LONDON – For Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, "The Hunger Games" concluded in 2008. Or at the very least, the way they went about filling their hunger changed for the better.
Leading up to the Beijing Games, we learned that the past caloric intake of Phelps and Lochte would have blasted a normal person into the diabetes hall of fame. From the 10,000 calories a day, to the McDonald's feasts, to the energy drinks and the conveyor belt of pancakes, French toast, and fried-egg sandwiches. But that was the Beijing Olympics. If anything, London 2012 will be the year of the physical realignment.
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Dry-land training has gone up and diversified. Caloric intake – while still two and three times the normal human – has gotten smarter. Phelps is 27 and Lochte turns 28 next week, and both are about to take the gold medal in a depressing fact: The sun is setting on their careers as ultra-elite swimmers. So if you hear that Lochte is gorging himself on McDonald's and Phelps is still dipping chocolate chip pancakes into a Red Bull aus jus, let's just say you're being fed something, too. And it's not the truth.
What you should be hearing is what has really made the difference over the last four years. You should hear about the new twists in their workouts -- about how Lochte has been throwing tires while Phelps has been throwing jabs. This is the latest facet of speculation about what is going to end up separating the world's two greatest swimmers, and provide one or another the edge when they meet in their 200 and 400 Individual Medley duels.
Lochte has remade himself nutritionally, moving the McNuggets out of his five basic food groups and gearing his intake more toward that of Phelps. For the most part, the cheeseburgers and fries are gone, replaced by 8,000-10,000 calories of smart, natural carbohydrates and proteins … and more than enough fat to burn in the pool. Meanwhile, Phelps cut back on the 10,000-a-day caloric intake (although he isn't saying how much) after gaining 25 pounds via a less-than-enthusiastic four years in the pool post-China. And both admit that more so than 2008, the training out of the pool has been a priority. They've even embraced some new tricks (for swimmers, anyway).
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Phelps took on a boxing regimen with his trainer, Keenan Robinson, in hopes of pushing his cardiovascular workouts further -- a tough task, since Phelps already is one of the most finely tuned humans on the planet. Some of the workouts were also designed to develop Phelps's hips and core fitness outside of the pool.
"We've been able to add a lot of cool, different things, whether it's boxing...we've done a lot of Olympic [weightlifting regimens] over the last couple of years," Lochte said. "They keep it fresh and exciting for us and something new. We're always very interested in what we're doing. I think everybody needs something different. For Ryan, it might be throwing a tire. For me, I don't see myself throwing a tire or lifting chains."
Lochte's "strongman" workouts have been arguably even more unconventional for swimmers. Many of the videos of his workouts have been showing up online, as Lochte has trained with Matt DeLancey, an Olympic trainer at the University of Florida who is a former strongman competitor. From flipping or sledgehammering massive truck tires, tossing kegs in the air, whipping ropes, and dragging shipyard chains up and down the road, Lochte's dry-land work has been credited with not just closing the gap between him and Phelps in the last four years, but also putting him in position to be the swimming story of these Olympics.
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As Lochte put it Thursday, "This is the big show. I wasn't working for the Olympic trials. I was working for this. I know I can go a lot faster."
We'll find out on Saturday, when the two go head-to-head for the first time in these Games, facing off in the 400 IM. They'll see each again in the 200 IM on August 1-2.
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