implementing a new eating regimen such as this pre-game
platter of raw almonds, raw sharp cheddar, naturally
fermented pickles and more, has given some Los Angeles
Lakers players reason to celebrate. Lakers guard Kobe
Bryant is convinced the bone soup, stock that contains
all the valuable nutrients found in animal bones, has
helped in his recovery.
ANA, Calif. ó The smell hit first, causing many on the Los
Angeles Lakers squad to turn up their offended noses.
on the table in the locker room, were slices of organic Genoa
salami piled next to a stack of pepperoni and deli meats,
including grass-fed turkey and beef. The sight of the platter
was as unappealing as it was appalling.
wasnít just meat; there was more. Raw sharp cheddar cheese.
Raw almonds and cashews. Naturally fermented pickles.
right, pickles. And the briny green spears were the last thing
these elite athletes considered eating before tipoff. Where
were the more traditional fruit and peanut butter and jelly?
didnít quite do a double-take, but it was a little bit
interesting," said veteran Lakers guard Steve Blake of
his first glimpse of the new pregame fare. Blake said that
while he used to prefer his pepperoni on a pizza, the change
was "definitely for the best."
healthy platter of foods was the first step in the Lakersí
redo of the playersí eating habits. Inspired by Dr. Cate
Shanahan, a Napa-based, board-certified physician specializing
in health, the Lakers have transformed their plates and
palates, moving to a healthier, more scientific cuisine. Gone
are the fruit platter, low-fat Greek yogurt and peanut butter
and jelly jars. In their place are platters of meats from
grass-fed chickens and cows, nuts and full-fat chocolate milk
from grass-fed cows, courtesy of Whole Foods markets.
first, some of the players would look at that and call a ball
boy over and send them to the concession stand for a hot dog
or hamburger," said Tim DiFrancesco, the Lakersí
strength and conditioning coach.
guys started to pull me aside after the second or third game
and say, ĎHey, thatís not bad.í"
at all. In fact, itís all good for you. Shanahan said
good-fat products and nonsugary foods are keys to proper
training and overall dietary health, not just for the elite
athlete but also for everyone who seeks a longer, healthier
said good health doesnít have to be complicated. She pointed
out that the best diet for an athlete is the best diet for
weight loss, heart health, cancer prevention and just about
everything else. "Itís simply a matter of common sense
and old-fashioned cooking," she explained, drawing from
her book "Food Rules: A Doctorís Guide to Healthy
that her studies of nutrition and its effects on the body were
valid, and eager to test her theories, Shanahan sent inquiries
and a copy of her book to two NBA teams with rosters of older
players. One of the books found its way onto the desk of
Lakers head trainer Gary Vitti.
Lakers were having all these injuries, and my husband and I
thought they would be ready for something like this,"
Shanahan said. Vitti, disturbed by the rising number of
injuries in the 2012 season, felt the same. Although he has
seen his share of diet recommendations come across his desk,
he was intrigued by Shanahanís philosophies.
reminded me of the way I was raised," said Vitti, whose
parents are in good physical health at age 92. "My
parents are from Italy (and) my mother always had a soup bone
in the house, and our diet was in line with Dr. Cateís
philosophy is simple. Wholesome, natural, organically grown
food coupled with grass-fed meats and dairy products ó a
diet everyone can follow.
a matter of common sense and old-fashioned cooking,"
Shanahan said in a telephone interview from her office in
Napa, Calif. "Itís just simple, good food."
and her husband, Luke Shanahan, are passionate health-food
advocates, having studied nutrition and the effects it can
have on the body. She says good health doesnít have to be
complicated; simply knowing the source and traditions goes a
long way toward a long and healthy life.
diet, outlined in her book, actually involves more than good
food. Her diet contains the basics of the Atkins Diet (low in
carbohydrates, little fruit, high in good fats) with a few
elements of the popular Paleo plan (grass-fed meat, plenty of
sprouted vegetables). But Shanahan also promotes eating
fermented foods, such as pickles and sauerkraut, which contain
probiotics, or good bacteria.
and DiFrancesco initially had their doubts. Was this just
another fad diet? A closer look into Shanahanís food rules
and they determined the diet was nothing new.
the oldest stuff in the book," DiFrancesco said.
knew that all the training and on-court work wouldnít be as
effective without being supported on the back end by good
nutrition. So the question became, "What is good
nutrition?" They preach that "you canít out-train
a bad diet," and with the number of injuries mounting on
the team last season, Vitti and DiFrancesco were willing to
listen to Shanahan.
through the season, Vitti turned over the task of changing the
Lakersí eating habits to DiFrancesco, who joined the Lakersí
staff in 2011. DiFrancesco is founder and owner of TD Athletes
Edge, which offers high-level, research-based performance
training for athletes and clients of all levels. Despite his
previous training and research regarding healthy eating, he
quickly became a disciple of Shanahanís practices,
recognizing the benefits of her food rules.
said he decided to partner with Shanahan because her food
rules were "backed by science." He and Shanahan they
have developed a system called PRO Nutrition, which stands for
Performance, Recovery and Orthogenesis.
called that because those are the benefits," Vitti said.
