Decoding the Nash Diet

By Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: July 9, 2009

Already lauded for his world-class training habits, Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash has become renowned for yet another area of his health… his diet.

Towards the end of last season, subtle rumblings began to emanate out of the Suns’ locker room about the mysterious “Nash Diet.” Already well-known for being ultra-progressive with his training regimen, one would surmise that Nash’s approach to his eating habits would be just as complex and interesting.

Athletes, and people for that matter, are always looking for the “next” great solution when it comes to regulating their diet: whether it’s Atkins, South Beach to macrobiotics. Once word spread that the two-time MVP’s diet had found disciples in Grant Hill, Shaquille O’Neal and Jared Dudley, it became apparent that a closer examination was needed.

However, once Nash was pressed to reveal his secrets, it turned out that the wizard behind the curtain was just someone who’s performed a great deal of intelligent research. There was no cure-all, panacea or quick-fix in his approach.

He’s not boycotting carbs or eating only protein. The six-time All-Star just tries to make the best choices out of what he has available at the time and proactively plan for moments in the day when his choices are limited.

Nash isn’t counting calories, following a schedule or cooking out of a textbook, he is just abiding by some core principles. The first and foremost is that he tries to eat organically as much as possible.

“I’m not perfect but I try to eat healthy, and I try to eat as much natural stuff from the earth as I can,” he said. “I stay away from all the processed foods, as well as pastas, rice and breads.”

The core of his diet consists of fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, chicken and fish. He also supplements by taking vitamins that you can find at any supermarket.

A typical breakfast for the team’s playmaker would be wheat-free cereal with non-dairy milk (almond milk), while lunch and dinner would be a chicken or fish salad. In between meals, one can always find Nash snacking on fruits, raw nuts and natural energy bars.

It seems that Nash’s diet is as much as what he eats as what he doesn’t eat. Before practice the rookies always bring doughnuts for the veterans, but Nash never partakes. After games, there is a huge spread of food laid out for the players, but he rarely eats any of it.

Those habits are what caught the eye of Suns swingman Jared Dudley. Whenever the team was flying on the franchise’s charter plane, Nash would almost always pass on the food prepared and order a salad. In addition, Dudley would overhear Hill and Nash discussing different nutritional strategies and he figured he’d seek out some pointers from the two co-captains. After losing 10 pounds, the third-year man officially became a convert.

“You ask them for hints and you try to use those tips because you see the ways your body reacts after you junk food,” Dudley said. “Those guys have played 13, 14 years and a lot of that has to do with God-given ability, but you see Steve and somehow his body is in shape and you know that if he just ate junk every day, I bet you he wouldn’t be the player he is now.”

For Nash, his interest in eating correctly harkens back to when he was a junior in college. Although he had the temptation of an all-you-can-eat buffet at his college cafeteria, the Santa Clara product first began making alterations to his diet in order to increase his performance on the basketball court.

“It's really just a natural evolution of my interest in being the best athlete I can be and being a healthful person who prevents injury and illness and can perform at my highest level,” he stated on his Facebook page.

“I feel there are two areas of life that are greatly overlooked, misunderstood or not credited with their importance in our ability to reach our optimal levels of performance and also our greatest quality of everyday life… diet and sleep.”

Dudley took those ideas to heart, trading in doughnuts, soda, Gatorade, fried foods and Lolo’s Chicken and Waffles for Propel, baked foods and the organic restaurant, True Food Kitchen. For Dudley, the change in his diet was motivated by the lack of playing time he received after coming over in a trade from Charlotte in December.

“I noticed the difference in my body and I don’t get as sore and I can go a little bit longer,” Dudley said. “It’s how you feel on the court. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t, but since I’ve been eating better, I have a lot more to give.”

As much as Dudley admires Nash, to adjust to his level of discipline is proving to be too drastic for the young forward.

“I’m trying to get to Grant’s level, but I’ll never get to Steve’s,” he said. “I like too much stuff to be able to do what he does.”

Dudley claims that if there was a percentage breakdown, Hill eats healthy 80 percent of the time, leaving 20 percent of his diet comprised of food that isn’t being eaten for nutritional purposes. While that may be outstanding, he estimates Nash’s ratio to be more like 95 percent healthy to five percent junk.

In fact, Nash is so gung-ho that he was tested by Dr. Suneil Jain, a naturopathic doctor, to see what type of food sensitivities he possesses. The 6-3 guard learned that he was sensitive to wheat, gluten, dairy, tomatoes and onions and returns regularly to the naturopath for IV's of vitamins and trace minerals that may be low from the wear-and-tear of the season.

Here as excerpt from Nash’s Facebook page on what he will eat on a typical day:

While Nash may be a little extreme, the Suns’ trainers and strength and conditioning coaches just try to provide sound advice for athletes that are constantly traveling.

“You’re not going to have an athlete getting on a plane looking at food labels and worrying about rationing what they put into their bodies,” former strength and conditioning coach Erik Phillips said. “You’re trying to give really simple opportunities for these guys to know what’s good and what’s bad. We know that guys are going to leave the arena and get something on the way home, and we try to educate them on what’s their best option.”

If everyone was to follow Nash’s example, they would eat around six small meals a day, or at least three major meals with a lot of snacking in between. Besides cutting out late-night meals, Nash always has healthy snacks with him so he’s not fighting off hunger with junk food or willpower.

The 13-year veteran attempts to take a big-picture point of view towards his diet, concentrating on building consecutive weeks and months of good eating practices. By establishing that base, it’s not as important what he eats right before a game because his body is feeding off of the energy he’s stored from his previous seven meals.

As disciplined as both Hill and Nash are, they both cheat from time-to-time and believe in the principle of rewarding themselves in moderation. For example, Nash can be caught eating ice cream while Hill can be seen munching on a cookie on the team’s charter.

While Hill only drinks water and tea, he insists that every person find a strategy that works for them. When Hill and Nash went to eat the exact same pregame meal at a local organic restaurant together, Hill told Nash after the game that he was completely sapped of energy while he was playing. Unfortunately for Hill, Nash failed to tell his fellow co-captain that in order to ascertain a much-needed energy boost, he snacked on a few other items before tip-off.

Due to health problems and his drive to succeed, Hill has been tinkering with his diet for the last 10 years. The seven-time All-Star is an advocate of the macrobiotics diet, which is defined as “a practice of promoting well-being and longevity, principally by means of a diet consisting chiefly of whole grains and beans.”

As much as both athletes are concerned with maintaining a competitive advantage over their peers, Nash and Hill are more interested in maintaining their overall well-being and energy level. Despite it being their original motivation, their nutritional choices now extend much further than basketball.

“I look at being healthy and really understanding the body and what works and what doesn’t work as opportunity to extend my career and play at a higher level at an older age,” Hill said. “But also hopefully extend my life and still be an active when I’m done playing.”

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