Back in 2012 Dwight Howard was playing for the LA Lakers and eating the equivalent of 24 chocolate bars per day. He says his diet consisted mostly of candy, soda and empty starches.
Howard told CBS Sports, “I was big on drinking Gatorades all the time. I didn’t drink a lot of water. I would eat candy and just drink Gatorade.” Then in 2012 he decided to make a change to see if it would improve his game.
Howard replaced the candy with pecans and almonds, and within just weeks of making the change Howard’s blood-glucose levels declined by 80 percent. Additionally, his body-fat percentage which had always been around 5-6% dropped down to 3%.
Instead of tipping back multiple bottles of Gatorade each day, Howard now juices. He says he enjoys kale juice with cucumber, juice with ginger and beet juice.
Oh, and about those empty starches, Howard has cut out bread. He says he eats “no bread. Pasta maybe once or twice a week. I don’t eat a lot of steak, so it’s fish and chicken and stuff like that.”
The Lakers Strength and Conditioning Coach, Tim DiFrancesco developed a program called PRO (Performance/Recovery/Orthogenesis) Nutrition to better help all of the Lakers players eat better.
Breakfast for the Lakers players usually includes an omelette station where players are encouraged to eat eggs (with the yolks), full fat cheeses, leafy greens like spinach and kale along with mushrooms.
Also available are pancakes, oatmeal and other items if desired, but they are educated on the importance of making healthier choices. For instance, they may be encouraged to eat half the usual amount of pancakes with less syrup.
DiFrancesco says, “We want [the players] to take ownership of understanding why and when they might be better off choosing the pancake, and then they might not choose the pancake.”
You won’t find any sugary protein bars or other snack bars in the Lakers locker room or plane. Instead you’ll find players snacking on a variety of whole foods such as:
- Salami and pepperoni
- Almonds and cashews
- Kale chips
- Nut butters
- Beef jerky
- Trail mix
- Sandwiches – good meat and cheese, very thinly sliced sourdough bread
Players are encouraged to listen to their bodies and snack when they are hungry, and not when they are bored.
You’ll find similar food options around the league. For instance, the Clippers’ locker room might feature:
- Gluten-free pasta
- Ground turkey
Meg Mangano, the Clipper’s nutritionist, tries to focus players on eating a low-carb, high-fat, grass-fed diet.
Lunch & Dinner
NBA players like Jeremy Lin, Derrick Rose, Ray Allen, Blake Griffin and LeBron James make sure their plates are full of:
- Lean meats
- Wild-caught fish
- Nuts and seeds
Many players have opted for a Paleo-like diet which has them avoiding processed carbs and sugars.
Allen told CBS Sports, “My mentality [used to be] that I’m burning so much, I need the sugar and I need the carbs.”
However, at the end of the 2013 NBA season, after winning a championship with the Miami Heat, Allen says, “I remember being on anti-inflammatories and my body felt like I was hopped up on drugs just to decrease the inflammation.”
His wife told him about the Paleo diet, which is supposed to encourage the eating of foods with anti-inflammatory properties.
Allen started the Paleo diet on June 26th, just six days after the Heat beat the Spurs in Game 7 of the finals. He says, “within three weeks I lost 10 pounds. I stuck with it all summer long and learned to eat even cleaner.”
When the next season came around, Allen began to add some healthy carbs – potatoes, sweet potatoes, some white rice – back into his diet to sustain his activity level.
Griffin also follows a modified version of the Paleo diet due to a gluten sensitivity.
LeBron James ensures his body stays in prime shape by eating right and avoiding alcohol.
His teammate James Jones says, “We always compare ourselves to fine-tuned automobiles. You take premium food, you tune them up regularly, you wax them down, you take care of them.” He says of James, “He’s a guy that does it and he’s been doing it for a long time. He got it early. You look at him, he eats right and he doesn’t drink.”
Splurging Every Once in a While
Because NBA players are human, surely they splurge on cheat meals every once in a while.
Point guard Jeremy Lin says he eats a diet that primarily consists of:
- Healthy carbs (pasta, couscous, rice)
- Proteins (lean chicken, steak and fish)
- Veggies and fruits
- Trail mix
Lin says, “every once in a while I’ll treat myself to a very unhealthy meal, which usually consists of going to multiple fast food places in one night.”
You only live once, right?