“Everybody has always looked at food as fuel,” says Tim DiFrancesco, the L.A. Lakers’ strength and conditioning coach. “But now we’re realizing that food is also potentially medicine—or the opposite.”
DiFrancesco, widely known as “Grass-fed Tim” (a moniker bestowed on him by 36-year-old Metta World Peace), is evangelical about the benefits of certain foods not only for overall health but also for the recovery process of aging athletes.
One of his biggest battles is against inflammation. But he doesn’t fight it with heaps of anti-inflammatory pills—he fights it with diet.
For example: sugars and hydrogenated oils are very much out—“They can not only create inflammation, they can also make your supporting structures more fragile and brittle on a cellular level,” he says—and healthy fats, particularly avocado and coconut oil, are in. “They’re not going to add to inflammation, and they’re going to give you a lot of good energy.” And for a full-out assault on inflammation, DiFrancesco has his players scarf up the leafy greens of their choice.
This whole-foods approach (which, for the Lakers, is actually catered by Whole Foods) will sound familiar to anyone who’s heard of Paleo; but the best aging pro athletes take it to another level.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady reportedly eats a diet carefully calibrated to be 80% alkaline and 20% acidic; he also steers clear of night-shades—tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplants—because they don’t have anti-inflammatory properties. In Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki bullet-proofs his joints with a different approach: 1g of vitamin C mixed with 5g gelatin per day. (Studies have shown that high-dosing vitamin C can reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.) And in L.A., the recently retired Kobe Bryant, 37, has become a devotee of bone broth soup.
“When Kobe had the Achilles tear [in 2013], he said, ‘I’m not going to hang it up,’ so we needed to do everything we could to get him back,” DiFrancesco says. “There’s evidence that a cup of bone broth contains basically the building blocks of the body’s support structures. Did it alone help him get back? Probably not. But I’d say it could very well have been part of the overall map to recovery.”