MF Icon: Ron Artest
Like him or not, the NBA's most enigmatic player has a passion for fitness and nutrition that's worth rooting for.
It didn't take Ron Artest long to go Hollywood. The eccentric and controversial 30-year-old forward barely had signed his new, three- year, $18 million free-agent deal with the reigning world champion Los Angeles Lakers before he was in the front of a camera filming a rap video. “Treadmill runnin’, iron stay pumpin’, Kobe head-fake but the kid ain’t jumpin’,” he rhymed, sweating as he pushed through a series of bench presses at Venice Beach. “Snap, crack, gone, I use free weight, burn calories at a high pace.” “Workout,” Artest’s self-produced single about his penchant for fitness obviously hasn’t caused Lil Wayne to fear his run on Grammys may be in danger. But Artest, not surprisingly, isn’t worried about how he’s judged on this court—or any. “I’m an athlete, and I rap,” he says. “People ask me, ‘Why [did] you make a song like that?’ Because that’s what I do. I work out.”
Artest remains, after 11 NBA seasons, one of the game’s most enigmatic figures. A 6'7", 260-pound small forward, he’s an imposing and intimidating presence on the floor, more jacked than most others at his position, which makes him strong enough to dance in the low post with power forwards and seven-foot centers. He’s also forever linked to the infamous 2004 brawl that spilled into the stands in Detroit while he was a member of the Indiana Pacers, a scarlet letter that has made him more susceptible to ejections and fines. But Artest has learned to better control himself as he’s matured, and despite their success, the Lakers knew he topped their most-wanted list last summer. They needed him for his toughness, his defensive versatility, and his surprisingly smooth outside shot.
ARTEST’S GAME-DAY MEAL PLAN
The Lakers star sticks to healthy basics before and after every matchup.
Egg-white omelet with soy cheese and spinach
One Granny Smith apple, sliced
Bowl of steel-cut oatmeal
During the game
They also knew what they were getting. In recent months, he has appeared shirtless and in boxer shorts on late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live!, recorded a tribute song following Michael Jackson’s death, and admitted that he used to drink the occasional Hennessy at halftime early in his career. But the Lakers also got a disciplined Artest, when it comes to his workout routine and diet. In those areas, Artest is incredibly regimented. “When I’m training in the off-season, I’m going four times a day,” he says of his workouts. “Sometimes it’ll be five, sometimes six if I throw some yoga in there.”
To be able to handle the bigger opponents down low and defend against quick guards on the perimeter, Artest focuses on building strength and speed. “My game is hard to appreciate because it’s totally different from other players’,” he says. “I like to use my body to battle. I work on my body more than I work on my game, sometimes.”
To get primed for his new challenge, Artest put in full-day workouts four times a week last summer. His regimen included individual basketball skills and strength-building exercises that combine weight training with old-school body-weight moves like pushups, chinups, and bench dips. He finished his days with agility and quickness drills. “I love getting tired,” he says. “It’s important to push yourself to the limit that you’re tired. That’s when you do a couple more. I used to do nine weight-training sessions in a week, but as you get older you realize that you need more recovery. If you don’t recuperate, it makes no sense.”
The Queens, N.Y.–bred son of a former boxer, Artest found a kindred spirit when he visited welterweight champion boxer Manny Pacquiao’s training camp a few weeks before his win over Miguel Cotto in November. “He just works hard. He and Floyd [Mayweather Jr.] are special. They just try to kill themselves,” Artest says. “That’s how I used to be, but it worked against me because I’d be tired by the middle of the season. But in college I used to push myself until my heart would almost come out of my chest.”
Regarding his diet, Artest was once as undisciplined as he was on the court. Fast foods and fried foods dominated his meal plan, or rather nonplan. “I grew up not having a lot of money, so I ate no-frills-brand fried chicken,” he says. “Everything was no-frills-brand oils, butter, lots of salts— the cheapest way to make it. Luckily I ran a lot.”
When he reached the NBA, Artest hired a nutritionist who taught him a cleaner way to eat. He now cooks plenty of his own meals and does his own shopping at Whole Foods and GNC. He chooses organic foods whenever possible and stays away from red meat during the off-season. “Every day I’m constantly learning what to eat,” he says. “I like to eat a nice breakfast and a heavy lunch because I like to stay heavy. Not overweight but a lot of muscle. I’ve got to eat.”
During games and practices, Artest forgoes Gatorade for orange slices, choosing natural sugars to keep him moving up and down the court. “It lasts longer for me,” he says. “I get a burst of energy, and it stays. When I drink Gatorade I [lose] my energy and don’t know when it’s gonna come back.” He has even persuaded his childhood friend and new Lakers teammate Lamar Odom, whose sweet tooth warranted an ESPN segment during last year’s playoffs, to occasionally substitute the citrus fruit for cookies before games. “It’s cool for me to see him eating candy because it reminds me of when we were young, but it’s not healthy at all,” Artest says with a laugh.
Artest is aware of the growing national obesity problem, especially among poor children—he was once one himself. He hopes to devote more time to teaching kids the value of proper nutrition. “It’s a major problem in America,” Artest says. “Sometimes we get so much [oversize portions], we don’t know what’s necessary. You can train your kids to eat efficiently rather than just an abundance of food.”
Living in L.A. has helped Artest maintain his routine, as a healthy lifestyle is more accessible there than in his previous stops of Houston and Sacramento. “There are so many nutritious restaurants around here,” he notes. “I can always get a wholesome meal.” He also takes advantage of the beach by occasionally switching up his workout with sand running (“It’s better than any treadmill”) or swimming in the Pacific when the water temperature permits.
He also cherishes the chance to recraft his image in a city famous for successful second acts. “When I got to the NBA, I always made a conscious effort to never change and kept my hood mentality,” he explains. “It was erratic to a lot of people from the outside. So I had to find a way to stay true and not be so erratic.” Artest communicates with fans via nonstop Twitter posts, giving away free tickets, inviting fol- lowers to join him for bowling outings, and often providing his own fitness and diet advice. “People know I’m a good person, so they take me for what I am now,” he says. “I just want them to see somebody that they can always relate to. That’s real important.”
SKIP THE GYM
“I wanted to show people how you don’t have to get a gym membership if you can’t afford it,” Artest says of his grueling outdoor workouts. “You can go right to the beach [or playground] and tone up.” Here are three great outdoor exercises with no monthly fees required.
1. Scramble to Balance
Get into the bottom position of a pushup, so that your chest is about one inch off the ground . Push yourself up and quickly stand up. Now balance on one leg with your eyes closed for five seconds. Open your eyes and perform three single-leg squats on your standing leg, holding the other leg out in front of you. Get down on the ground again. Count to three and then repeat the exercise, this time squatting on the opposite leg. Continue the process until you’ve performed nine reps per leg.
2. Inchworm Pushup
Get into pushup position and then walk your feet forward a bit so that your butt rises into the airyour legs should be straight and your body should form an upside-down V above the ground. Now walk your hands forward until your hips are level with the ground and you’re in pushup position. Perform five pushups and then walk your feet forward again so that your hips are piked (your knees must remain straight the whole time). Continue for 20 feet.
3. Monkey Bar Pullup
Go to a long, straight pullup bar or monkey bars and hang with an outside shoulder-width grip. Walk your hands along the bar until you get to the other end of it, but don’t reach very far with each step. When you get there, perform three pullups, then walk your hands back to where you started and perform three more pullups. Continue back and forth in this fashion until you’ve traveled three times moving in each direction.