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How does nutrition differ from the NBA to the NFL?

The NBA is one of the most exciting leagues across all sport. The premier basketball league, it is where to absolute best of the best play with superstars like LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant dazzling fans on the court. All three of those stars are playing in the playoffs at the time of writing with hopes of taking home an NBA Championship ring at the end of it. However, NBA finals odds currently have the Boston Celtics has favorites just in front of the Milwaukee Bucks, meaning each player only has an outside chance of getting their hands on the gold.

To compete at such a high level, these ballers need to maintain an incredible physique and peak fitness levels. A huge part of this comes down to nutrition and their diet, which is tweaked and finetuned according to their needs. Champion Athletes Sports Nutrition, one of the most successful nutrition programs of its kind in the US, recommend that the average NBA player takes on around 4,500 calories per day. Around 55-65% of their caloric intake will come from carbohydrates. This is because they fuel muscles with energy, which allows NBA players to compete at a higher intensity for longer periods. The remaining calories will be taken roughly equally between proteins and healthy fats. Protein is incredibly important to NBA athletes and most all athletes for that matter, as this is what helps build and repair muscle after exercise. Let’s look at what kind of foods they eat to maintain this diet.

During an appearance on The Tim Ferriss Show in 2018, LA Lakers star and the NBA leading all-time point scorer LeBron James broke down what he would eat in a day. He told Ferriss that an average day for him looked like this:

Breakfast: egg white omelette with 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

This diet is very protein rich and has plenty of carbs too. Bron will get all his carbs from the pancakes, bread, pasta and vegetables, allowing his muscles to be fuelled for a gameday. Meanwhile, eggs, chicken and salmon are great sources of protein and will aide his recovery after a game or practice. Most all athletes will have a protein shake or bar before or after games and King James himself is no different. 

Some players will also tweak their diet to aide them with specific injuries, more specifically to stop them from recurring. Kevin Durant’s stature means that he puts a lot of pressure on his joints when playing, especially on his knees. To combat this, he eats plenty of fish and seafood which as well as being a good source of protein is also rich in Omega-3. A study by the Arthritis Foundation has found that eating these foods may help joint swelling and pain. He also keeps his diet low carb right up to game day where he will load up for his energy levels.

Whilst most athletes follow a similar principle in high-protein diets and carb diets, there is plenty of nuance. NFL players are likely to differ majorly depending on which position they play in. For example, the average NBA player is likely to consume 4,500 calories a day. In stark contrast, three-time former Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt would consume a whopping 9000 calories a day as a Defensive End in the NFL. This is because of their larger physique when compared to a more toned NBA player and because the physical demands of their role are much different to an NBA players. The average weight of a lineman in the NFL is around 300lbs whilst the same metric clocks in at around 215lbs for an NBA player. It Is different to say, a running back on an NFL team too. Their diet is much more likely to closely resemble that of an NBA player.

With some NFL players eating double that of what an NBA player would eat, it may seem like basketball puts more emphasis on nutrition. But this is not strictly true. Whilst it is true that there is likely to be major nuances and contrasts between the two, it is simply that different sports and roles require different diets. The biggest similarity, apart from the obvious high protein and carb intake, is foods they will stay away from. Processed foods, trans and saturated fats and ‘bad’ carbs like candy and soda are likely all on their no-no list. There is plenty of room for nuance between the diets of an NBA and NFL player, though there is no doubt that each find it just as important as the other.

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