On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
Like for many people around the world, 2020 was a challenging year for Shaquille O’Neal. In addition to trying to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, the former NBA player also lost Kobe Bryant, someone who he considered his brother, in a tragic helicopter as well as his sister Ayesha Harrison-Jex to cancer, both in the same year.
Shaq lost all desire to do anything after that. “2020 was a really bad year and I didn’t want to do anything,” he later told Men’s Journal. “So, when you don’t want to do anything, but you need to stay out of trouble, there’s two things you can do: eat and Netflix.”
While the former Los Angeles Lakers champion wasn’t exactly known for his clean eating — back in his basketball days he would have a turkey club sandwich with extra mayo and two pineapple sodas pre-game, and then a chicken sandwich with macaroni afterwards — he was no longer an NBA player travelling around the country playing non-stop games, burning off all the calories.
“My problem is, I’ve always been a sandwich guy. Sandwich for lunch, sandwich for dinner, sandwich for snack,” he revealed. “So, I’d wake up at three in the morning and make a sandwich, five in the morning and make a sandwich.”
It wasn’t long before he lost control of his diet. During the pandemic, his weight ballooned up to over 400 pounds (over 180 kgs), compared to his weight during the NBA days — 325 pounds (147 kgs).
It got to a point where enough was enough and Shaq decided to switch up his lifestyle. It helped that he happened to meet a 70-year old man in the gym who was ripped with muscles, as added motivation. He also had the fear of gaining the Charles Barkley post-retirement body as extra fuel.
“I wish I could have a picture of that old guy, because he was about 70 and his caption said, ‘Age is nothing but a number,’” he later told Men’s Journal. “And I was actually jealous, I knew it was time for me to get back right.”
He got back into his training routine and cleaned up his diet. That meant no more bread, Oreos, Entenmann’s cakes, and more fruit, protein shakes, salads, fish, chicken and vegetables, as well as eating smaller portions for each meal. Soon, he started dropping the weight, initially 20-30 pounds, then he started to see his six-pack coming back, which he admits he hadn’t seen since playing for the Miami Heat in the 2000s.
It’s all about the diet. Because even now, if I do 500 sit-ups a day, my six pack ain’t right like how I want it, ’cause it’s all about the diet. So diet, preparation, focus, and belief. You just have to stick to your routine. That’s it.The Real-Life Diet of Shaquille O’Neal, Who Got a Wake-Up Call at His Last Checkup | GQ
Shaq’s training routine & diet
During his NBA days, Shaq’s secret weapon to becoming part of a champion team was training MMA alongside his basketball practice. “I always used to practice basketball. It wasn’t enough,” he revealed to MMA journalist Ariel Helwani. “Because when I played basketball, it was more wrestling. So when I trained MMA with Jon Burke, a friend of mine down in Orlando, I came back in the best shape of my life. That was in 2000. Won. Dominated.”
As Shaq continued to train MMA concurrently with basketball, he kept winning championships. He was famously part of the Los Angeles Lakers team when they accomplished the legendary three-peat, winning the NBA title in 2000, 2001, and 2002.
These days, as a retired NBA player, Shaq’s training routine is less intense, but still consistent. On an average week, he’s usually in the gym four days for an hour per session.
“I do 20 minutes of cardio, I’ll do some chest, bis, tris, sit-ups, back and then I’m gone,” he told Men’s Journal. “30-45 minutes a day, plus cardio — so about an hour a day. I still got the bad hips and the achy joints, so I can’t be jumping and running around.”
When it comes to his diet, Shaq’s current daily meal plan looks drastically different to his pandemic nutrition. In a 2022 interview with GQ, the former Lakers player gave readers an example meal plan in his life.
A healthy breakfast—fruit and fruit and fruit—then chicken and fish. I eat a healthy breakfast just to hold me for the day. Three turkey sausages and about four or five egg whites. Meal two is gonna be some fruit. Meal three is gonna be a shake and fruit. Meal four is probably gonna be a light salad and then meal five is gonna be chicken, fish, or steak.The Real-Life Diet of Shaquille O’Neal, Who Got a Wake-Up Call at His Last Checkup | GQ
As he’s gotten older, Shaq has placed more emphasis on his recovery, using hot tub sessions and the Normatec machine to soothe his sore muscles. “Whenever I get tired, or my legs start to swell after I fly, I just sit in my Normatec and I get in the hot tub and I just try to stretch,” he told GQ. “I’m not even a real stretcher. I just go down, go to the left, go to the right, floor, try to touch my toes. Basics.”
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