This self-care routine has made the Olympic swimmer a success in the pool—and in his personal life.
Michael Phelps knows a thing or two about the benefits of regular sleep. The now-retired competitive swimmer learned the importance of rest and recuperation at an early age, he tells Health in a new interview, which helped him get through years of rigorous athletic training—not to mention earn 28 Olympic medals.
Phelps, 32, has now partnered with Leesa Sleep, a luxury mattress company that also makes a social impact. (For every 10 mattresses sold, Leesa donates one mattress to those in need.) Here, Phelps opens up about how sleep has played a role in his success, the two other self-care habits he credits with helping him become a great dad, plus how he really feels about having a second child on the way.
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Could you feel a noticeable difference the day after a bad night of sleep during training?
Oh, of course. I was groggy. I was negative. I would feel like everything wasn't clicking together. And I knew when I got a good night’s rest because I was peppy, excited, eager, and involved.
How is sleep important to you now that you’ve retired?
I'm still on the road two to three weeks out of the month. I know I have to get sleep because when I'm home, I'm up between six and seven every morning with [my son] Boomer. I take morning duty.
What else keeps you energized and in a good headspace every day?
Sleeping, working out, eating right. Those are the factors that allow me to be a better husband and a better father, a better son, a harder worker. Family dinner is also something we do every night. When [Boomer] eats dinner, we eat something too with him. I try to get him in a habit of eating with us and eating the same foods that we eat.
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Do you carve out me time?
You have to have me time. For me to have that moment of quiet and peacefulness, it’s in the pool. Over the last two days I swam 2,500, 3,000 meters—so two miles in two days. And just those two miles helped me get rid of anything I had in my head, all the negative emotions. If I'm in a bad mood or grumpy around the house, my wife [Nicole] will literally say, “Please go swim. I want you to go swim. Get out of the house and go take care of yourself.”
She must have her me time, too.
Everybody has to. She went to get her nails done today and I was like, “I'm happy you went to get your nails done! That’s good!” For me, it's also going on a golf course. That’s another one of my escapes from everything. The golf course I play at has no cell service besides, like, three holes, so it's perfect. I don't have to respond to anything.
Can you still eat 10,000 calories a day?
No way. I'm not working out as much. I always think that if your body is a high performance car—so imagine you're a Ferrari—you're not going to put unleaded in there. You’re going to put premium gas. So if I want to get the best use out of my body, I'm not going to fill it with crappy food. I'm going to put in nutritious stuff that my body needs. From time to time I might have a little cheat, a cheeseburger here and there, instead of a piece of fish or chicken and veggies. But nine times out of 10, you're going to see me having chicken, fish, or salad.
What has surprised you most about fatherhood?
We've actually found ourselves going to bed earlier!
So aside from an earlier bedtime, have you changed?
The biggest thing [fatherhood] has really taught me is patience. I'm pretty patient, but it's like, he’s a small human. He’s a child that can't tell us what he wants. So when he's crying because of X, Y, or Z, be patient and figure it out. I used to ask my wife, “Honey, what do I do?" And she's like, "Just figure it out!" That's what I'm doing.
What is Boomer like at 18 months?
He’s a really good kid. He's always happy. Watching him grow, he looks like a little boy, he acts like a little boy, like he's almost self-sufficient. He'll take my hand and he'll point to the couch, and I sit down on the couch and he picks up like 15 different toys and plays with all of them. Then he'll pick up a book and he'll come over, climb up on the couch, sit next to me, and open the pages. I'll watch him hit a golf ball, or swing a little foam baseball bat, or throw a football. It's just fun. It’s cool to watch. Every day is something different.
Do you have any nerves about having a second child?
Adding another one is going to be completely different and a huge change. But it's like, we didn't plan for number one, and we didn't really plan on having a second one this early, so we're just going with it and we're going to make the best of it.
What are some of your current fitness goals, unrelated to swimming?
Right now I bike about 100 miles a week. We live in Scottsdale, and when I'm home I ride outdoors about 100 miles a week. When I'm on the road, I try to get on a bike or do some kind of cardio when I'm at the hotel. I try to do anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour and a half of cardio a day. I want to get back to under 200 pounds. I was 195 when I competed in Rio, and I'm flirting with 200. At points I was as heavy as 215. I want to stay around 200 for a month or two. I'd also like to try to lift more.
Do you have any gym peeves?
I think the biggest thing is finding a gym that you can go to where the people aren't taking selfies in the mirror. If I’m going to a gym, I'm doing it for me, to get in shape.
Which female athletes inspire you right now?
Getting to know Lindsey Vonn a little bit, and watching her go through her struggles and injuries and get ready for another games, is really exciting. Obviously I'm biased because of the swimming aspect, but I also love watching Katie Ledecky. I would like to be able to work with her and help her more. I know she's got her head on right. In my eyes, she's probably the best female swimmer that the world has ever seen.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.