Robert St. John column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2008

St. John: Eating one’s way through the 100-meter freestyle

Eating Ones Way Through the 100 Meter Freestyle

My wife is nuts about the Summer Olympics. Every television in our home is tuned to the games in China and she calls me hourly with details of how well the United States is doing against the Lithuanian handball team.

I’m more of a Winter Olympics-type guy. I’ll take an out-of-control bobsled shooting down an icy mountain at 100-miles per hour over a lame ping-pong match every time. I have, however, enjoyed watching USA swimmer Michael Phelps break the record for all-time gold medals.

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Phelps represents his country well. His feat of surpassing Mark Spitz’s accomplishments is amazing. His record-breaking swimming is remarkable, and his laid-back attitude and competitive demeanor are admirable. But what truly impresses me about Michael Phelps is the news story I read the other day with the headline: “Swimmer Michael Phelps Consumes 12,000 Calories a Day.”

Now that’s impressive. Mr. Phelps, you now have my attention, along with my complete and total admiration.

You can keep the gold medals, magazine covers, fan adulation, and the forthcoming million-dollar endorsement deals. I would gladly trade them all for the ability to eat 12,000 calories a day and get away with it. That would be a blast.

Every day Phelps consumes six times more food than the average male and his body-fat percentage is under four percent. I consume twice as many groceries as the average male though my body-fat percentage hovers somewhere around the legal drinking age.

Researching this piece, I found a story in the New York Post which gave a detailed description of a day in the life of Phelps’ intestinal tract. “Phelps lends a new spin to the phrase ‘Breakfast of Champions’ by starting off his day by eating three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. He follows that up with two cups of coffee, a five-egg omelet, a bowl of grits, three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar and three chocolate-chip pancakes.”

Someone needs to give his chef a medal.

The Post continued, “At lunch, Phelps gobbles up a pound of enriched pasta and two large ham and cheese sandwiches slathered with mayo on white bread – capping off the meal by chugging about 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks. For dinner, Phelps really loads up on the carbs – what he needs to give him plenty of energy for his five-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week regimen – with a pound of pasta and an entire pizza. He washes all that down with another 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks.”

I admire Mr. Phelps and his accomplishments, but if I was able to consume 12,000 calories a day and get away with it, I wouldn’t be eating ham and cheese with mayo on white bread. At the least, throw some whole-grain mustard or horseradish in the mix. Can you say whole-smoked tenderloin on wheat?

At breakfast, throw some bacon and sausage on the menu, Michael. The way your metabolism is humming you’ll burn off the excess fat with the energy you use to pick up a forkful of those chocolate-chip pancakes.

In my twenties, during the 32-inch waist period of my life, I used to eat a large pepperoni pizza every night when I got off of work at the restaurant. The people at the pizza-delivery place knew my name. “Oh, hi Robert. The usual? Extra cheese? We’ll be over in 30 minutes. Say, how’s your grandmother?”

In those days I was working 90-hours per week in the kitchen of my first restaurant. Maybe I should have been doing the breast stroke.

I have eaten a lot of food over the course of my life. The closest I have ever come to eating 12,000 calories in one day was several years ago when I ate a 36-course meal at The French Laundry in Yountville, CA. It was the only meal I have ever eaten that needed a halftime break. After the meal, on the ride home, my friend Bill estimated that we had consumed approximately 10,000 calories over the course of the four and a half hour bacchanalia. Had I jumped into an Olympic pool that night, I would have sunken immediately to the drain. No one would have given me a gold medal, though I would have died a happy man.

 For this week’s recipe, Miniature Smoked Tenderloin Sandwiches with Three Spreads, go to the column link on .

(Robert St.John is an author, chef, restaurateur, and world-class eater. He is the author of seven books including the newly released New South Grilling. He can be reached at