Olympian vs. Thru-Hiker Smackdown: Who Can Eat More?

With the Olympics underway, I can’t help but remember the insane amount of food Michael Phelps ate before his historic 2008 Olympic medal haul in Beijing. To prepare, according to The TelegraphPhelps ate 12,000 calories every day, mostly in whole pizzas and humongous bowls of pasta. He would start each day with three fried egg sandwiches with all the fixings, a five-egg omelette, two cups of coffee, three slices of French toast, and three chocolate chip pancakes. And that’s just for breakfast.

But how do thru-hikers stand up against the most decorated Olympic athlete in history?

One tall tale I heard while prepping was that I could constantly eat a Snickers bar for the entire trip and I wouldn’t gain any weight. Lo and behold, there’s some truth to it.

If a woman thru-hiker ate one Snickers bar every hour, she would not lose or gain any weight (calorically speaking; I did not account for actual nutritional need, because let’s be honest, this is a blog, not an exercise science textbook). 215 calories per bar x 24 hours in a day = 5,160 calories.

Based on Evans Prater’s calculationsfor a woman carrying a 21- to 42-pound bag, hiking 15 miles per day, she would need to consume 5,150 calories to maintain weight. Bring it on, Willy Wonka; I’m ready to get chocolate wasted!

Generally, to maintain weight, I will have to consume about 5,000 calories per day and Cody will have to eat 6,000. As someone who doesn’t average over 2,000 unless I head to a craft brewery or buy a wheel of cheese, eating snacks consistently throughout the day on top of three meals will definitely be a change, one that I must admit that I’m excited for. Usually thru-hikers consume about 4,000 per day, losing an average of 1,000 t0 2,000 calories a day, leading to the infamous hiker hunger and weight loss.

But what about the days in town with buffets, grocery stores, and mounds of pizza available?

Praters claims that he once ate almost 13,000 calories in one day while thru-hiking. From beer to buffets, it is possible to outeat an Olympian! Personally, I think I could easily put away 10,000, well above what NPR writes that gymnasts like Simone Biles eat in a day, but I’ve seen what my little brother (also a gymnast) leaves behind in the fridge. Not much.

Only time will tell what my 5-foot, 5-inch frame will hold. But watch out breweries, because this girl is coming for you.

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Comments 2

  • Avatar
    Tim Owens : Feb 14th

    I met a dude thru hiking the AT a few years ago who had been an Olympic cyclist and eventual Ironman champ in triathlon. I asked him about intake. He said walking all day was tougher on his body but easier on his jaw! He estimated he ate about half the calories hiking than he did when he trained at an elite level. “And much crappier ones!”

    • Avatar
      Paige Bellamy : Feb 14th

      That’s crazy! I totally believe it though! Like I said, I’m no expert, but from what I read, Olympians have a wide range of intake and they can usually eat us under the table, but we could be pretty close when faced with a buffet! I’d love to go toe to toe against one in an ice cream tub challenge after a few weeks out there haha. Must have been an awesome conversation!


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