The NBA’s nutrition edge: P B & J

Professional athletes are always looking for an edge.  Sometimes an edge of 0.1 second is all it takes to score a win, so the edge can be razor-thin.  Nutrition offers plenty of edge possibilities: beet root juice, caffeine, carbohydrates, vitamins, super foods, energy bars, sports drinks, goos, gels, protein recovery drinks, chocolate milk.  You name it, some athlete is probably trying it.  The more high-tech-sounding the better, it seems.  So I was especially pleased to find this article from ESPN about. . . . .  PB & J.  The secret weapon of the NBA.

The story starts a mere 10 years ago, in Boston.  A Celtic’s player expressed a yearning for a PB & J; another player had an “Ah Ha!” moment, ate a pre-game PB & J and played a great game.  From then on, it was PB & J before games.  The Celtics went on to a winning season.  Other teams got wind of this nutritional advantage and started demanding their own PB & J spreads.  Now the humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich is everywhere on the NBA pre-game menu.  Think of the possibilities: organic or not, crunchy or creamy, whole grain or white bread, toasted or not, jelly or jam or sliced bananas, different kinds of jam or jelly, honey, Nutella and in some cases, almond butter instead of peanut butter.  One team attempted to sabotage the visiting team’s PB & J fix by sending pre-fab Smucker’s Uncrustables to their locker room.

Aside from the Uncrustables, this whole scenario makes me happy.  PB & J is real food, not a manufactured sports food with a high tech gloss.  It has all the attributes of a food athletes need for a demanding competition: carbs for quick energy, and small amounts of fat and protein to sustain the energy supply.  Plus they taste good, unlike some of those goos and gels and drinks.

Since there’s no such thing as a standard P B & J sandwich, there are no reliable nutrition facts.  If you made a basic sandwich on commercial loaf bread, using 2 TB of peanut butter and 2 TB of jelly, you’d have roughly:

  • 390 calories
  • 15 grams protein
  • 20 grams fat
  • 44 grams carbohydrate
  • 470 mg sodium

Sugar content will vary, depending on whether you buy natural unsweetened PB and whether the bread contains added sugar.  Most of the carbohydrates are from starch, which is a more sustained energy source.  I added the sodium value because athletes lose sodium in sweat.  Most sports drinks contain some sodium for that reason, so a PB & J will also work for sodium replacement.

10 Other good things about P B & J

  1. vegan and vegetarian
  2. keeps well
  3. easy to pack along for lunch, hikes, bike rides, car trips
  4. endless taste variations
  5. healthy fats
  6. significant fiber, if you use whole grain bread
  7. inexpensive
  8. satisfying
  9. kids like them
  10. anyone can make them

In fact, for one NBA team the rookies are in charge of making the P B & Js in the locker room.  That’s probably not what these guys imagined they’d be doing as professional basketball players, but it’s all for the team.  Plus they’re learning a valuable life skill: P B & J preparation.

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