The Real-Life Diet of Andre Drummond, Who Misses His High School’s Curly Fries

When Andre Drummond was drafted in 2012 as an 18-year-old rookie, basketball, the NBA, and he himself were quite different. As he puts it, people around the game just were not thinking about their bodies in the same ways they are now. New-age training and conditioning methods didn’t yet exist, but the Golden Arches sure did, and Drummond found himself there on a regular basis.

Now, closing in on 800 career games, Drummond has a newfound perspective on health, both physical and mental. In addition to regular meditation practice, the Bulls’ big man has partnered with Scentbird, the fragrance subscription service that offers perfumes, colognes, and candles. Drummond has taken a particular liking to the scarlet scented candle by Deck of Scarlet. “When I’m on the road, I always have a candle with me that I’ll light in the hotel room while getting ready for a game to help set the mood,” he told GQ before the season, which is his second as a Bull and 12th in the NBA.

Drummond’s basketball life has been quite impressive—he’s been an All-Star twice and led the league in rebounding four times—and he’s still only 30 years old. The former UConn Husky thanks the sweeping changes he made to diet and nutrition as one of the key factors for his NBA longevity—even if it pained him to leave certain comfort foods behind.

For Real-Life Diet, GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and other high performers about their diet, exercise routines, and pursuit of wellness. Keep in mind that what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.

GQ: Now that you’re in your 12th year in the NBA, just generally speaking, how do you feel?

Andre Drummond: Twelve seasons in the NBA is surreal. No one where I’m from has done what I’ve done or made it where I’ve made it. To play over a decade-plus is a milestone. Making it this far and being able to stay healthy—you know, I’ve played my career without any major injuries—that’s a blessing in itself. I don’t take these moments for granted. Every year I’m thankful to continue playing at a high level.

Is there any sort of key to avoiding injury, or is it mostly luck? How do you think you’ve been able to play so long without a major one?

Going this long, there’s a bunch of things that go into it. One is preparation, two is taking care of your body, three is the food you eat, four is recovery and taking care of your body. Lastly, just God-given ability. I’ve been blessed. The way I play, it’s not a pretty game. I guess, I just make sure I’m in the right place at the right time!

What does your normal game day meal look like?

I wake up and my chef will make me some oatmeal or a bowl of fruit, a smoothie. Then I go about my day. I get to the arena for shootaround, if I’m still kind of hungry I’ll get a cup of fruit. Then I won’t really eat again until it’s almost game time, 5:30 or 6:00. It depends on how hungry I am. I’ll either have a rice and chicken bowl or just some hummus and chips. I really don’t like to eat too much on game day. I’m moving around a lot, so I don’t like feeling heavy. Postgame varies. My adrenaline is still going, so if I’m not hungry I just won’t eat until the morning.

How does that change during the offseason?

I’m definitely a lot less strict. I’ll still eat fairly clean, but I’ll have cheat days on Sunday because Monday is my conditioning day to burn off whatever I just ate and not feel horrible about it. My cheat days are usually Jamaican food or soul food. I don’t really branch out too much further than that, because once I start finding stuff I like I just want it more and more.

When do you flip into season mode? September?

Oh, no no no. I start in June. It used to be around [September] earlier in my career. How do I explain this? I feel like the longer you play, the shorter your window is for getting in shape. For me, earlier in my career, I could do nothing all summer. Then I’d come back in September and get in shape after a week. Being 12 years in now, I need at least two or three months to ease my way in. I don’t want to burn myself out. I’ll coast into June, ramp it up in July, then in August I pick it up some more. September is off to the races.

You hear a lot about young guys playing themselves into shape during the season.

Oh yeah, for sure! I’ve done that. Nothing wrong with that!

During your time in the NBA, what sort of lessons have you learned about diet? I’m sure you didn’t come in at 18 years old with the same eating habits you have now.

Definitely not. I learned about diet quick. You can eat whatever you want at that age. I remember stopping at McDonald’s before games when I first came into the league! But maybe after year four, I started getting that wear and tear on my body, didn’t have the right nutrition, I was slowing down a little bit and gaining weight. When I started noticing those changes on my body, I thought, alright, now is the time to really focus on my diet. That youth is no longer with me.

We all know that feeling.

You feel terrible! Processed foods, chips, anything fast food. Even pizza! I couldn’t eat pizza without feeling like shit. I actually had a deep dish when I first got here and I felt horrible for two days. What am I doing right now? Why am I eating this?

What was your McDonald’s order?

I used to get nuggets all the time. I never got, like, big meals. I was nuggets and fries.

What are the foods you miss the most from your younger days?

Man, the things that I miss are from high school. Our lunch lady used to make these chicken sandwiches with curly fries. We used to—I don’t know if people do this now—we used to mix up the sauces. Ketchup, hot sauce, and mayonnaise mixed together. We’d dip the sandwich in there, and it was the greatest tasting thing in the world to me, honestly. Barbecue and ranch? That’s not a bad mix either.

So as a rookie, were you skeptical about diet and nutrition stuff? Like, I don’t need to worry about this?

Well, the era I came in—it was 2012—that’s when the game started changing a little bit. Nobody really talked about diet or what you should eat. I remember in our training rooms, we were eating chicken tenders! We had fried chicken in our meal rooms! The diet thing didn’t really start picking up until later on when guys started becoming a little overweight. Dietitians came into play, guys had specific meals and things like that. For me, I never had a strict diet because I didn’t know better.

DK Metcalf doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t understand. I feel like what he does is, look at the calories in those bags of candy and then works it off. He knows his body, man. Everyone is different! I’d be 500 pounds easily. No doubt about it.

We had a chef [with the Pistons in 2012], but they weren’t cooking what we eat now. It was buffet style, soul food every day. When they said “we gotta change this up,” I was devastated, personally. But it was for the better. Making those changes to eating proper food definitely gave me that endurance and energy I needed. I didn’t understand that when I was younger. The foods you put in your body give you natural energy that you need, rather than trying to find that in energy drinks or coffee.

Were you big on caffeine?

Yeah, I used to drink coffee a lot. I still drink coffee now, but without the sugars and creams and all that. I just drink black coffee. I actually just tried Gatorade Fast Twitch. Not a fun taste. You can feel it coursing through your veins.

Can you walk us through an NBA practice day?

Today was a regular practice day for us. We came in and watched film, went through some of our schemes. We got up and down a little bit today. Actually, let me backtrack a little bit. I came in this morning at 8:30 and worked out before practice, then went to film and did everything else after that. Then after practice, I take care of my body. I get a massage and get stretched out. I do a lot of work on my feet. We use our feet a lot, so gotta make sure the feet are flexible and able to move. And I just finished lifting before I came to talk to you!

With the feet, is that the tennis ball thing, where you roll it around on the arch?

Yeah, I actually use a lacrosse ball. Or, I’ll do manual work with a trainer to get those joints moving.

You know what? I’ve never been a big fan of cupping. I feel like it does nothing for me! Maybe I’m just large, but I don’t really cup. I like manual work. I don’t like devices and stuff. There’s so many devices out there nowadays. It’s the lazy way of doing it. I’m old school, man! But I love the sauna. That’s good for many reasons. It’ll get your body warmed up, or just for cardio, get a good sweat.

But you’re big on meditation. When did you start getting into that?

I started meditating and doing a lot of mindful work maybe two or three years ago. I find it to be very relaxing and very peaceful. It gives me that relaxed mind going into a high-intensity game. Doing that really helps me settle my mind and focus on the task at hand. I usually do it on the training table! It looks like I’m sleeping, but really I’m just meditating.

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