Just as Paul George grew into his role as the leading scorer on the Indiana Pacers, his approach to nutrition evolved during his four years in the NBA. During the 2010-2011 season, George—then a 20-year-old rookie—averaged just north of 20 minutes and just shy of eight points per game. In each of the past two seasons, he worked hard to improve those numbers, and this year he's among the top scorers in the league, averaging nearly 23 points per game while playing almost every minute. To handle that all of that court time—and to play at a high level—George had to learn the proper way to fuel for performance.
"I really try to make a conscious effort to put the right stuff into my body," George told STACK.
George had help from a key addition to the Pacers' staff, team nutritionist Lindsay Langford, C.S.S.D. She advises the players about what to eat—and what not to eat—so they can be in peak condition for each game. And although she says the Pacers had a solid nutritional strategy in place when she arrived, there were some misunderstandings among players about how to eat on game day.
"The players would eat their pre-game meal four hours before tipoff, then play the first half—that's up to five hours without eating," says Langford. "Glycogen levels are definitely depleted at that point."
Low levels of glucose (energy that's immediately available for use in the body) and glycogen (stored energy) can diminish an athlete's performance. To address the issue, Langford encouraged the players to take in simple carbs and electrolytes at halftime.
"A lot of [the half time fueling plan] is using the Gatorade products, from the Chews to the Gatorade Prime," says Langford. "We've also had players take in whole foods, like bananas, that are high in carbs and electrolytes."
When the Pacers are off the court, Langford ensures that they get what they need by striking a balance between foods typically considered healthy and tastier (but still pretty healthy) dishes like fish tacos and barbecue chicken sandwiches. She says, "Offering healthy foods that taste good is definitely key, especially in the NBA. If you're just giving them greens and quinoa, no one will eat it. The second they leave, they're driving to a fast food place next to the stadium."
Langford adds, "We have baked chicken wings that we put on the plane—not fried. We don't do that often, maybe once a month, but the players really like them. I really believe that we have to cater to their palates."
So far, the response from players on and off the court has been extremely positive. Right now, the Pacers are standing atop the Eastern Conference with a 52-22 record. In the locker room, Langford says, "I've gotten responses from most of the guys, and they've said [the new approach to nutrition] is beneficial." And George, who earned his first All-Star Game appearance last year, is on pace to have the best season of his young career.
"I attribute my success to the steps I've taken," George says. "I never want to get complacent. There's so much stuff I want to achieve in my career. The best way to do that is to work for it."
Paul George's Game Day Diet
George keeps his pre-game meals simple—and handheld. "I'll eat a sandwich before a game," George says. "It gives me all the energy I need. I'm full, not too heavy, and still light on my feet." Langford recommends making the sandwich with the proper ingredients. "A sub can be a good pre-game meal because it's high carb with a moderate amount of protein, which is what you want before a game," she says. Her winning lineup: wheat bread, lean turkey, ham or roast beef, colorful veggies, and mustard.
At the Half
Langford has George and his teammates down Gatorade, which is high in electrolytes and carbohydrates. They can also chow down on a small snack packed with simple sugars, like a piece of fruit.
From a nutritional standpoint, much of the body's work begins after the final buzzer. "Post-game, we always have protein [like chicken or fish] for muscle repair and rebuilding," Langford says. "We also want carbs to replenish the glycogen stores they drained during the game. I try to encourage athletes to get those carbs from fruits and vegetables." A dinner of baked salmon, carrots, broccoli and a fruit cup does the trick.
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