"Our players perform better because they are energized by
the food they eat." Eating protein and the right kind of
fats instead of sugary energy bars or drinks eliminates the
crash syndrome and the fueling of inflammation.
players recover better and keep inflammation down because they
refrain from foods that are inflammatory to the body, and the
diet benefits the articulating cartilage to their
Bryant and Steve Nash, two Lakers veterans, already had their
understanding of how nutrition matters, and they were ready
"to sink their teeth into the concept," Shanahan
of the team, however, wasnít so eager to change its ways,
she said. Among those who had trouble initially adapting to
change were Jordan Hill and Jodie Meeks.
Shanahan said, once the younger players saw Bryant, Nash,
then-Laker Dwight Howard and Steve Blake reach for the pregame
platters and post-game salads and sandwiches from Whole Foods,
they joined the food revolution.
always going to have early adapters and others who are
watching what they do," Shanahan said. "They started
to see a true connection of what you eat is how you
had adhered to his own food rules before Shanahan came aboard,
cutting out personal favorites such as sugar cookies, Sour
Patch Kids candy and pepperoni pizza. The 18-year NBA star had
reduced his intake to lean meats, fish and vegetables and
credits this way of eating for helping him extend his career.
includes a dose of good fats, whole-grain waffles and eggs,
meat from grass-fed chickens and cows, and bowls of homemade
soup made from beef or chicken bones. He is convinced the bone
soup, stock that contains all the valuable nutrients found in
animal bones, has helped in his recovery from a torn Achilles
helped. I feel great," Bryant said from Santa Barbara
three months after having surgery.
statistics sheet was proof of how the diet changed the Lakersí
34, finished the 2012 season averaging 27.3 points and six
assists per game before tearing his Achilles tendon. Howardís
surgically repaired back and his rebounding average improved,
and Blake finished last season strong after several key
injuries forced him to miss 37 games.
believes that bone soup, a staple of Shanahanís diet, played
a huge role in his recovery.
season, Blake was bothered by an abdominal strain that
required surgery. He experienced groin problems during his
recovery that forced him to miss more than a month of games
before returning in January. The injuries were enough for
Blake to buy into Shanahanís theories.
the super food," Blake said of the soup. "My wife
makes it and I drink it by the gallons."
believes the soup has made a clear difference in his recovery
and flexibility in his joints. "I used to have stiffness
in my knees, but not anymore. Iím sticking with it. Iíve
noticed a change."
the health problems Shanahan has seen over the years stem, she
says, from inflammation caused by dietary imbalance. According
to the doctor, once your body is caught in an inflammatory
state, it can no longer eliminate fat cells or transform them
that work? Say you sprain an ankle and canít exercise until
the swelling decreases. The rate at which the inflammation
goes away can take longer if a dietary imbalance exists.
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what was happening in Dwight Howardís case.
had undergone back surgery in April 2012 to repair a herniated
disk, effectively ending his season and knocking him out of
the 2012 Olympic Games. Ten months later, the former Lakers
center still was experiencing numbness in his legs. At that
point, he said, his back was only 75 percent healed, and his
statistics suffered as a result.
Howard needed was a metabolic makeover.
was at a plateau in his rehabilitation from back
surgery," Shanahan said. "He was still having
tingling in his legs. I was able to recognize that was a
result of his sugar intake."
admits to having a molar-sized sweet tooth. Skittles, Blow
Pops, Laffy Taffy, Reeseís Pieces and Kit Kats filled his
nightstand, and his pantry held other sweet,
I a big candy person? Thatís an understatement," Howard
said in February. "Ö They had to clear it out."
cleaning out Howardís cupboards, Shanahan went to work on
his diet. Instead of a diet heavy on processed sweets,
Shanahan put fruit ó on a limited basis ó in his diet. She
replaced his daily soda with Kombuca, a fermented
energy-boosting probiotic tea, and water.
also began eating grass-fed beef instead of fast-food
hamburgers (McDonaldís is his eatery of choice), sprouted
grains and vegetables instead of french fries and a whole lot
of healthy, natural and fermented products instead of junk
was tough," Howard said before he left the Lakers to join
the Houston Rockets. "But I had to make a sacrifice if I
wanted to get better. She (Shanahan) asked me if I was willing
to do this stuff and I said of course. (I told her) I want to
get stronger. I want to get better. I want to get faster, and
Iím down for whatever you want me to do."
