Lebron James turns 38 on December 30. That’s an age when most NBA players are “formers,” watching games from the couch, like the rest of us. But Lebron James is nothing like most NBA players. Forget the phenomenal stats, for now. You can see it in his physique and the fitness routine and diet that keep him jacked and fat-free even as he fast approaches middle age. As the King prepares for his 20th NBA season and his fifth with the Lakers, Lebron James continues to push himself ever onward and upward in a quest to rule the NBA once again. Like the ageless Tom Brady, still in the NFL, James has incorporated state-of-the-art training, nutrition, and recovery to fend off the only undefeated adversary: Father Time.
We analyze what Lebron James eats on a typical game day to maximize his body and his performance.
LEBRON JAMES MEALS
Lebron James appeared on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast with his trainer, Mike Mancias, and dished up everything he had eaten on a recent game day:
🟣 Breakfast: egg white omelet, smoked salmon, gluten-free pancakes with berries
🟣 Lunch: whole wheat pasta, salmon, vegetables
🟣 Pre-game: peanut butter and jelly sandwich
🟣 Halftime: apple slices with almond butter
🟣 Post-game: protein shake (plant-based protein powder, almond milk, fruit)
🟣 Dinner: chicken parmesan, arugula salad, “beautiful glass” of cabernet
LEBRON JAMES NUTRITION STRATEGY
Breakfast and lunch are heavy on lean proteins (egg whites, salmon) for muscle-building and complex carbs (gluten-free pancakes, whole wheat pasta) for long-range fuel. Additionally, for his joint health and overall well-being, meals are free of the sugars and unhealthy fats that promote inflammation and high in the omega-3 fatty acids (salmon) and antioxidants (fruits and vegetables) that combat inflammation.
At first blush, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich might stand out as a junk food choice. But PB&J has become a pre-game staple of elite athletes in recent years, and it’s especially popular in the NBA. ESPN The Magazine traced it back to Kevin Garnett in the 2007-08 NBA season, and attributed its success to being an easily-digestible, comfort food. It is. It’ll go down easily and stay down, even when you’re tense before a big game. But it has other pluses. As sports nutritionist Jill Lane said: “It’s not the best, but it’s not bad.” A typical PB&J on white bread has about 400 calories and 60 g. carbs (16 g. sugar) to fuel an NBA player through a game that lasts, on average, two hours and 20 minutes. The 430 mg. of sodium replenishes an electrolyte that player will sweat away. And the 14 g. of protein aids in muscle recovery.
But back to the comfort aspect of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s highly customizable. Steph Curry likes Smucker’s strawberry and Skippy creamy. Some athletes add bananas. Breads can be whole-grain for more complex carbs. The Cleveland Cavs, when Lebron was there, provided homemade grape and raspberry jellies and almond butter options. And Lebron James is a fan of the latter option, as seen in his halftime snack, apple slices with almond butter, which is sort of an even lighter version of PB&J—simple carbs (apple) plus protein (almond) to keep him fueled through the second half and, perhaps, overtime(s) when fatigue stalks.
If you think of each game as a workout, you’ll understand the logic of his post-game protein shake. Lebron is ingesting the macro—protein—his exhausted muscles need to recover for his next workout, which may be as soon as the following night.
Dinner for Lebron James, which comes near bedtime on game days, is pretty standard fare. He does cheat sometimes, but rarely during the season. “What we haven’t had in a long time is artificial drinks, artificial sugars, and fried foods,” Lebron told Ferriss. “Just try to be as clean as possible throughout the season when I’m burning so much and trying to get the recovery back.”
As for the wine, it’s also standard for King James, and it’s also anti-inflammatory and loaded with antioxidants. Having developed a taste for it just a few years ago, he’s now a connoisseur. Lebron told ESPN The Magazine in early 2018: “I’ve heard it’s good for the heart. Listen, I’m playing the best basketball of my life, and I’m drinking some wine pretty much every day. Whatever it is, I’ll take it.”
And the next day he gets up and does it all over again.
See also: 10 Strongest NBA Players Ever
(Opening photo: NBA.com)