Nutrition in the NBA, Part III: My story
Ken Berger wraps up his series on nutrition in the NBA with his personal experience and success with nutritional changes having a positive impact.
It took a while, but I've finally found something I have in common with NBA players.
During a visit to Dallas to work on this week's series on nutrition in the NBA, I sat down in the locker room with the Lakers' Chris Kaman to discuss the diet of real, traditional foods the team has been following. I haven't seen a player so animated and engaged in an interview since I sat in the Cleveland Indians' dugout in 1996 with slugger Jim Thome. When the interview was over, Thome asked, "Can you send a copy of the story to my parents?"
First and last time that's ever happened. And this was the first (and presumably last) time that a professional athlete has opened his backpack and offered me free samples of hazelnut butter and kale chips.
If you read the first installment of our NBA nutrition series this week and thought, "Those guys are bat-blank crazy," then welcome to my world.
In 1996, I had no idea what I was eating. Living in Cleveland at the time, I vaguely remember something about these ravioli-looking things called pierogies and giant sandwiches stuffed with a pound of cold cuts with a handful of french fries crammed in for good measure. I have cloudy recollections of copious amounts of thousand island dressing. I ate bagels almost every day -- and "low-fat muffins." Often times, I didn't know what the pierogies were stuffed with, and didn't care. I certainly didn't know where the sandwich meat came from, or what kind of preservatives it contained.
You know those guys who stand in the freezing cold in your average American bar-hopping district and buy whatever a stranger happens to be cooking on a makeshift grill at 2 a.m. after the drinking establishments have closed? I was one of those guys.
Fast forward 17 years, and here I was in the visiting locker room at American Airlines Center in Dallas, discussing grass-fed beef (which we both eat, when possible) as well as fish oil and vitamin D supplements (which we both take) with a man who enjoys hunting and killing animals for sport (OK, that part I don't do).
A few weeks earlier, I had made the acquaintance of a 32-year-old, energetic (wired is more like it) strength coach name Tim DiFrancesco, who handles the training and diet of the Lakers. I made his acquaintance on Twitter, of course. I had heard about DiFrancsesco, Kaman, and Robert Sacre purchasing a carefully butchered, 400-pound, grass-fed cow. Upon hearing this, I presume I was one of about a dozen people in the audience who thought to himself, "That makes perfect sense," and, "I know people who have done that."
In July 2009, I checked into the Palms in Las Vegas to cover NBA Summer League. (I know, rookie mistake. I have since put my head down at the nearby Renaissance -- at a decent hour, by the way -- to avoid the gambling and partying of the strip while securing my Marriott points.) Having completed my first season covering the NBA for CBSSports.com, I weighed approximately 178 pounds. For those who know something about my stature, this is too much weight to carry around. My pants hadn't been so tight since I covered the 2001 Super Bowl in New Orleans, where I ate more food prepared by Emeril Lagasse than all of Emeril's wives and ex-wives combined.
My brother, Tim, an IT executive in Atlanta, had told me about this thing called CrossFit. I started doing it, and realized I was too fat. At the hotel gym at the Palms, my journey began -- a few pushups, a burpee or two, a pullup if I was lucky. I hadn't worked out in about four years, unless golf counts as a workout. (Note: Golf is cool, but not as your sole means of exercise.)
Very soon, I started feeling better. I started feeling lighter. My clothes started to fit again, and before long, they didn't fit at all because they were too big.
My brother also told me about this thing called the Paleo diet. I was on a roll, so I tried that, too. Tim sent me Robb Wolf's "The Paleo Solution" and I couldn't put it down. Since I was overweight and sick like a large portion of America, it was exactly what I needed.
By the time I heard about the Lakers and their grass-fed cow, I had returned to my high-school fighting weight of 155, where I have remained for more than two years. Years earlier, my wife (then my financee) had taken me shopping for a suit before our engagement party because I didn't own any. I wore it twice before hanging it in the closet for 12 years. I can now wear that suit again, if I choose, but only because I brought it to the tailor to have the waist taken in.
I had become so proficient at CrossFit that in 2012, I earned my Level 1 certificate, which permits me to teach other people how to do it if I have the time. CBSSports.com's Gregg Doyel joined me for a workout at a CrossFit gym in San Antonio during the Finals. I think he still hates me. While writing this, I scrolled through my email and found a workout my brother had sent me in 2009, and my response was, "What's AMRAP?" LOL, as the kids say. (It means as many rounds or reps as possible.)
I can do a lot more rounds and reps now, to the point where I have begun competing in CrossFit events. By any measure, I am stronger and better than I was in my 20s. Last weekend, I completed a 150-pound power snatch in competition. Four days earlier, I had turned 43. Two months earlier, I had added some of the Lakers' favorite items to my diet -- raw, full-fat cheese, for example, after having avoided all forms of dairy for three years.
What's my point? This week, we have explored the collision of my NBA and fitness worlds with a series of stories about nutritional trends in pro basketball. These topics resonated with me because I have lived them. I've tried some of the diets we've learned about, and I know what's worked for me and what hasn't. If I'd come from a different set of experiences, the stories would have turned out differently -- or, more likely, not at all. I would've simply shrugged and gone about trying to find out who was getting traded and fired next. Or booked my next tee time.
The biggest takeaway for me has been that there isn't one particular diet that's right while everything else is wrong. There are certain core concepts you have to be aware of if you want to be healthy -- step away from the sugar and toxic oils being the biggest. The point is to be aware of what you're eating. If you stop looking to food for satisfaction and enjoyment, chances are you will begin to enjoy it more. If you follow certain concepts like avoiding sugar and processed foods, you will enjoy life more, too.
Roy Hibbert has gained 35 pounds of muscle in two years eating more carbs than fat -- and, during the offseason, consuming 6,000 calories a day. The Lakers have had success eating more fat than carbs. In the end, these ratios aren't crucial. What's important is to understand what you're eating and why. Don't go for the quick fix.
The other lesson is, don't take my word for it. Don't take Dwight Howard's word or Blake Griffin's or Ray Allen's. Don't take what Dr. Cate or Dr. Mike or Robb Wolf say as gospel. Educate yourself, try different things, take foods out and put them back in and see what the results are. Then, adjust.
If you've learned anything or have decided to try any of this, please 1) consult a professional first, and B) reach out and tell me your story. You know where to find me: either in an NBA arena, the gym or Whole Foods is a good bet.
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