Cate Shanahan has overhauled the sugar-laden diet of Dwight Howard and turned Kobe Bryant into a bone-broth believer. Now, the Lakers' nutrition consultant for the last five years—better known as Dr. Cate—wants to help everyday athletes and couch potatoes, too. Her philosophy is based on the diets of many traditional cuisines: fresh foods, fermented and sprouted foods, meat on the bone and organ meat.
"The traditional approach is based on the idea that chefs were the original nutritionists," she says. "Everything they would naturally do—use things in season, use the whole part of food, pay attention to source—has nutritional benefits."
For today's diners that means getting away from processed or packaged foods that are promoted as healthy. Instead of a bottled green smoothie or a bag of veggie chips, Shanahan favors fresh, seasonal vegetables with salted garlic butter that yield complete proteins, good fats and antioxidants.
"The goal is to get rid of bad fats found in seed oils [such as cottonseed, canola and corn] and reduce the excessive amount of sugar and the reliance on protein powders," she says. "All three of those things promote inflammation."
Along with avoiding sugar and minimizing empty starches, Shanahan recommends more liquid gold: bone broth and stock, which contain healing and connective-tissue-building compounds such as collagen and amino acids.
“It’s great to get big muscles but if you don’t also build stronger tendons, then you’re going to get injuries,” Shanahan says. “You need complete protein, which is a protein that contains the parts of the animal that do not just build muscle, but also the connective tissues. That’s where the bone stock craze is coming from.”
If slow-cooking stocks and soups are difficult to fit into your lifestyle, Shanahan says simple roasted chicken—wings or breasts, with the skin on—yields the same benefits. (As long as you’re not frying it to a crisp in unhealthy fats.)
“The skin is loaded with the same kind of connective tissue supporting compounds that are a part of this complete protein complex,” Shanahan says. “[It has] amino acids, but also glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and proteoglycans.”
Both GAGs and proteoglycans promote digestive health and are ideal for building up connective tissues—glucosamine is one of the GAGs found in bone broth and roasted chicken. Other GAGs include hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate, all of which can help heal joints and boost collagen.
Shanahan stresses athletes to stay away from whey protein powder because she says the body does not utilize that type of protein in the same way that it would process regular food. As an alternative, she suggests a mixture of full-fat ricotta, all natural peanut butter and a spoonful of honey, all mixed together to be used as a spread or eaten by itself with apples or celery. Try blending in a food processor until smooth or adding in vanilla or almond extract or cinnamon for extra flavor.
“Ricotta cheese is made using whey protein, but unlike the protein powders it is not going to have the potential negative impact on gut health,” Shanahan says, noting the rapid absorption of protein powders into the bloodstream.
While Dr. Cate—who spells out her program in Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food—supplies the guidelines, longtime Lakers chef Sandra Padilla puts the recipes into action. She arrives at the team's practice facility before 5 a.m. to begin preparing foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the entire team and staff. (She notes D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle as two players who have really taken to the team's nutritional approach.) The menu is homey: an omelet station and oatmeal for breakfast; roasted halibut and soup for lunch; and filet mignon over potato cakes or shrimp scampi for dinner. The only rules? No vegetable oil; all meats, dairy and fish are grass-fed or wild-caught; and no desserts or protein powders. For a treat, players get a custom-made kid's classic: grass-fed whole milk and organic dark cocoa powder.
"If we can get athletes to think more like chefs," Shanahan says, "they will be nourishing themselves better and enjoying better food."
Pot o' (liquid) gold
Good stock can improve overall health and aid recovery after workouts. The recipe may seem obvious, but chef Sandra Padilla has some distinctive recommendations.
• 2 to 3 pounds of bony organic, grass-fed chicken parts
• 2 to 4 chicken feet (optional)
• 6 quarts cold filtered water
• 1 tablespoon vinegar
• 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
• 2 carrots, chopped
• 3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
• 10 springs thyme
• 1 bunch parsley
Directions: Place chicken in a large pot with water, vinegar and all vegetables except parsley. Bring to a boil and remove residue that rises to the top. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for six to eight hours. About 10 minutes before finishing the stock, add parsley.
Remove from heat. Scoop out and discard all solids, then pour the broth through a fine-mesh sieve. Refrigerate, uncovered, until the fat solidifies on top. Skim off and discard fat. Cover and refrigerate for up to four days or freeze for up to three months.