Lebron James is still not old. He’s 35. In the year he turned 35, Michael Jordan was the NBA’s MVP, and the Finals MVP, and the All-Star Game MVP, and first team All-Defense, and he won his sixth NBA championship. But that was only M.J.’s 10th full season (and he retired, for the second of three times, afterward). This is James’ 17th. He’s played in 1478 NBA games, including the playoffs, and all those nightly “workouts” have taken a toll. When a groin injury sidelined him for much of last season, doubters chirped. But the King endures, pushing himself ever onward and upward in a quest to rule the NBA once again. Like the ageless Tom Brady, he’s incorporated state-of-the-art training, nutrition, and recovery to fend off the only undefeated adversary: Father Time.

BREAKDOWN

A little over a year ago, Lebron appeared on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast with his trainer, Mike Mancias, and dished up everything he’d 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

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.

The peanut butter and jelly sandwich 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 season and attributed its success to being an easily-digestible, comfort food. It is. 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 he’ll sweat away. And the 14 g. of protein aids in muscle recovery. But back to the comfort aspect. It’s highly customizable. Steph Curry likes Smucker’s strawberry and Skippy creamy. Some guys 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 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 plus protein 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. He’s ingesting the macro—protein—his muscles need to recover for his next workout, which may be as soon as the following night.

Dinner—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 five years ago, he’s now a connoisseur. He 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.

(Opening photo: NBA.com)