The Fittest Man of All Time

It started with a simple question: Who is the fittest man of all-time?

Go ahead. Think about it. We did. And the answer wasn’t easy. (Skip ahead and see our list of the 100 Fittest Men of All-Time!)

For starters, define fit. Is a marathoner more fit than a running back? Is Lance Armstrong more fit than Greg LeMond? Does it matter if he’s done steroids? Richard Simmons doesn’t look like an Olympian, but the guy works out every day, and he’s inspired millions of people to follow his lead. Does that make him fit? You see where this is going.

When judging the fittest men of all-time, we decided on a few caveats. Fitness, as we define it, isn’t just about abs and muscle tone and obscure measurements like V02 Max—but that’s all part of it, of course. Fitness is also about what you do with the body you’ve built.

(Want to do more with the body you’ve built? Get your metabolism firing on all cylinders with Speed Shred, the cutting-edge fitness DVD series from Men’s Health!)

That could include setting—and smashing—records, leading your team to championships, or winning a neck-load of gold medals, But fitness doesn’t stop with personal achievements, either. We’ve also counted personal trainers among our fittest men. We’ve counted actors who’ve inspired us to get fit in movies like 300 and Rocky (show us one man who isn’t tempted to run those art museum steps).

Add it all up, and one man stood out above all others: Michael Phelps. At 27, he’s the most decorated Olympian of all-time, a feat he managed to accomplish relatively free of controversy—well, outside of one college party, anyway.

Better yet, Phelps didn’t win on talent alone. His workouts were the stuff of Olympic legend. As he recently told Men’s Health, “I was doing 10 workouts a week in the pool, three weight workouts plus three core workouts. It was totally intense.”

Fueling such a workout requires a massive caloric intake. And while Phelps dismisses the commonly held belief that he consumed 12,000 calories a day just to maintain his weight, he does confess that he’s eating far less in the wake of his recent retirement. “My diet’s changed a lot,” he says. “I don’t eat as much as I used to since I don’t spend four to six hours in the pool. I just focus on trying to get what I need.

“Nutrition is something that’s important for everything you do,” Phelps continues. “Imagine it like you’re putting gas in the car. It’ll run better with premium gas in the tank. Well, you put premium food in there, you’ll be better prepared.”

Despite his feats in the pool, Phelps still has plenty of fitness icons that he still looks up to. One of them, Michael Jordan, made our list at number 21. “It’s what he did on and off the court,” Phelps says. “He became the best and never let anything stand in the way of what he wanted to do. Even when he was sick, he still came out and supported the team, put them on his back. What Jordan did for basketball, that’s what I want to do for swimming.”

Who do YOU think should have been our number one pick? Tell us in the comments below, then click here to see the full list of The 100 Fittest Men of All-Time!

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