Guess What Real Men Eat

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Real men don't eat meat and potatoes -- at least not only meat and potatoes. Now, they're also dining on fruit, vegetables and whole grains -- and enjoying them, too.

That's what I've been hearing from professional athletes who are leading the way. They've learned that eating smart not only helps their performance but also may lengthen their careers.

"It's a lifestyle thing," says the Washington Wizards' Brendan Haywood, who weighed 310 pounds in high school. The 7-foot center, who joined the Wizards seven years ago, now checks in at 265 pounds.

"I changed the way I eat," says Haywood, who has a fondness for chocolate cake, ice cream and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. "I was astonished at how many calories are in one Krispy Kreme doughnut. . . . You realize as you get older that . . . to keep a healthy lifestyle, you can't have french fries and cheeseburgers every day."

That's why Haywood and a number of other pro athletes, including teammates Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, have hired personal chefs to assist them at the dining table. "Your body is your temple, so you want to keep it as fresh as possible," Butler says. "Eating right gives you an edge on your opponent."

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Ray King has learned that lesson, too. Concerned that extra pounds were throwing him off balance on the mound, he changed his habits during the offseason. Not only did King work out, he also stopped drinking soda and swapped greasy, fast-food burgers for salmon.

The result? Last week, King began spring training weighing 23 pounds less than he did last season. Now he "hardly has a gut," as sportswriter Bill Ladson reported, marveling that King is "in the best shape of his life."

Such nutritional adjustments don't always come easy, even for highly motivated athletes whose livelihoods depend on their bodies. Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, says she often assures male athletes that they don't need a hunk of meat on their plate for peak performance on or off the field.

Eating well "doesn't make you any less masculine," says Bonci, who also provides nutrition advice to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Pittsburgh Pirates and members of the U.S. Olympic team. "It may benefit you for years to come and enable you do to what you really want to do physically."

The surprise for many is how good healthful food can taste. The Pirates first added rice and beans to their menus when Dominican-born players requested them. The low-calorie, high-protein meals proved so popular that they are now standard fare. That move paved the way for other foods when the team opened Pirate City, its new training facility. Now vegetable kebabs, stir-fries, steamed vegetables and a salad bar with a wide range of greens are popular items, Bonci says.

Fruit salad and melon are also player favorites -- but whole fruit served in a bowl is not. "If it isn't cut up," Bonci says, "they are not going to eat it." So Bonci has the food service staff strategically position fresh cherries, melon slices and tempting vegetables at the entrance to the cafeteria line where athletes can grab them first after practice. "They're cool and tasty," she says.

Chef Gregory Love, who works full time for Butler, encouraged him to start with small diet adjustments. "I never ate breakfast," Butler says. "I was more of a lunch and big dinner kind of guy."

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