Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard was hit with a shocking diagnosis during his lone season with the Los Angeles Lakers last year. According to a physician working with the team’s medical staff, Howard was consuming “the equivalent of 24 Hershey bars a day” because of all the candy and glucose-rich carbonated soda he was drinking.
Dr. Cate Shanahan, in a fascinating feature by CBS Sports’ Ken Berger, described her shock at Howard’s alarming levels of glucose in his system, telling CBS that she became concerned because Howard’s sluggish play and blood work “reminded me of patients who have pre-diabetes and neurological problems because of how sugar impacts the nervous system.” A subsequent blood test revealed frightening amounts of glucose in his system.
And before you dump on the often immature Howard for continuing to gorge on sweets and soda well into his mid-to-late 20s, have some compassion and understand that Dwight showed all the signs of a sugar addict, someone who needed help more than he needed a lock on the pantry drawer. From Berger’s report:
Howard was struggling to return to form after back surgery the previous spring, and was wrestling with the enormous pressure of whether to re-sign with the Lakers as a free agent. Cate Shanahan believed his performance and recovery were being seriously compromised by his poor diet. She saw the telltale signs of sugar addiction -- spikes in energy followed by crashes and erratic motor skills that were indicative of nerves misfiring.
"I said, 'I can't live this way because it's not healthy to have this high level of sugar in me,' " Howard said. "I just made a commitment."
Like an addict, Howard had candy and sugary drinks stashed everywhere -- from his kitchen cabinets to a drawer next to his bed to the backpack he toted to games and practices. He agreed to get rid of it all and start over.
Within weeks of starting the program, Howard said his blood-glucose levels declined 80 percent. After increasing his consumption of healthy fats and decreasing processed carbs -- "No bread," Howard said -- all the blood markers that are indicative of heart health went in the right direction, too. After some initial lethargy during the detox phase, Howard said his endurance improved and his energy levels became more consistent. His body-fat percentage -- hovering around 5-6 percent his entire career -- dropped to 3 percent, he said.
"I would always tell [the Lakers] how bad I wanted to get back to being Superman," Howard said. "Their response was, 'Well, you have to sacrifice something.' "
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