Phelps retired this summer after a final campaign in London which saw him end his career with 22 Olympic medals, having overtaken Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina's record of 18.
Phelps was adamant London, his fourth Olympics, was his final event but close friend and rival Lochte, speaking ahead of the World Short Course Championships in Istanbul, believes he could well return.
He told Press Association Sport: " Michael Phelps says he's retired. The sport will miss him, he is one of my favourite rivals and I will miss him. But I think he will come back.
"When you do something for so long every day...he's still young. I think he will be back for Rio.
"We'll see, he'll miss the sport."
Lochte acknowledges there is little, if anything, Phelps has not accomplished in sport, as well as understanding his former team-mate's desire to lead a "normal lifestyle".
Just a short space of time out of the water can leave a swimmer having to make up not only form but fitness.
Lochte, however, believes Phelps could counteract that, adding: "He has a lot of talent, he has taken months off before and still come back.
"I don't think it has an effect on him."