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How Sports Superstars Eat
I’ve surveyed and spoken about the eating habits of some of the world's premiere athletes including Tom Brady, Roger Federer, LeBron James, and Serena Williams and in this article am focusing on more superstars, namely Rafael Nadal, Aaron Judge, Aaron Donald, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
He is still on top of his game after 20 years and in 2022 set a record of 22 Grand Slam titles winning the French and Australian opens before withdrawing from Wimbledon with an injury.
Rafael's success, beyond exceptional talent and dedication, can be attributed to his Mallorca Spain upbringing where many elements of the Mediterranean Diet are commonplace.
Before a big match, Nadal always eats seafood. Meat exists in his diet, but never before a match. "In Mallorca, we have very good fish and prawns and I usually make them in the simplest way to enhance their flavor," he says. The grilled Sóller prawns, little done, are wonderful," he adds.
Nadal is also a big fan of olives and olive oil and has been known to eat bread with olive oil and Iberian ham for breakfast on match day.
During matches, he has bananas and cold drinks of micro-filtered seawater to help recover mineral salts. Following competition and practice, he recovers with a protein shake.
Rafa occasionally indulges with paella—preferably his mother's home-cooked version—a dish of Spanish rice, saffron, chicken, and seafood. “You eat paella every day, you cannot play tennis,” he says. He also likes shrimp dumplings.
Cheese is absent from Nadal’s diet, though a glass of wine or beer is on occasion.
Aaron Judge and his impressive 6'7" and 282 lbs. body complement his equally impressive baseball talents and he leads the New York Yankees through a grueling 162-game season and potential playoffs. He joins a handful of other athletes in “who is the best player in baseball” discussions.
The mainstay of Judge’s diet is vegetables. “The biggest thing is veggies for me — eating your greens,” he said. “I focus on getting a large portion of greens with every meal, no matter what it is.”
Vegetables are the mainstay of his diet, observing “I focus on getting a large portion of greens with every meal, no matter what or where I am.” Spinach leads other veggies added to his morning omelet as do frequent salads for other meals.
Unlike some other athletes, he does not gorge on pasta before competition. Instead, he builds a smoothie with fruit, spinach, protein, and almond butter. “That’s something I do every day before the game,” he said. “It helps me maintain that energy and feel full, but without making me feel heavy and slow throughout the game.”
Chicken and rice are fixtures in his daily diet as well.
Cheats? Aaron’s favorite is pizza, especially New York pizza, runner-up is chicken parmesan. Add chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream to his cheat list.
Arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, Aaron Donald’s 280-pound athletic body performs at such a high level because he fuels it well with a strict diet consisting of 50% carbs, 30% fat, and 20% protein. On a typical high-volume training day, he consumes 616 grams of carbs, 245 grams of protein, and 164 grams of fat. That amounts to nearly 5000 calories.
Aaron gets his protein from chicken, milk, and protein smoothies, and some days even consumes a dozen of those smoothies. His carbs come from pasta, rice, and popcorn and fats come to him in the form of avocado, fish, and hummus.
Donald's go-to favorite meals are breakfast tacos and dancing meatballs. His chef, Arron Sain, makes the tacos with spicy turkey sausage, eggs, spinach, onion, red pepper, and sharp cheddar cheese wrapped in wheat tortillas. Dancing meatballs are named that way because he danced when he tasted them. They exist as a cheat, though, made of ground turkey, 80/20 ground beef, eggs, ground croutons, garlic and onion powder, pepper, parsley, salt, red pepper flakes, and parmesan cheese.
He is a real energy burner, maintaining 11% body fat, a lot lower than average folks, even though he eats often and well.
Back-to-back NBA MVP awards and a 2021 NBA Championship are among the treasures Giannis Antetokounmpo enjoys as a superstar by any measurement. A healthy diet fuels him on training and game days.
He begins a day with an egg sandwich and a side of fruit and then after a tough workout or a game his recovery protocol includes a protein smoothie with strawberries, raspberries, granola, a banana, and celery juice—the juice thought to reduce inflammation. An after-game meal will include pasta and chicken.
With his Greek background, you'd expect Giannis would seek out Greek cuisine in America, but he doesn't, preferring to wait for his mother's cooking. His cheat treats would include pepperoni pizza and lemon pepper chicken wings as chicken nuggets.
The eating habits of these superstar athletes are a good lesson for all of us—eat well but make sure to enjoy a cheat once in a while.