IN THE summer of 2017, as her son Michael was beginning to think about life after college at Missouri, Lisa Porter had an idea. The health-conscious Porters had already eaten vegetarian at home in Columbia, Mo., for more than a decade, but with the NBA draft looming for Michael, Lisa decided the family needed to up its game. She reached out to a raw vegan chef she'd been corresponding with, a chiropractor-turned-health-guru from England named Doug Graham, and asked him if he'd be willing to spend some time cooking for the Porters before Michael and his younger brother Jontay, who reclassified to play alongside Michael, started school. Graham arrived with his food dehydrator, ready to revolutionize the family's diet.
The 2017 Gatorade National Player of the Year, Michael was already a highly touted recruit but was looking for another edge. That summer, he and Jontay adhered to Graham's raw-food vegan diet, dining on such delicacies as zucchini-crust "pizza," "cinnamon rolls" composed largely of dehydrated bananas, and lots of smoothies. "I didn't go straight from vegetarian to [raw] vegan," he says. "I slowly transitioned to not as much dairy. My body felt much better after I ate the fruit, the vegetables, the smoothies. I could have a workout and recover so much quicker."
Michael, who played sparingly last season at Missouri because of a back injury, was selected No. 14 overall by the Nuggets in June. He is one of several prominent athletes who have experimented with plant-based diets in recent years. Among them are the Celtics' Kyrie Irving, tennis star Venus Williams and Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia. Many alter their diets to boost performance; others make a change to aid in recovery from injuries.
As he begins his NBA career—Porter is rehabbing from back surgery—he is all in on the diet. His training includes loading up on bananas and other fruit-heavy meals. One of his favorite snacks: chips that Graham makes by dehydrating vegetables, which Porter says taste like Doritos dipped into guacamole. Friends have sampled offerings from Porter's training table. "They'll admit," he says, "that it tastes pretty good."
RECIPE: CHICKPEA BURGERS
From Kansas City Chiefs dietitian Leslie Bonci
Cook chickpeas. Once cooled, mix with parsley or basil, onion, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes in a food processor. Add cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper and tahini. Form mixture into patties. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add oil, and cook burgers for two to three minutes per side. Sauté onions until translucent. Add herbs, red pepper, pureed tomatoes and agave. Combine vegan mayo, dill, lemon juice and garlic in a small bowl and serve on top of the patties. For full recipe go to SI.com/eats