In a country besieged by over-processed, packaged food, it’s not often you hear someone say that losing 30 pounds was relatively easy. But that’s how St. Louis starting pitcher Lance Lynn describes his metamorphosis last year from a 275-pound self-described “big kid” to a leaner, more powerful player who helped take the Cardinals all the way to the World Series last October. “You would think after losing 30 pounds, you’d be like, ‘Oh, wow.’ But I just felt stronger, not weak,” says Lynn. “I didn’t even notice anything had changed much.”
Yet much had changed for the 27-year-old right-handed pitcher, now in his fourth season in St. Louis with two World Series appearances under his belt. Less than four months after Lynn began his weight-loss journey in October 2012, he says his teammates didn’t even recognize him when he showed up at training camp last year carrying 30 fewer pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame. “They were absolutely shocked—like they saw a new person,” he says. “For teammates to be happy for you that you did everything you could to become a better player, that’s what it’s all about.”
Since then, Lynn has managed to keep the weight off, and today he's settled in at 255 pounds; his original weight of 245 pounds having proved “too skinny” for the pitcher, he says. Losing that much weight—and maintaining the loss—is a huge feat: Studies show that 80 percent of people who try to diet either can’t drop the pounds or, if they do, can’t keep the fat from creeping back on. All this leads to the question: How did Lynn lose the weight and keep it off? And perhaps more important, how did he do it all without “even noticing”?
“It was really just a change of diet,” says the pitcher, who boasts a 3.67 ERA and a 5-2 record so far this season with St. Louis. “I went from being a big kid my whole life, eating whatever I wanted. Then, I went on a Paleo Diet—all-organic vegetables and meat, with none of your carbs or starches.”
The Paleo Diet, sometimes called the Caveman Diet, is a recently popular approach to losing weight that emphasizes eating only what early man ate: lean meat (preferably from game animals like deer or boar), vegetables, fruit, and nuts, with no bread, pasta, cereal, dairy, potatoes (ancient man didn’t farm), or packaged, processed foods. For Lynn, the diet translated into an egg omelet with spinach (no cheese) for breakfast, while lunch was usually a steak salad, elk chili, or a bun-less turkey burger. Dinner was the “easiest” part, he says. “I could have steak, chicken—any meat I wanted. And I would just double-down on vegetables and wouldn’t have a third side of carbs or starches.”
Lynn got turned onto the Paleo Diet by the Cardinals’ personal chef, who cooks the day-to-day meals for the team. “My wife and I asked him for a good way to eat, considering I didn’t like your normal starve-yourself-eat-salads [approach],” he says. “We got him to put something together so I would have energy.” Lynn had so much energy while dieting, in fact, that the ace says he continued to work out up to two hours per day, five days per week.
“I would say the first week or two, I always felt hungry,” he admits. “But then my body just adjusted, and I started feeling better. The next thing you know, I wasn’t craving anything, and I didn’t feel hungry. And when I ate something different, I wouldn’t feel good—I’d want the healthy stuff.”
Of course, dropping 30 pounds wasn’t a total cake (or cake-less) walk for Lynn. “For me, the hardest thing was pizza,” says the Ole Miss alum. “You always want to eat pizza and watch football, especially on the offseason. But instead, we baked chicken wings in the healthiest way we could: with olive oil, salt and pepper, and no ranch.”
Today, Lynn still follows a modified Paleo Diet, eating more complex carbs now that he no longer needs to lose weight and plays up to seven games per week. “You get into the season, and you have to have some carbs to keep your energy up,” he says. “We have Luvo [a company that makes packaged, low-calorie, nutrient-dense entrees] send pre-made meals, and I just throw them in my bag, and they have everything I need to feel good for lunch. At the field, I’ll still eat burgers, but with no bun or a half a bun, and I still try to stay away from too many potatoes.”
Lynn says his diet has not only helped him to lose weight, it has also transformed his game, especially now that he has 30 fewer pounds of fat on the field to play with. “Every day, I have the energy I need to be productive, whether that’s in between starts or starts,” he says. “I feel strong for my starts, but the days in between when you have your workouts, I just feel more energized, and I’m able to do more things—I’m ready to do more things.”
As to what he’s ready to do with the Cardinals this year, only time will tell. But, Lynn says, a third run at the World Series would be nice. And maybe then will he have his pizza on one NFL Sunday, along with some real, deep-fried, 21st-century chicken wings.