must consume an enormous number of calories.

      As for a role model of how to compete, work, and focus, yes. But, as someone I'd want my daughters to strive to be like, I think that's the parents role.

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 9 years ago from San Francisco

      Nice hub, although I'm not sure I would want to hold any athlete - even one as successful and disciplined as Phelps is - as a role model to my children.

    • T. A. Northburg profile image

      Tim Northburg 9 years ago from Colorado, USA

      I like your article.  I think Michael Phelps is a humble person and a great Olympian. I think he handles his success wonderfully.  Let's just hope he keeps it up.  As far as his caloric intake, I was a swimmer and I know what it is like to burn so many calories.  You just have to keep feeding the machine.  Although, he better not be eating that much when he is 30.  Great article!

      Check out my article on Phelps.

      T.A. Northburg