Gary Vitti’s low-carb diet for the Lakers

Last summer, Gary Vitti put the Los Angeles Lakers on a diet. Not just any diet but one based on the theories of Dr. Cate Shanahan, a Napa-based advocate of low-carb and, more important, low-sugar and high-fat eating (as long as the fats are the right ones). The program is similar to the popular Paleo Diet, preferring meat from pastured rather than grain-fed animals and avoiding carbohydrates and processed foods.

The reaction has generally been good, Vitti says, but it took a little while. “It wasn’t an easy sell,” Vitti says, but he had a powerful advocate. “Kobe [Bryant, the star guard] was really on board right away because, as he’s getting older, he knows he needs an edge and that nutrition can be one of them. Since he’s adopted it, he says he feels remarkably better.”

Bryant has credited the diet of lean meat and vegetables, and avoiding carbohydrates, especially sugar, with his remarkable late-career resurgence last year.


Other players were a little tougher to persuade. When Vitti and his team, including strength and conditioning coach Tim DeFrancesco, who is in charge of implementing the program, analyzed the diet of center Dwight Howard, they were amazed. “He was eating the equivalent of something like 23 Hershey bars a day,” Vitti says. “A lot of that was fruit, which is supposed to be good, but besides the vitamin C he was getting, there was a lot of sugar. He’d have a lot of energy, then get these insulin spikes and crash really quick.”

Since Howard adopted the diet, Vitti says, his energy levels have remained much more stable.

During the season, the Lakers feed the players twice a day, with a chef trained in Shanahan’s theories. The doctor also Skypes with the staff and the players’ wives and personal chefs. Breakfast usually consists of an omelet station and a buffet with things like whole wheat pancakes and oatmeal. Lunch includes a pasta station and a buffet with two kinds of meat and lots of green leafy vegetables.

“We’ve turned the whole [dietary] pyramid upside down, that’s what we’ve done,” says Vitti. “I went 25 years without having whole milk or a stick of butter in my refrigerator. I didn’t eat bacon. No fatty meat. We’ve flipped that upside down. Now 50% to 60% of our calories are coming from fat. It’s the source of the fats that’s important.”

But, as his dinner party menu in the accompanying article suggests, the most important rule is moderation.

Russ Parsons