What NBA Players Eat: Snack like the Lakers
For just over 2 years Tim Di Francesco, the LA Lakers Head Strength and Conditioning coach, has been implementing a fascinating program called PRO Nutrition (Performance/Recovery/Orthogenesis) , which has changed how his players eat and of course, snack. I caught up with Tim at the Lakers training facility to find out a little more.
Tim advises that the first thing you need to think about when it comes to snacking is to figure out why it is you want to snack. Are you actually hungry, or are you just snacking for the sake of it?
“It’s about listening to our bodies, and we do a terrible job of it in this country. We eat because we’re bored. We eat because it’s in front of us…”
So if you are actually feeling hungry, the next step is to think about why exactly this is… perhaps it’s an indicator of a poor diet:
“If you’re feeling like you need to snack constantly during the day, you’re probably not getting enough fat and protein… or you’re not hydrated enough.”
Working alongside Dr. Cate Shanahan, Tim has helped his players revamp their diets. It hasn’t been easy, as the prevailing wisdom up to now has been for athletes to load themselves with starchy carbs. But under the guidance of Dr. Cate, Tim has managed to get his players to effectively turn the food pyramid on its head.
Instead of loading up on pasta and rice, they now favour veggies, high quality protein dishes and healthy fats. Anything that is high in sugar and vegetable oils is shunned. To help guide the players, Dr. Cate and Tim produced a “cheat sheet” to help the players make better food choices.
One of the benefits of eating in this way, is that it actually helps reduce snacking as you tend to be able to go much longer between meals:
“You really want to feel like you can go hours between meals. You really want to be able to feel like you can workout on an empty stomach. If you don’t feel like that, then that means you’re just not burning fat… you’re not getting enough fat in your diet to satiate or you’re not good at burning fat. If you’re just filling up on sugar and carbs, you’re going to crash at some point and you’re going to reach for the nearest source of carb or sugar.”
That being said, regardless of how good your diet is there will always be moments when you need to eat when on the go. And NBA players are certainly no exception, Tim laughs, “considering the amount we travel, and how long our days can sometimes be… you need snacks around”. The first thing that comes to mind when you think about snacking is usually some sort of bar. But having bars around is not the solution:
“I’ve been around teams where you have the bars around, and guys are having 5 bars a day. I’ve seen it. It’s a really easy trap to fall into. And most of the time they are just loaded with sugar, or bad oils” .
However, when Tim arrived at the Lakers there was an array of bars available to the players. Not anymore. He phased them out, one by one. But taking away inappropriate foods is only part of the solution. Education is also critically important, and so the Lakers have invested a huge amount of time helping the players understand how their food choices impact them.
— Tim DiFrancesco (@tdathletesedge) February 20, 2013
Turns out that what the Lakers actually snack on is real food. That’s right – real food such as meats, cheeses, nuts, salads and sandwiches. Just as nature intended. And Tim makes sure that these sort of options are around the players whenever and wherever they might need a snack:
“We make sure that there’s always real food around. We bring it into the locker room pre game. We have it post game. There is never a moment when there isn’t a good food option within reach”
Tim is at pains to emphasise that the source of the food products is absolutely critical:
“Not the GM, hormone pumped, grain and corn fed stuff… must be pastured, grass fed dairy, pastured grass fed meats… humanely raised, antibiotic free, hormone free”
It’s not just meats that have to be free of junk – the same applies to nuts and trail mixes:
“Mainstream, mass produced trail mixes tend to have a lot of the oils or too many of the sugary things and not enough of the good fatty things”
So Tim goes the extra mile to make sure that everything he serves the players is of the highest quality possible. And the players have really taken to them. As Tim showed me around the players’ lounge at their training facility, one of the players was chilling out prior to a workout. Kicking back in front of an enormous widescreen tv, he was happily eating nut butter!
Some of the things you’ll find in the Laker’s Locker Room, in no particular order:
- Salamis & Pepperonis
- Must be humanely raised and nitrate free, hormone free and antibiotic free
- From pastured grass fed cows only
- Almonds & Cashews
- Must not be doused in in toxic, inflammatory vegetable oils
- Kale Chips
- Must not be doused in toxic, inflammatory vegetable oils
- Nut Butters
- No added sugars
- From grass fed cows. Must not have added sugars or sweeteners
- Beef Jerky
- Must be nitrate free, hormone free, antibiotic fee
- Trail Mix
- Avoid those trail mixes with added oils/sugar
- Loaded with grass fed beef and cheese
- Specially made dressing with olive oil only
- With lots of good meats and cheeses
- Very thinly sliced sourdough bread
Follow Tim on twitter: @tdathletesedge
PS: To dig a bit deeper, check out “Food Rules: A Doctor’s Guide to Healthy Eating” by Dr. Cate Shanahan.