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Sunday October 27, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday October 27, 2013 MYT 9:32:32 AM
by janis carr
Organic eggs, organic whole milk, organic ghee and organic extra virgin olive oil are just some of the ingredients in Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant’s favourite, Chicken Parmesan. In Dr Cate Shanahan’s plan, meats and dairy products has to come from grass-fed chickens and cows.
The Laker diet plan: Nope, they can’t have fries with that... but they can have raw cheese, bone soup and grass-fed beef.
THE smell hit first, causing many on the Los Angeles Lakers squad to turn up their offended noses.
There, 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.
But it wasn’t just meat; there was more. Raw sharp cheddar cheese. Raw almonds and cashews. Naturally fermented pickles.
That’s 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?
“I didn’t 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 pre-game fare.
Blake said that while he used to prefer his pepperoni on a pizza, the change was “definitely for the best.”
The healthy platter of foods was the first step in the Lakers’ redo of the players’ eating habits. Inspired by Dr Cate Shanahan, a Napa-based, board-certified physician specialising 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.
“At 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 Lakers’ strength and conditioning coach.
“But guys started to pull me aside after the second or third game and say, ‘Hey, that’s not bad.’”
Not bad at all. In fact, it’s all good for you. Shanahan said good-fat products and non-sugary 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 life.
Shanahan said good health doesn’t 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. “It’s simply a matter of common sense and old-fashioned cooking,” she explained, drawing from her book Food Rules: A Doctor’s Guide to Healthy Eating.
Convinced 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.
“The 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 Shanahan’s philosophies.
“It 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 Cate’s philosophy.”
Shanahan’s philosophy is simple. Wholesome, natural, organically grown food coupled with grass-fed meats and dairy products – a diet everyone can follow.
Shanahan and her husband, Luke Shanahan, are passionate health-food advocates, having studied nutrition and the effects it can have on the body.
Shanahan’s 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.
Midway through the season, Vitti turned over the task of changing the Lakers’ eating habits to DiFrancesco, who joined the Lakers’ 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 Shanahan’s practices, recognising the benefits of her food rules.
Vitti 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.
“It’s called that because those are the benefits,” Vitti said. “Our players perform better because they are energised by the food they eat.
“The 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 joints.”
One of the hardest aspects of Shanahan’s 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 cholesterol.
“It’s 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.”
But only 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.
“If 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 athlete’s energy level will burn longer.”
So what exactly do these elite basketball players eat? Check out the typical menu selections for these Laker (and former Laker) favourites:
Breakfast 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.
Lunch 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.
Snack 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).
Dinner for Dwight Howard: Grass-fed beef short ribs, mashed sweet potato and broccoli, and sauce made with cheddar from grass-fed cows. – The Orange County Register/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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