In bloated, panting-for-breath retrospect, it was crazy to think I could match Michael Phelps.
Not in the pool, of course. That would just be stupid. No, I had the audacity to think I could tackle Phelps at the kitchen table.
Where do I stand against Phelps? He is: 23 years old. I am: 31 years old. He stands: 6 foot 4. I stand: 6 foot 4. He weighs: 195 pounds. I weigh: 198 pounds. He has: more gold medals than any Olympian in history. I have: too much time on my hands.
But I've been swimming laps all summer in an effort to work off my gut, so it really did seem possible. I know, I know. I can hear all the incredulous voices and the head shaking that goes with them: Do you know how much Michael Phelps eats?
It's a whopping 12,000-calorie-a-day diet.
The average 23-year-old man consumes about 2,000 calories a day. And even on the best of days I have to wake up pretty early and work pretty hard to reach the category of an average man.
But who knows, I thought, maybe to swim like Phelps you first have to eat like Phelps.
Breakfast: Obviously, if you're going to attempt the Phelps breakfast you have to work up an appetite. So on Saturday morning, I begin the day with 30 minutes of yoga, 30 push-ups, 90 crunches and a three-kilometre run, burning 936 calories, according to an online calorie counter.
I probably expend more energy prepping breakfast: It takes 45 minutes and uses every single kitchen utensil I own.
I start with the fried-egg sandwiches. I feel it might be possible to eat the whole meal. After polishing two of them off, I move on to the French toast. After eating all three pieces, I'm doing some pretty laboured mouth breathing.
Forcing myself to buck up, I start eating a chocolate-chip pancake the size of my face. Both cups of coffee are done.
What's missing from the meal? Fruit. Seriously, Mike, would it kill you to eat an orange wedge? Parading your bazillion gold medals around is no fun when you've got scurvy.
On the verge of nausea, I force myself to take one bite from a bowl of Cream of Wheat (my substitute for grits, because good luck finding grits north of the Mason-Dixon line).
Feeling like Mr. Creosote from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, I'm one bite away from asking my girlfriend for a bucket. I call it quits after an hour of eating in earnest, leaving one fried-egg sandwich, two chocolate-chip pancakes, most of a bowl of Cream of Wheat, and a five-egg omelette on the table, laughing at me from the heights of Phelpsian wonder.
"Dude," I curse my Olympian nemesis, "how do you not weigh 700 pounds?"
Lunch: It takes about two hours after breakfast before I can even think about going to the pool, but eventually I get there. I feel more energetic than usual, my front crawl moving me through the water with more power than it has all summer.
Nor am I as tired as I usually am when I hit the wall to turn. But with this many calories coursing through my veins, I should be able to tie a rope around my waist and tug a freighter in to harbour.
My go-for-the-gold confidence crashes when I decide to try the butterfly stroke. I'm able to do about four strokes of what must easily be the most embarrassingly awkward misrepresentation of the form before nearly sinking. The teenaged lifeguard is suppressing laughter.
I swim for 45 minutes, burning 472 calories. When I get back from the pool, I go through my morning exercise routine again, shaving off another 936 calories. By 3 p.m. I'm not even remotely hungry, but I have to have lunch because dinner is fast approaching.
I eat the two ham-and-cheese sandwiches and drink two Gatorades while out on a friend's boat, which surprisingly is not heeling to the side I'm sitting on. When I get home, I eat the pound of enriched pasta with tomato sauce, which works out to be three heaping platefuls.
Starting my third plate, I'm forced to ponder a question I've never faced at a meal in my entire life: Am I having hot flashes? A strange sensation of heat is emanating from the pit of my stomach and working its way up through my shoulders. This can't be good.
Just before the clock strikes 9 p.m., I've consumed in 12 hours almost the same caloric intake I would normally eat over the course of three days. The mouth breathing continues. I have to lie down on the couch.
It's only a mix of what willpower I have left and the sheer terror of eating dinner that forces me out of the house to go running again. My 30-minute run burns just 562 calories. I feel like an over-stuffed sausage.
Dinner: What, no dessert? I'm surprised the guy doesn't finish off the day with 16 quarts of double-churned chocolate ice cream topped with an M&M the size of a country ham.
Still, the carb-heavy menu would have most South Beach dieters making the cross with their index fingers in horror.
OK, throw that pizza in the oven, and let's do this. While the pizza cooks, I turn on the TV and see the U.S. Men's Olympic swim team - fit, trim, healthy as oxen, none of them looking like they would cry like a toddler at the sight of another plate of spaghetti. I don't even bother cooking the pasta.
I manage to drink three Gatorades. After you've been eating all day, each big chug of an energy drink feels like a mouthful of pot roast. I decide to eat only as much of the pizza as I can. I make it halfway through. As I look at the other half, my girlfriend looks at me as if she will never find me attractive ever again if I so much as try to cram just one more piece of pepperoni into my gullet.
I need to lie down.
As I collapse on the couch, Phelps wins his eighth gold medal. My awe for him has tripled.
If he ever retires from swimming, he could make a killing at those competitive eating contests. That hot dog guy's got nothing on him.
I've spent an entire day pushing myself to the limits of intestinal explosion and I still fell short one fried-egg sandwich, two chocolate-chip pancakes, a bowl of grits, a five-egg omelette, a pound of pasta, half a pizza and more than four litres of Gatorade. I feel humbled and crestfallen, the way you do when forced to confront your limitations.
I wonder if I will spring out of bed tomorrow ready to run a marathon, or if I will hide under the covers in fear, trembling at the prospect of eating again. Both seem like distinct possibilities.
Michael Phelps now has 14 gold medals from two Olympics, the all-time record.
He should bring me one of those medals just for eating what I did today. But I'd settle for a bucket.
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