The Real-Life Diet of Michael Porter Jr., Future NBA Lottery Pick and Raw Vegan
The nation’s former top high school recruit discusses how his diet is evolving as he prepares for his pro career.
At this time last year, Michael Porter Jr. was preparing to begin his college basketball career at Missouri as one of the nation’s top recruits and a consensus future NBA lottery pick. Alas, a back injury in the opener derailed his promising freshman season and robbed him of all but the final two games of the Tigers’ 2017-18 campaign.
Disappointed that he didn’t have the chance to prove himself during his first turn on the national stage, Porter used the experience to prepare for his inevitable professional career. A lifelong vegetarian, he began experimenting further with his diet while recovering from surgery, and while he may have slipped a few spots on some draft boards, Porter won’t have to wait long until his name is called on June 21. We recently caught up with him to discuss growing up in a vegetarian household; his transition to raw veganism; and the heartbreaking split with Chipotle necessitated by this choice.
GQ: How’s the recovery going? How are you feeling?
Michael Porter Jr.: I’ve never felt better. I was in a lot of pain for a while—I had a back injury during my sophomore year, and even before I had my surgery, I was in pain all throughout high school. I always felt like I was playing at between 75 and 80 percent, and never really got back to the point where I should have been.
I came out to Chicago to do all my pre-draft workouts, and that was another one of the reasons I decided to go pro: Now I have the best trainers and chiropractors available, and the one goal is to make me feel 100 percent. I ended up being the top-ranked player in my high school class, but I always was thinking in the back of my head, like, If I didn’t have this pain, I could really be doing some crazy stuff.
Was it tough to grow up as a vegetarian athlete?
Being vegetarian was easy for me. The hard part was going on the road. The team was always stopping at steakhouses and places where I couldn’t really eat anything. Meat seemed nasty to me because I never had it growing up. But I would end up eating a whole plate of fries, mashed potatoes, or macaroni and cheese instead. At home, my mom would make things that—we would never really know how she made it, but it tasted good, and it was vegetarian.
Now, I’ve changed my diet from vegetarian to mostly vegan. I’ll eat dairy from time to time, or if it’s in dressing. But my nutritionist, Dr. Douglas Graham, is going to be living with me soon, and from that time on, I’ll be a raw vegan. He has ways that you wouldn’t even imagine of making raw foods. He uses a dehydrator to make tons of stuff. I’ll have some guacamole, and he’ll make these dehydrated chips that taste like chips but still contain all of their nutritional value. He’ll make spaghetti, but it’s zucchini noodles. He’ll make some crazy tomato sauce that tastes like real spaghetti.
It’ll be a big change. I’ve been experimenting for awhile, using myself as a guinea pig—going the whole day eating mostly raw foods, and then eating pizza at the end of the night to see how I feel compared to when I didn’t eat pizza. Once you start eating like that and go back to putting something like that in your body, you feel such a drastic change.
What prompted the transition to (mostly) veganism and, soon, to raw veganism?
I was having some back and nerve pain, and was always thinking about what I could do to fix it. I met him through my parents, and he suggested that I try this and see how it makes me feel. If I never had had that back pain, I would have never given this a chance.
Within a couple of days, I noticed a difference with my energy and recovery, and had less soreness after workouts. When you eat the raw diet, it’s a completely anti-inflammatory diet. That’s why many people start to feel old and can’t move as well—their joints begin to get inflamed, and a lot of that is because of how they eat. Dr. Graham is 65, and he’s deadlifting and bench-pressing more than I can.
I feel like veganism is a big secret that a lot of professional athletes have caught on to and are using. I think LeBron and them keep it a secret. Kyrie is open about his vegan diet, and I think a lot of the top athletes are starting to do it. [Ed. note: JaVale McGee and Wilson Chandler have both discussed their vegan diets withGQ.] Even if I tell people this and how it can transform their life, they still aren’t going to do it. It’s a game changer.
What are some of your favorite vegan dishes currently?
I don’t even know what to call them! [laughs] Dr. Graham makes some wild stuff. I like avocados, and he makes salads with avocados. Some of the smoothies I make are crazy. I’ll put in four bananas, some strawberries, spinach, hemp seeds, honey, orange juice, and almond milk, and it tastes like heaven. I drink a lot of smoothies. I get most of my vegetables from my salads and my fruits from smoothies.
Vegan athletes rarely share this, but what’s your go-to source for protein?
Yeah, everyone asks that question. [laughs] People think that fruit doesn’t have protein, but it’s because they’re only eating a little bit of fruit a day. If you eat mostly fruit and vegetables, they have all the essential amino acids, so vegans end up getting more than enough protein. After I’m done working out, I’ll just make a smoothie with three bananas, spinach, and some berries. That’s all the protein I need to recover.
Was it difficult finding vegan options at Mizzou?
That was one of the blessings for me about staying close to home—my mom could bring over some bananas to the apartment, or I could just go home and eat all the raw food that I wanted. When I went on the road with Mizzou, towards the end of the season, we would be eating crazy. They would get us quality food at the hotels, but it wasn’t what I was eating, and wasn’t what my body was used to. When I ate that food, I would start to feel some of that back pain. I can tell so much now about how my body is going to react from putting certain things in it.
How did your body feel after you played those final two games?
I obviously wasn’t ready to play yet, because I was eating differently, I knew I wouldn’t be as good as I felt a few days before, when we were practicing at home. It was disappointing, but it’s helpful for me to learn about how the way I eat affects how I perform. Now that my back pain has gone away, this entire ordeal is going to further my career and my potential.
With your meals taken care of now, what’s your current schedule like as you prepare for the draft?
I’ll wake up at 7:45 and have a big energy smoothie by 8:15. There’s bananas, greens, and hemp or flax seeds. Physical therapy is at 8:30 to 9:30. From there, I’ll drive over to the gym and have some clementines with almonds, and go through my basketball workout from 9:45 to 11:00.
After that, I’m ready to have lunch. Dr. Graham always has me eating fruit before I have anything else, so I start every meal with fruit. I’ll make a little smoothie with a couple bananas and some berries. He’ll make me a salad, or one of his other weird dishes. I’ll rest for an hour or two, and then he’ll bring me a big glass of orange juice. I’ll wait another hour, and have another big smoothie. I’ll have more fruit before dinner. After dinner, I’ll wait another hour and have another smoothie. I get all the calories I need.
I read that you’re a big Chipotle fan. How is that going to work with the switch to raw veganism?
Bro, it breaks my heart. I love Chipotle so much. Every day at school, I would go to Chipotle and get a burrito with rice, beans, fajita veggies, the chili corn salsa, the mild salsa, and some guac and lettuce. But then I started thinking about the rice and tortillas, and how they were making me feel a little different than I wanted to feel. The last burrito I had was last week, and that was just because Dr. Graham hadn’t been here yet. [laughs]
It’s hard for me to eat a raw vegan diet when he’s not here, but I know have to cut it out. It breaks my heart to say it, but my relationship with Chipotle is over for good.