Eating on the Fly

Lakers radio voice John Ireland discusses the ups and downs of eating on NBA road trips.

When bags of chips, candy bars and ice cream tubs are invitingly available on the Lakers team plane, it can be difficult to stay as healthy as one might wish while traveling from city to city.

Among the most impressive eaters in the organization, despite being what many would call "average" in size, is radio play-by-play announcer John Ireland. Before beginning his "Mason and Ireland" radio show on 710 ESPN, Ireland exchanged a few e-mails with us to discuss eating habits on the road:

MT: Phil Jackson described the NBA lifestyle as such: "Very unhealthy ... we're eating at midnight on planes and will be up to 3 a.m. when you haven't had anything to eat since 3 p.m. in the afternoon." How has all the travel affected you from a health standpoint?
Ireland: Phil is right. The concept, especially eating after midnight, is potentially unhealthy. The good news is that the food is actually pretty good. We have vegatables, fruit, fish, steaks, etc. It's not typical airline food. It's normally catered food from a restaurant that is pretty good. So as long as you don't eat seven Rice Krispies treats, you can survive the late nights. By the way, I've seen players go for the seven Rice Krispies treats, and then play a game the next day. Pretty impressive....

MT: You're actually one of the bigger eaters on the plane, John, don't be so humble. You mentioned some of the healthier options, but to be fair, there are just as many unhealthy/tasty choices. I know you're a fan of moderation, and taking some stuff for the next day.
Ireland: I take stuff that I can eat for breakfast. We normally land very late, at 2 or 3 a.m., so candy and sugar are the enemy. You eat that and you're awake for another hour, at least. I'm looking for apples, bananas, pears or granola bars. I might stick some candy in my bag for later, but not a lot. By the way, I once saw Mychal Thompson fill a pillowcase with chips. It was ridiculous.

MT: We could spend the rest of this piece with Mychal Thompson plane stories, but I'll move on for now. A full meal is served on the plane, often involving a choice of steak, chicken or fish plus two sides (related: often, you and I are fighting over the AI sauce). What's a typical Ireland order?
Ireland: I wish I could say I that I eat a wide variety of well-balanced meals, but the truth is that I never pass on steak. Ever. Since I do radio and TV, I don't always know when I'll have time to eat on any given day. So I know if eat a steak, chances are I won't go hungry. This is obviously not part of the FDA recommended dietary plan. Also, PB & J is an underrated lunch order.

MT: Absolutely. Now, the players – some more than others, of course – have just finished a strenuous workout before we get on the plane, either a practice before taking off or a game before leaving. Do you try your best to get a workout in at the hotel to help justify the food consumed on the plane?
Ireland: I do it just to make myself get out of my hotel room. It's easy, especially in cold weather cities, to just stay in and watch TV all day. Most of these hotels have gyms that are nicer that the Sports Club LA (one, in Washington DC, actually has a Sports Club LA). Also, there are some hot spots we hit around the league that serve fried chicken, pork chops, pizza, and more. In those cities, workouts are necessary, just so you don't gain 20 pounds or have a heart attack.

MT: I enjoyed how you put that. Give us a few of your favorite road restaurants:
Ireland: I think I have at least one spot in every town we visit, so I'll just give you a top five (at least three of these are dives, really good dives):

1) NOLA, Emeril Lagasse's place in New Orleans (French Quarter)
2) Gus's Fried Chicken, downtown Memphis
3) Ojeda's, downtown Dallas
4) Real Chili, Milwaukee
5) TJ Hoyt's, Minneapolis MT: Does being away from your wife, child and dog make you eat more than you might at home while traveling. To be honest, I've seen your dog, Regan, eat half of your plate in your house…
Ireland: I eat WAY better on the road than I do at home. Part of it, to be honest, is that most of the food I eat on the road is on expense account. You eat a lot bigger and better when somebody else is paying for it. When I get home, I let my family decide what to eat and just roll with it. And yes, my dog, is a canine garbage disposal. You can't leave any food unattended for more than ten seconds or it's gone. I'm dead serious about that. MT: Finally, any tips to stay healthy amid the NBA schedule?
Ireland: Maybe this isn't the right answer … but I'd like to put in now for steaks on every flight, regardless of what time the flights are. Now, quit hoarding all of the A-1 sauce.