Michael Phelps is a Dope!

February 6th, 2009

Michael PhelpsUSA Swimming just handed Michael Phelps a 3 month suspension for marijuana use. According to USA Swimming, the suspension is primarily intended to send a strong message to Phelps based on the poor example he has set for young swimmers.

Wasting Talent

During the 2008 Olympics, I was excited to watch Phelps attempt to rewrite history by winning 8 gold medals during a single Olympics. However, once I saw the coverage of his “gold medal diet”, I immediately lost interest in his pursuit.

As a health fanatic, I admit I have a biased opinion, but it’s undeniable that excellent health is an integral part of getting top performance from your body. In my opinion, an athlete that neglects his or her health is no better than one that’s too lazy to train. It results in underutilized talent and nobody likes to see this in an athlete.

The Lesser of Two Evils

Since most people regard Phelps’ awful diet with a joking manner, and since his use of marijuana is invoking a much more serious response, I thought it would be interesting to compare the effects that these two issues could have on his health and performance. Assuming Phelps is not a regular user, I question if the health risks associated with his marijuana use are even comparable to the risks associated with his diet. If you think I’m crazy for questioning this, keep in mind that by following an unhealthy diet, each and every unhealthy meal eaten is an insult to the body. Repeated day after day and year after year, the damage adds up!

Health Risks of Marijuana

As with cigarettes, even though marijuana is a natural substance, it’s smoke is highly toxic. Within the respiratory system, it damages cells, promotes infection, and causes cancer. Anyone who’s ever tried to swim a few laps in an Olympic sized pool should adamantly agree that reduced lung capacity would be a death sentence for a world class swimmer.

Furthermore, marijuana suppresses the immune system. A sick athlete is an athlete that can’t train or compete, and that certainly isn’t conducive to top performance.

Finally, a single occurrence of marijuana can impair memory for up to 6 weeks. Perhaps Phelps is having trouble remembering that he’s a world class athlete!

Health Risks of the “Gold Medal Diet”

Let’s have a look at the diet of the most decorated Olympian of all time.

2 cups of coffee
3 egg sandwiches with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions, and mayonnaise
5 egg omelette
1 bowl of grits
3 slices of french toast with powdered sugar
3 chocolate chip pancakes

1 pound of pasta
2 ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise
1,000 calories of energy drinks

1 pound of pasta
1 full pizza
1,000 calories of energy drinks

I understand that athletes need additional carbohydrates to support the extreme demands they put on their bodies, but Phelps is practically living on nothing but sugar and this is a train wreck waiting to happen.

Sugar and refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta are converted into blood sugar much faster than most natural whole foods. This causes a spike in blood sugar that can be a significant burden for the body to manage. Eventually, this burden often leads to type 2 diabetes and results in the body being unable to regulate high blood sugar. This is extremely dangerous and can lead to blindness, nerve damage, kidney failure, heart disease, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and even the need for amputation.

Even if volatile blood sugar swings don’t lead to diabetes, they can very easily degrade your health. For Phelps, this would mean less energy, less resistance to sickness, and less capacity to train and compete. And similar to marijuana smoke, sugar also suppresses the immune system and degrades health even further. This is not good thing for the performance a world class athlete!

Furthermore, high quality proteins and fats are absolutely essential for repairing the extensive breakdown that occurs within the body of an athlete, especially one that trains as intensely as Michael Phelps. The only source of quality fat and protein in his diet is egg which is simply not enough. As a result, his body is compensating by also using the processed and denatured fat that he’s getting from cheese, pasta, and grain.

During the Olympics, the television coverage of Phelps’ diet did include some quality food such as chicken and vegetables, but relative to everything else he eats, it was only a small amount and still not nearly enough.

The Suspension

As I said, USA Swimming primarily suspended Phelps because of the poor example that his marijuana use projected to the kids that idolize him. That’s completely understandable, but what about the example he’s setting with his diet? Is it acceptable for these kids to think they need to fill up on sugar and refined carbohydrates to swim like their idol?

The suspension is obviously based on the fact that marijuana use is illegal, but that doesn’t change the reality of the situation.

Is Phelps a “True” Athlete?

In my opinion, a true athlete does everything they can to maximize their potential. In contrast, Phelps’ diet and his use of marijuana detract from his potential, but because of his incredible talent and intensive training, he’s still able to achieve amazing results. Will this be enough after 4 more years of the same unhealthy habits? And will it prevent him from realizing his full potential? Speaking for myself, I’d hate to see even a single bit of his amazing talent go to waste.

I know that the life of a professional athlete can become monotonous and that we all need a bit of outside fun once in a while, but what’s the point of all the hard work if it’s being undermined with unhealthy lifestyle habits? If Phelps really cares about getting the most out of his talent, he should be eager to clean up his diet and put aside his bong. Athletes tend to have short careers, and if he’s so inclined, he’ll have many years during retirement to indulge in unhealthy habits.

By 2012, I hope to see Phelps become a “true” athlete and shatter his own records instead of merely utilizing just enough of his talent to beat the rest of the field.

Until then, I think Michael Phelps is a dope for letting any of his talent go to waste. And yes, the pun was fully intended! If for no other reason, I at least hope he’ll improve his diet for the sake of his health. If he doesn’t, he may end up spending his retirement days promoting cholesterol medication along with Mark Spitz!

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