Eat as much bacon as you want. Sounds great, right? Well in a dream world it would be, or in an Atkins Diet world. What’s the deal with these NBA superstar’s and their new found love for the word diet?
I’m sure you’ve heard the buzz by now – ‘LeBron looks at least ten pounds lighter,’ ‘Melo has shed weight and is looking cut for the first time in his career.’ So is LBJ having Miami withdrawals and jumping on the South Beach Diet? And has Melo turned the cold shoulder to the famous New York deep dish pizza? The new summer craze of shedding pounds has caught on with LeBron, Melo, and other stars throughout the league. And it’s not just because summer season equals beach season – players are slowly starting to finally realize the importance of their diet and health-conscious eating.
Look at it this way, would you give your Porsche low quality E85 fuel? Or would you give it the highest premium type of fuel possible? The same goes for NBA players, Their bodies are their livelihood, their vehicles to make their financial income. So what sense does it make for them to fuel their bodies with McDonald’s and other fast food black holes? None whatsoever. Sometimes it takes the stars to open the eyes of everyone; and in this case the best GM in the league, LeBron James, is doing just that.
LeBron has followed the lead by former teammate and close friend Ray Allen and jumped on the Paleo diet bandwagon. Melo is right alongside.
Basically, the Paleo diet is a low-carb, sugar free, higher healthy fat diet. It is set up to simulate what our caveman ancestors ate back in the Paleo era – meats, fruits, veggies, nuts, whatever they could find from the earth. Not a whole lot of sit down meals at Olive Garden going on with the all you can eat bread re-fills. But what about carb loading pre-game meals for energy, you might ask?
Everything in the Paleo diet is geared around turning the body’s main source of fuel from carb burning to a more natural source of healthy fat burning. The theory is that a low carb diet curbs inflammation and boosts fat burning oxidation in turn giving the athlete more natural energy to use without have crashes or possibly in LeBron’s case, NBA Finals cramps. (My guess is the next craze will be Birkam Hot Yoga). Olympic Triathlon Coach Joe Friel uses the Paleo approach with his Olympic athletes stating that it is a major advantage for endurance athletes because the less excess weight you carry the faster you'll be.
Friel was quoted in a recent article saying, “Paleo offers better long-term recovery due to greater micronutrient content [than a standard high-starch, high-sugar diet], allowing the athlete to train with a greater stress load.”
But is this Paleo, low-carb, lighter body weight approach beneficial for an elite NBA athlete who takes a constant beating on his body every night and plays over 100 games per year (well maybe not quite Melo yet)?
One of the best in the business when it comes to high-level athletic training and nutrition and someone who I have a great amount of respect for, Nike’s Blair O’Donovan, says there might be another piece of the puzzle that everyone is overlooking. “LeBron isn’t more than 5-7 percent body fat to begin with so he doesn't have excess fat to lose. And for a guy that has put an emphasis on becoming dominant in the post, I think the loss of weight will only hurt him long term as he'll just take worse of a beating on a nightly basis.”
The main thing that O’Donovan stated is that athletes need to look more toward making a shift to their food intake based on whole foods as opposed to processed foods.
“Processed foods can weaken our immune system, affect our digestion and energy levels and ultimately affect our performance on the court,” states O’Donovan.
Here’s my thought, every player needs to start shifting their Jack in the Box meals to Whole Foods Market. And some are catching on. Just this past week in Vegas, I saw Steven Adams, James McAdoo, and Metta World Panda at Whole Foods Market. Maybe Lamar Odom should have stayed off the Skittles diet after all.
It just makes sense for players to fuel their bodies with the optimal nutrition that is going to give them peak performance. I tell the NBA players that I train, ‘the difference in the next contract and playing in Uzbekistan can be as minor as how you take care of your body.’ The margin is so slim, through my years of training I’ve seen players who should have had long successful careers in the NBA not make it and others who had no business playing in the league end up with $20-million plus in their bank accounts.
