The Real Shaquille
Basketball great Shaquille O'Neal focuses on eating well (most of the time) and building muscle, not fat.
Thirteen years into his professional basketball career, the truth can
finally be told about Shaquille O'Neal.
He is not of this earth. On the first day of training camp this year, O'Neal
told a group of reporters, "I'm going back to the old Shaq. I was normal
last season. I was an earthling. Now I have to go back to my alien
For O'Neal, 33, who joined the Miami Heat in 2004 after eight seasons with
the Los Angeles Lakers, getting in touch with his inner extraterrestrial means
making virtually unheard-of decision in the world of professional basketball:
He's working on adding weight-muscle, not fat -- to his already colossal
335-pound, 7-foot-1-inch frame.
That's not a misprint. Goliath wants to be even bigger. Why? Because O'Neal
says that when he is heavier, he is a better player. "Last year I was just
too nice," that is, too weak, O'Neal tells WebMD. "I came up real light
… but now I have to go back to what I know."
That kind of thinking flies in the face of conventional wisdom -- not only
among many athletes but for the rest of us, too. If anything, most of us battle
to lose the seemingly inexorable weight creep that comes from too many
indulgences and not enough exercise over the years.
But even a fine-tuned athlete like O'Neal still has to approach the whole
topic of weight intelligently. For one thing, he can't just live off a
high-calorie, high-fat diet to add pounds -- or at least not without
undesirable consequences. His philosophy pivots on healthy nutritional choices
with an occasional allowance of his favorite sinful foods.
For a man of his size and agility, O'Neal is nearly without peer in his
ability to both plant an opponent into the front row and outrace him to the
other end of the court.
The 12-time NBA All-Star and three-time NBA champion, as well as the holder
of an Olympic gold medal, is "a unique athlete," says Cedric Bryant,
PhD, chief exercise physiologist with the San Diego-based American Council on
Exercise. "He has that blend of speed and strength that allows him to be so
And while gaining weight late in a career might seem foolhardy, Bryant says
O'Neal has conditioned himself physically and, just as important, mentally to
operate at a large size-one that is uniquely suited to his MO.
"I think it really affects Shaq psychologically when he has attempted to
play lighter," says Bryant. "He just doesn't feel like he's Superman.
When he has that extra bulk and mass, he's unstoppable out there."
After an injury-plagued first season in Miami, which caused him to miss nine
regular-season games and a pair of playoff contests with a thigh bruise, O'Neal
says he spent the off-season working out at his Miami home with his bodyguard
in twice-a-day sessions. The result: He added 15 pounds to his frame to weigh
in at 335.