Behind every great athlete is an incredible team of individuals making sure they perform at their highest level for each game and practice. NBA Finals champ, Kevin Durant, is no different. In fact, his private chef Ryan Lopez is the man behind the scenes making sure KD is eating all the right foods in order to maintain peak performance. And YES, that includes Verlasso Salmon! Our team had the privilege of catching up with Chef Ryan to ask all the questions you’re dying to hear the answers to.
How long have you been in the culinary industry as KD’s private chef?
I’ve been cooking professionally for 8 years and 6 years with Kevin Durant. A big chunk of my career has been sports wellness and performance based eating. I went to culinary school in Livonia, MI at Schoolcraft College and fell in love with cooking - the work ethic, creativity, and how food can help people fuel their bodies.
How do you prepare a top athlete like KD for a winning season?
A lot goes into each season with KD’s health and it changes each season with his goals and changing body. I work closely with the team nutritionist so that I have a better understanding of where KD’s body is. Usually, every 3 months we do an assessment to gauge where we can improve and what we are doing right from a health stand point.
When these reports come back to me, we can see if we are low on magnesium or high in glucose, for example. This would tell me to up the consumption of spinach/ leafy greens and or vitamins in his diet and to lower the amount of sugary drinks.
I work on eliminating wasted fats and sugars in his diet during the season. So using coconut spray or avocado oil versus canola oil, butter or peanut oil. Staying away from fried or processed foods. Eliminating sugary drinks and replacing them with lemon water with electrolytes or drinks with no sugar.
Eating regularly is also very important for a number of reasons. You want to feed your body the right foods to meet your goals and specific workout plan. As an athlete, you never want to miss a meal. In fact, you may want to add small meals in between your regularly planned meals to replenish minerals and vitamins in your body. Things like smoothies, guacamole with carrot/jicama sticks or a chopped salad are great options. Each meal throughout the day should mean something to you. What you eat/drink should add value to your body and performance! Here is an example of what KD’s eating schedule looks like.
8:30 - 9am
2 egg whites, 1 whole egg omelet with spinach, tomato, feta. Bowl of fresh fruit and gluten free toast.
Fruit and Triple berry acai smoothie
Grilled Salmon with lemon cucumber yogurt dressing, brown rice pilaf and sautéed spinach
Tip: I like using coconut water to sauté my spinach - it adds a nice flavor and imparts vitamins and electrolytes into the spinach.
After a game we usually do something light like a grilled chicken with roasted vegetables and a recovery smoothie.
What percentage, would you say, of an athlete’s success on the court or in the field comes from their diet?
There is a huge correlation between performance and nutrition. They go hand-in-hand and to maximize your performance, you have to understand your body and what it needs. I’ve seen first-hand the power of food and a well-balanced food program.
Why do you use sustainably raised Verlasso salmon vs other brands to feed KD?
I’ve been using Verlasso salmon for 3 years now and I use it because it’s truly a high-quality ocean-raised salmon. Both KD and I love the texture and taste of Verlasso salmon. Also, seeing that they are a leader in sustainable farming practices makes a huge impact on my buying decision.
As a chef, what do you look for when buying ingredients to feed not only top athletes, but anyone you cook for?
As chefs, we want to make sure we buy the best products we can, which for me means buying local as often as possible. I think that buying organic produce, meats and sustainably raised or wild seafood lends a far better taste profile to dishes. I constantly keep in mind that I can hurt the environment by the choices I make or help the environment by the choices I make. I choose to help the environment and be conscious of what products I put in my cart.
How did you feel when KD won his first NBA Final as a Golden State Warrior?
I was very happy for him and proud to see him get his first title. He works so hard at his craft and truly deserved to hold that trophy up in the air. I didn't make it to game 5, but I did go to game 2 and the crowd and energy was something I've never experienced before. It was fun watching Kevin have such a great game in the NBA finals.
What culinary advice do you have for collegiate athletes who want to become professional athleteS?
Be conscious of what you’re eating. Understand that the food you put in your body is your fuel. It helps with recovery, performance, your longevity and sport career.
Have you ever made anything KD didn’t like?
You know I’ve been with KD for 6 years now, so I know what he likes and doesn't like, but my first year with him was a learning process. I can remember I made some roasted brussels sprouts and later found out that he hates brussels sprouts.
What is KD’s favorite Verlasso dish?
I would say he really likes my roasted Verlasso salmon with asparagus and cajun orzo pasta. The salmon is the star of the show, but it sits on a bed of orzo pasta with red bell peppers, celery, asparagus and spinach which is delicious. It’s light and perfect for a pregame meal. You can get the recipe here.