For example, let’s look at the comparison of Derek Fisher and Steve Francis. Who had more talent? I don’t think that’s even a debate. But who had the more successful career?
NBA champion Aron Baynes (who I have shared many meals with in multiple countries) attributes a lot of his success to his changed diet: “Altering my diet has been the biggest improvement to my on-court game over the last four years.”
He’s going to be a force to reckon with in the NBA for many years to come and his commitment to himself, the way he takes care of his body, and his relentless work ethic are major reasons why.
Or even ask one of the greatest shooters to play the game, former Tennessee Vol Chris Lofton: “Eating healthy is just as important or more than working out.”
Chris realizes it, and that’s why he has had a very successful career in Europe. An 82-game season is a grind, it’s a marathon, and a healthy diet is what gives players ample energy to thrive and perform at a high level throughout.
Another example is my guy Patric Young of the New Orleans Pelicans. If you know Pat, you know he is a physical specimen; he looks like a Michelangelo carved statue. Trust me, his physique didn’t come from late night Taco Bell runs. At a young age, Young has already figured it out: “In order to truly be a professional on this level you have to be a professional with your body. Educating yourself on food and nutrition can only help you stay healthy and focused on becoming great.”
As a career development skills trainer, I focus everything that I do on enhancing my players’ careers, giving them the slight edge and competitive advantage they need to extend their careers and get to the next big contract extension. Of course, what I do includes the training side – emphasizing strengths and turning weaknesses into assets. But it’s much more than just training that goes into career development, it’s just as much the mental side as it is physical.
Pre-game, in depth personal match-up reports on opponents tendencies, post-game video and shot chart breakdown of positives/negatives and what needs to be taken away and learned from the game matter. And of course, how to take care of your body as a professional at a high level. If you were told that your body is an instrument that can make you millions, would you not treat it with the upmost respect and care?
I talk to my players about the importance of clean eating (eating whole, natural foods as opposed to the processed high sugar foods), and I also promote to them an athlete’s ‘primal/Paleo’ approach. With the Paleo diet, it’s unrealistic to think that players are going to be able to take carbs out of their diet due to the amount of wear and tear and pounding they put on their body throughout an 82-game season. They need the carbs for recovery. But there’s a difference in wasteful carbs and useful carbs. The wasteful carbs with no nutrient gain – bread, pasta, white potatoes and starchy carbs of that similarity. (Sorry Italy). Useful carbs – rice, sweet potatoes, fruit.
The ‘primal/Paleo’ approach that I endorse is based on eating natural food that our ancestors would have eaten: meats, lots of vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats and using those healthy fats as the primary source of burning energy. It creates a shift in body composition where the body no longer crashes due to its dependency on refined carbs and sugar-burning. Instead of burning natural stored healthy body fat, which is the most efficient source of fuel, the body is burning glycogen and becoming physically and mentally depleted. In a high-level athlete, the glycogen is burned through at such a high rate, it leaves players with a less than full tank at the end of games and the end of the season.
With the ‘primal/Paleo’ approach the body is burning the healthy fats instead, which burn a lot longer and a lot more efficiently giving players more energy and more endurance throughout a game and season. This is the difference of being sugar/carb dependent compared to a natural healthy fat burning beast.
So will this new found diet craze and health commitment catch on throughout the league and the days of training camp Vin Bakers and Shawn Kemps will become extinct, or will it just be another fly-by trend that goes as fast as it came? For the superstars leading the charge, Melo and LeBron, it shows a commitment to themselves, their teams, and their franchises.
I think that level of commitment was already apparent in LeBron’s case leaving beautiful South Beach for a slightly less-than-destination resort city of Cleveland. But for Melo, who has battled weight issues his entire career, this is a huge step for not only changing his public perception but also the rebuilding of Knicks and the Big Apple. Well, I guess I should say the Slim Apple.