“It was more of a chore — it was part of my job,” the Olympian told Muscle & Fitness in 2020 about his training regimen ahead of his Games’ appearances. “I could have days when [my weight] would fluctuate between five and 10 pounds, and that’s not water weight. When I’m swimming 10 miles per day, and spending more than an hour in the weight room or doing some kind of circuit cardio, it became a nonstop job. I was eating around the clock, getting my hands on whatever I could, whenever I could, and as much as I could.”
The Maryland native’s approach to fitness and wellness has changed since his 2016 retirement.
“To look back then, and now, fast-forward 10 to 20 years, it’s completely different. I’m not someone who always enjoys to eat, because it was such a part of my life, I had to basically force myself at times to eat food because I had to maintain that weight,” he recalled to the magazine. “So, I am now in a transition where I give my body what I think it needs. I don’t overindulge on a bunch of different things. I’m very specific in what I put into my diet, so I have transitioned more into a plant-based diet. I’m a lot leaner than I’ve probably ever been, in a post-swimming phase.”
“Done, done, done — and this time I mean it. I wanted to come back and finish my career how I wanted and this was the cherry on top of the cake,” he told the Today show at the time. “I’m done. I’m finished. I’m retired. I’m done. No more. … Between now and London, I was so much more emotional during these Games; I think that showed at times on camera. That’s the difference. Because I knew this was the last time. I knew this was the last race that I ever had, the last Olympics that I ever had. And everything just really hit hard.”
In addition to working on his physical wellness, the University of Michigan alum — who shares children Boomer, Beckett and Maverick with Johnson — is also an avid advocate for mental health awareness.
“It was all about being vulnerable. I think it’s scary for a lot of people to think about that word. I just wanted to change,” Phelps exclusively told Us Weekly in October 2017 of opening up about his battles with anxiety and depression in his Angst documentary. “I was to the point where I didn’t like who I was. I didn’t like looking at myself like seeing the reflection that you see in the mirror. I kind of just tackled it head-on.”
He added: “There are a lot of different things that we have going on and you’re starting to see more, whether it’s athletes or celebrities who are opening up and talking about depression and anxiety more. I think they’re understanding that it is OK to not be OK.”
Scroll below to relieve Phelps’ hottest moments through the years: