Anja Lee & Team

The NBA Diet

Chef Anja in a basketball locker room with a buffet of food
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It’s Playoff Season, so we thought we’d share some fun insights from what we have learned catering for professional basketball players! 

(Written by Kasia Grobelny from The Motherland Blog from an interview with Chef Anja Lee

long buffet of meats and vegetables

Professional athletes take good care of their bodies. After all, these are the tools they use to do their jobs, and do them well. Just like their training, wholesome and nutritious meals are absolutely vital to the health, wellness and most importantly, the performance of the athletes. The food they consume is quite literally the fuel that then drives their performances. So what does it take to keep an NBA player satisfied and healthy?

Working with several NBA teams over the years, Chef Anja Lee has learned a thing or two about what to make that will make the players (and their trainers) happy. Though we only have some insight into the eating habits of top notch NBA players, we wanted to share what we’ve learned and how you can eat like an NBA player if you would like!

Since the players are on the road so often and eating whatever has been ordered for them, Anja focuses on creating meals that are both delicious and good for you. Here are the key components we consider when creating cuisine fit for an NBA player:


“From working very closely with the Cavaliers’ and their personal trainers, I find that many of the team members follow strict dietary regimens, and many of them do not even drink alcohol! However, quite a few of them seem to love their wine after a good game (as would I).”  – Chef Anja Lee

It seems that the players, like many of us, seek balance when it comes to their eating habits. Of course, they want to eat healthy, unprocessed, wholesome foods to fuel their bodies but they’re also going to indulge here and there. I think this lesson can be applied to all of us, anything in moderation is great. 

salad with yellow beets, pecans, and nuts in a clear bowl
long buffet of food including curried cauliflower and other vegetables

Food Preferences

“Each team has very different preferences – some are more focused on health than others. I would say the person in charge of ordering the food (trainers and managers) makes the biggest difference on what the boys eat. I try to work closely with them to combine both nutrition and absolute deliciousness into every dish, while also making foods sound comforting and familiar so that the players will eat it when they need it most. Some team managers and trainers prioritize familiarity and comfort with their food, others focus more on nutritious. Either way, all teams require specific labels showing which items are Gluten-Free, Paleo, Dairy-Free, Vegan, and Kosher. We strive to make all of our food organic and guarantee no refined sugars or canola oil in the meals.” – Chef Anja Lee
As you can see, the person who orders the meal dictates the preferences. Of course a nutritionist’s main goal will be the health and wellness of the food, while a manager is probably more concerned with keeping his/her players fed and happy. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive however. Incorporating that approach into your own life is one way of continuing that balance. One day,  you might meal plan with a nutritionist’s perspective in mind, while on other days you’ll think like the managers (who often order good ol’ comfort food for the players) do and focus on foods that you enjoy but with a healthy twist. 

Chef Anja in a basketball locker room with a buffet of food

 Healthy Food = Tasty Food

When preparing the meals for the players, Anja ensures that the balanced, healthy meals are equally as tasty. The end result is that the players are going to be eating some great food, that also happen to be good for you as well. The same can apply for your home. There’s often a stigma surrounding healthy food that gives people the impression it doesn’t taste very good. Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

With NBA player favorites like salmon skewers, black forbidden rice, saffron vegetable paella and even staples like grilled chicken and asparagus, healthy foods don’t have to be very complicated. However, simple and not heavy on the sauce, but still juicy and full of spice, is key. The NBA players that Anja has worked with have all enjoyed her meals and even the little touches – in Anja’s case it’s leaving visible grill marks on the meat and fish and making towers of homemade granola – has resulted in some very satisfied players. 

a buffet of food in silver trays

And yes, it is true, they do love their PB&J’s. Grape jelly, creamy peanut butter, and sometimes almond butter too. The thicker the sandwich, with less bread and more goop, the better!

“My goal is for them to feel great and perform feeling nourished and energized. Whether they win or lose, I look forward to seeing their smiles from the smell and taste of the food that makes them feel great. That’s when I know I have won!” – Chef Anja Lee

And to get you started on your NBA diet 😉 Check out a dish that’s been a hit among the players we’ve catered to:

a white platter of coconut shrimp

Coconut Crusted Shrimp with Fluffy Quinoa
(Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, Dairy-Free)

Yield: 4-6 people

2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined
3    eggs
3    tablespoon tapioca starch
3    cups unsweetened shredded coconut
5    tablespoons coconut flour
A few pinches of salt  
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
6 tablespoons coconut oil
1 cup quinoa
2 cups salted water

Cook quinoa according to package instructions until fluffy. Put into serving dish to go under shrimp.

Gather two separate small bowls. In one whisk the egg and the tapioca starch together. In the other combine the coconut, coconut flour, salt and paprika.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the coconut oil.

Dip the shrimp into the egg wash, let the excess fall off then dredge through the coconut mixture. In batches so the pan isn’t too crowded fry the shrimp for 2-3 minutes per side or until they are opaque in the center and golden brown on the outside.

If the pan runs out of oil simply add 1 or 2 more tablespoons before the next batch.

Transfer cooked shrimp to a paper towel lined plate to drain excess oil.

Serve on top of cooked quinoa with warmed cocktail sauce (below) on the side.  Enjoy!

Homemade Cocktail Sauce

12 oz. tomato paste
4 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon mustard
1/4 cup+2 Tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tsp horseradish

Mix all ingredients together. Taste to adjust as needed. Serve on the side.

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Meet Chef
Anja Lee

  • Founder of Anja Lee & Company, Anja Lee Catering and Silicon Chef (our company arm of Team-Building Cooking Competitions)
  • Food Network's Supermarket Stakeout CHAMPION! Season 4, Episode 13
  • Competitor in the Food Network's Cutthroat Kitchen
  • Chef for the Golden State Warriors & Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Cookbook author of 2 Cookbooks
  • World traveling culinary artist and master cooking & wine tasting instructor

Anja brings an appreciation for great food and cooking that will keep your team entertained from beginning to end!

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