change in diet produced a profound change in Howardís
on-court performance. As his diet improved, the inflammation
in Howardís back subsided and he was able to get into the
kind of physical shape needed for Lakers coach Mike DíAntoniís
pick-and-roll sets. He also was able to resume his role as the
Lakersí defensive anchor, ending his Los Angeles stay as the
NBAís leading rebounder at 12.8 boards a game.
said the turnaround in Howard, not only in his play, but also
in his attitude, was dramatic.
that was a credit to him for doing something about it, saying,
ĎOK Tim, OK Cate, Iím open, letís do this, change my
stuff I have in my house and the stuff I have on the plane,í"
DiFrancesco said. "Dwight said, ĎI wonít reach for
the candy bars anymore if you can tell me that this will
really help me get back to where I want to be and get out of
this frustrated state.í"
calls Howard "a star pupil."
it helped having someone make a connection of what was going
on with his back and what he was eating," Shanahan said.
"We were able to show him the cause and what to do about
it. It gave him so much hope that he was able to stop cold
Howard opting in, the Lakers now had the top four players on
board with Shanahanís diet plans. All were veterans who were
looking to extend their careers, however. The younger players
initially werenít as accepting.
(DiFrancesco) got some of the older guys on board and then the
younger guys kind of said if these guys were going to do it,
letís do it," Howard said. "Certain people tried
it for a couple of weeks and thought everything was bad. Then
we thought, letís just eat right and then we started to play
better and feel better. It was different, though."
Howard is now with the Rockets, he said the diet will be a
lifelong practice for him.
like it," he said. "I think itís good for
everybody to eat that way because it prolongs our lives, and
generations after us will be healthier because we eat
like Shanahan and DiFrancesco, points out that the Centers for
Disease Control has predicted that the generation of children
born in 2000 will be the first in recorded history to have a
shorter lifespan than their parents.
Sacre, a second-year player from Gonzaga University, said he
used to feast routinely on fast food in college, namely Jack
in the Box and Taco Bell fare. But he has since become a
Shanahan convert, consuming only foods from grass-fed animals.
"None of this like, you know, wannabe cows," he told
Time Warner Channel earlier this year.
the hardest aspects of Shanahanís food rules to grasp is the
reliance on good fats. Shanahan said good fats, such as butter
and cheese from pastured cows, whole milk and bacon are
crucial because bodies need fat to burn as fuel. According to
DiFrancesco, the type of fats in grass-fed dairy and meat
products can actually help lower cholesterol and improve good
not your typical diet," DiFrancesco acknowledged.
"Most athletes and people in general are told that if you
eat your veggies and eat your fruits and you eat all low-fat
and lean meats or proteins you will be healthy. But you need
your carbohydrates, too."
the kind of carbohydrates that provide long-lasting energy,
such as good fats, sprouted grains and breads. DiFrancesco
said relying on the energy coming from carbohydrates and
sugars, such as energy bars, is like building a fire with
sticks and twigs.
you put a bunch together and light them, they would burst into
flames and then die out quickly," he said. "Switch
to good fats, such as proteins and nuts, and an athleteís
energy level will burn longer."
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Shanahanís lead, Vitti and DiFrancesco devised an
easy-to-follow chart for the players, placing food in colorful
groups of red, yellow and green. A detailed chart hangs in the
locker room at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif.,
where the team practices. Itís widely different than the
traditional food pyramid.
pyramid is split among fat, protein and carbohydrates, instead
of vegetables, fruits, animal foods, starches and sweets. The
key, Shanahan said, is not to fear fat. People just need to
make sure itís pasture-grazed beef and products from that,
such as butter, cheese and milk.
and vegetable oils are the main culprits in our diets,"
can affect the collagen, which is like creating rust in
Blake: "I used to eat a lot of carbohydrates before, but
now Iíve cut carbs out of my diet almost completely. I also
donít eat fast-food anymore. Instead of stopping for
something when Iím hungry, I will wait until I get home and
have good food."
exactly do these elite basketball players eat? Check out the
typical menu selections for these Laker (and former Laker)
for Kobe Bryant: Half a waffle with whipped cream and butter
from pastured cows, a small amount of syrup and two eggs
over-easy from pastured chickens.
for Steve Nash: Southwest-style grass-fed beef salad with
cheddar cheese from grass-fed cows and black bean salsa; olive
oil-based chili-lime vinaigrette and a bone stock-based soup.
for Pau Gasol: Pasteurized Wallaby Greek Yogurt or St. Benoit
Yogurt (full-fat version) with plain coconut and raw cashews,
plus a Kombucha Tea (any flavor).
for Dwight Howard: Grass-fed beef short ribs, mashed sweet
potato and broccoli, and sauce made with cheddar from