All-Star’s Personal Chef Talks About Eating to Fuel Performance
Prior to scoring 39 points, leading his team to the national championship and being named MVP, Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant had a nice lunch of pan-seared salmon topped with homemade tzatziki sauce, served with wild rice and a medley of zucchini and squash. He eats fish – a lean protein that sustains his energy levels without weighing him down – before nearly every game.
In fact, Durant eats seafood at least six times a week – 8-ounce servings of some of his favorites, including salmon, sea bass, scallops and shrimp, says the man who cooks these all-star dishes for him, chef Ryan Lopez.
“In order for me to perform the way I want to perform,” the two-time Olympian says, “I need some good energy in my body and [Lopez] provides that for me.”
Lopez says, “I need to make sure he’s fueled for the game,” and seafood is light, easy to digest, offers energy and helps with muscle recovery. Adding, “as a trained chef, it needs to be healthy but I make sure it tastes good, too.” He takes classic comfort food dishes and puts a healthy spin on them.
Lopez has cooked for Durant for nearly six years, moving to Oklahoma City and then to the Bay Area when he transferred from the Thunder to the Warriors this season. And, this season while Durant was out with a knee injury, he needed to focus even more on nutrition to get him toward his goals of recovery.
Lopez works with six other athletes, as well, including professional boxers and Oakland Raiders players, and personalizes meal plans for each of them based on blood work to get to peak performance through measures of inflammation, cholesterol, glucose, omega-3s, and gluten.
To decrease inflammation and to aid in muscle recovery for his athletes, Lopez encourages them to get a significant amount of omega-3s a day, with a goal of an omega-3 blood level of 10% to 15%. He acknowledges this can sometimes mean they need to supplement with fish oil.
For Durant, Lopez prepares balanced meals that rely on lean protein, minimally processed carbs (plus he’s been gluten free for three months) and a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.
A typical day includes:
- Breakfast is gluten-free oats, a three-egg omelet with spinach and tomato, sometimes a sausage link and always lots of fresh fruit.
- After a workout, lunch is almost always seafood: salmon a couple times a week as well as other favorites including miso-glazed sea bass, blackened catfish, or scallops. That is served with a big side salad and a protein smoothie.
- A snack is often guacamole with quinoa chips or carrots, or fresh fruit. Lopez also makes power performance balls from oats, peanut butter, dried berries and flax or chia seeds.
- Dinner is 7 to 8 ounces of a lean protein, either chicken, turkey burgers, steak (only once a week) or seafood again, which he keeps low carb if he doesn’t have a game the next day; if he does have a game, he includes whole grains such as wild rice, chickpea pasta or couscous.
One of Durant’s favorites is the miso-glazed sea bass. “I fell in love with sea bass when [Lopez] started cooking for me,” he says. “That’s like the one thing I have to have all the time.”
Lopez tries to cook seasonally, so currently halibut and soft shell crab are favorites right now.
Pro Cooking Tip:
When cooking a fish filet without the skin, Chef Ryan Lopez prefers pan searing in a little avocado oil. On high heat, sear for 3 to 4 minutes until it starts to release off the pan and has a brown crust, then pop into the oven for a few minutes to cook to medium. Then let it rest for a couple minutes before serving for a nice crust.
If the filet has skin, start with skin side down in the pan and, while searing, push it down for 30 seconds so it doesn’t curl. Then the last step is to flip it over, flesh side down, for the last step of cooling. You’ll get crispy skin.