This is how swimming legend Michael Phelps ate to get in shape for the Olympics

This is how swimming legend Michael Phelps ate to get in shape for the Olympics

When he hung up his Speedos after the summer games in Rio de Janeiro back in 2016, Michael Phelps did so as the most successful and decorated Olympian of all time. 28 medals did the trick (with a whopping 23 of those being gold medals), while his status as one of America's greatest sportsmen ever was weirdly cemented after he competed in a swimming race against a (computer-simulated) shark.

He lost, of course, but the very fact that we thought to pit Phelps against a CGI shark is a testament to our belief in the man's swimming ability (nobody's ever tried to race Usain Bolt against a cheetah, for example). Now 32 years old, Michael Phelps can look back on his career with a proud, tearful nostalgia, not least because he doesn't have to go through the gruelling nutritional regimes that got him into Olympic condition ever again.

As you might imagine, Phelps' Olympic meals were much more stringent than yours or mine. They not only kept him lean and mean for the biggest competitions in the world, but his diet also gave him the energy and thrust he needed to dominate the biggest competitions in the world for so long. 16 years - four Olympic events - to be exact.

So when he talked to Mashable about dieting ahead of Olympic events, it was no surprise that regular trips to McDonald's were nowhere to be found. "If you want to be able to perform the best no matter what you're doing, you have to be able to have nutritious foods," he revealed. So what kind of nutrition is Phelps on about for Olympic-level fitness?

"When I was in high school - and shortly after high school - I was probably eating 10,000 calories a day because I was losing so much weight daily just from all the calories I was burning inside the water," said Phelps about the early beginnings of his career.

"I was literally shoving food into my mouth to make sure I was maintaining weight. It was brutal. For me, it was just more importantly about hitting and maintaining a weight. I got kind of used to eating what I needed to or eating what I had to - eating to try and stay on top of everything was a job because of how much we were swimming and how many calories we were burning."

Fair enough for a guy in his late teens and early 20s, I guess - his metabolism must have been going through the roof - but by the time his last Olympic Games rolled around in 2016, the greatest Olympian of all time had to take a slightly different approach in order to keep himself in tip-top shape. So what happened as his 30s rolled around, and he started to slow down?

"I think really, going into 2016, I took a different approach because I was older and my body was a little different from what it was in the past, so I looked at it as my body being a high-performance car - you're not going to put low-grade unleaded into a high-performance car, you're going to put the best kind of gasoline you can into that car to make sure it runs as smooth as possible."

Nice metaphor, Michael, but assuming he doesn't chug gallons of gasoline, what does that mean for his diet? "I don't eat much red meat," he revealed, saying at most he'll tuck into a steak "once or twice a month". Instead, Michael Phelps eats a lot of chicken and a lot of fish, and he doesn't go easy on the greens. "I eat a ton of spinach every day, so it just depends what we're in the mood for. Probably chicken almost every night - five nights a week. It's just harder for your body to break down, red meat."

"I do love a good burger though," Phelps revealed with a chuckle, proving underneath the incredible physique and the huge haul of Olympic medals, he is a guy just like the rest of us. Just a way more successful guy. And after all the work he's done for the world of sport, who can begrudge him a burger now he's retired? You do you, Michael Phelps.