In 2013, NBA big man Dwight Howard developed a rare nerve disorder called dysesthesia while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. He had tingling in his extremities and was losing motor function, to the point he had difficulty catching passes.
Dysesthesia is common among prediabetics — not men who make a living physically exerting themselves. But Lakers nutritionist Cate Shanahan knew Howard had a “legendary sweet tooth,” and suspected his tingling was due to his sugar intake. Sure enough, Howard revealed to her he had been consuming an unthinkable amount of sugar. According to ESPN:
“Howard had been scarfing down about two dozen chocolate bars’ worth of sugar every single day for years, possibly as long as a decade. “You name it, he ate it,” she says. Skittles, Starbursts, Rolos, Snickers, Mars bars, Twizzlers, Almond Joys, Kit Kats and oh, how he loved Reese’s Pieces.”
Not even the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Howard could metabolize all those carbohydrates and all that fat.
Howard will likely be remembered as a good player who never achieved his physical potential. Made of nothing but lean, fast-twitch muscle, he is one of the most impressive physical specimens to ever play in the NBA. But he’s averaged less than 20 points per game over his career, and critics will always wonder how much better he might have been had he maintained a healthy diet during his prime.
Perhaps the most remarkable (or disturbing) part about the Howard story is that it’s not all that uncommon within the realm of men’s professional sports. There are a startling number of high-profile NBA and NFL players who’ve kept objectively terrible diets during their playing days, including:
- Kwame Brown: Like Howard, Brown was a highly touted prospect who jumped to the NBA right out of high school. He’s also one of the biggest disappointments in NBA history, recording only one double-digit scoring season in his 13 in the league. That may have been due in part to his dreadful diet. Brown ate Popeye’s fried chicken for every meal, even breakfast, when he entered the league.
- Caron Butler: Butler admitted he was “addicted” to Mountain Dew for much of his 14 years in the NBA, drinking two liters of the stuff a day.
- Lamar Odom: Long before he was a bit player in the Kardashian universe, Odom was a professional basketball player with a serious candy habit. He ate candy for breakfast before games, saying it helped fuel his performance on the court. Specifically, he ate Twizzler bites, Gummy bears, peach rings and Hershey’s white-chocolate cookies-and-cream bars (his favorite).
- Derrick Rose: Back when he was an MVP point guard for the Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose admitted to regularly eating McDonald’s, potato chips and, of course, lots of candy. He kept a Skittles vending machine in his home. “Everybody’s got their poison, and mine is sugar,” Rose told ESPN in 2010…