Davis Bertans’s palate has evolved. Now the Washington Wizards’ three-point specialist, he’s a gluten- and dairy-free pescatarian, who added fish to his diet this season after years as a vegan.
Although Bertans, 27, grew up in the ice cream capital of Latvia and delighted in pork and potatoes as a puffy-cheeked child, he now credits his reformed diet for improved endurance and strength. He needed only 26 games to reach 100 three-pointers, the fewest games to hit that mark in a season in team history. Bertans also ranks eighth in the league in three-point field goal percentage (.434).
Initially, his dietary switch caused concern within his family. Some NBA personnel expressed reservations, too. But Bertans credits one of the best shooting seasons in the history of the Wizards’ franchise to eating red snappers seared in grapeseed oil and almond butter and banana sandwiches on gluten-free bread.
“After I cut it,” Bertans said of eliminating animal products and processed food, “my body was feeling so much better.”
Gone are the days of living in a fast-food wasteland. “Yeah, it was pretty bad. I’m not proud of that time in my life,” Bertans admitted, chuckling. Now most mornings Bertans wakes up and he and his wife, Anna, make vegan avocado and tomato toast, heavy on the avocado. On game days, with the menu created by team nutritionist Sue Saunders-Bouvier and food prepared by chef Stephen Korda, Bertans’s plates consist of some combination of lightly seasoned fish, vegetables and simple grains.
The day Bertans returned after a nine-game absence because of a quadriceps injury, he ate his usual pregame meal: his go-to sandwich, a side of roasted beets and a cold-pressed beet juice.
“[Bertans is] great about it. He’s found things that work for him and that he likes. He’s made it really easy,” said Saunders-Bouvier, who also works with all teams under the Monumental Sports & Entertainment umbrella, including the Washington Capitals. “He likes shrimp fried rice or basically things that are fairly easy to get and not that difficult for chefs to make and make well.”
Though Bertans now has experts to cater to him, he credits Anna, who played basketball in Latvia, as his nutritionist for the past several years. In 2014, Bertans moved on to Spain, and Anna lived with him. She ate healthy foods, and slowly he came around, too — especially after a particularly bad experience when he got sick from consuming dairy before a game.
At that point, Bertans decided to quit dairy. It was ironic considering his small hometown of Rūjiena, nestled in the northern pocket of Latvia, is widely known for its ice cream factory.
“We were so used to it, we didn’t feel it,” Dairis said, explaining how the brothers could constantly consume the sugary treat, known as saldejums in Latvian.
Dairy was the first to go. After Bertans tore his right ACL for the second time in his career in March 2015, he decided to make a more drastic transition.
“That’s when I started thinking, ‘I’ve got to change something. I can’t keep doing the same thing all over again and maybe come back to the same result,’ ” Bertans said.
Motivated even more after watching food documentaries, Davis and Anna Bertans turned vegan.
“[My family] didn’t get it when I said I’m not eating any animal product. My dad said: ‘You’re crazy. You’re probably going to switch back in a month,’ ” Davis Bertans said.
When Bertans joined the San Antonio Spurs in 2016, he said his new NBA team also expressed concern that he wasn’t getting enough protein.
“There were definitely doubts about it,” Bertans said.
Bertans doubled down on the lifestyle following a late regular season game in his rookie season. Bertans, who had received only scattered minutes throughout the season, started and played nearly 39 minutes — and felt great following the April 2017 game.
In Washington, Bertans is playing the biggest role in his pro career, coming off the bench and firing up the offense. He averages 8.6 three-point attempts a game, which has helped him lead the league with 3.2 three-pointers made on catch-and-shoot attempts.
“I’m quicker, faster than everybody else in my position, and that’s what I try to use,” Bertans said. “I can run from one side to the other side. I’m probably covering more ground this way, sideways on the court, than up and down. It’s tough on defense. I’ve heard defenders complain to me in the game, ‘Can you stop for a second?’ ”
Last summer before joining the Wizards, Bertans added fish to his diet partly because the NBA travel lifestyle can be difficult for a vegan. He uses an app, Happy Cow, to find hidden vegan spots in places such as Oklahoma City.
Bertans has emerged as one of the league’s best sharpshooters, he believes, by staying vigilant about his diet.
“Maybe when I was 18, 17, it didn’t matter,” Bertans said, “but once you get older and the games get tougher sometimes, I realized that food is one of the most important things. Food and sleep.”