The Oklahoma phenom’s secret for packing on lean muscle? Fewer chicken fingers.
Moments after Oklahoma fell to Rhode Island in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, Trae Young sent a text message to trainer Travelle Gaines: “I’m ready to get to work.” Six days later, Young was in Los Angeles to train three times a day under Gaines’s tutelage. Despite Young’s becoming the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation in scoring and assists, most analysts focused more on the freshman’s slight frame and late-season struggles than his need-to-apply-pressure-at-halfcourt range and the elite playmaking abilities that make him one of the year’s most dynamic prospects.
In just eight weeks, Young was able to put on 15 pounds of lean muscle and cut his body-fat percentage down from five to two. This wasn’t easy for the naturally lean guard. “It was a tricky combination of figuring out how many calories he burns a day, and how much food he had to consume to get the calories to the point where he’s gaining weight,” said Gaines. “Once we figured it out, though—once we knew when to get him that protein shake—the rest was hard work on his end and direction on ours.”
Before Thursday’s NBA Draft, we caught up with Young—who, along with LiAngelo Ball, is participating in Foot Locker’s new “One and Done” campaign—to discuss the processes of putting on weight, changing his picky eating habits, and finding ways to curb his passion for chicken fingers. At least, for a little while.
GQ: The pre-draft training push is finally over. How’d you do?
Trae Young: I can definitely see the improvements I made, and I’m very pleased with it. In meeting with teams, they could see the changes—not only in my body and the way I look but in the way I played and worked out. I’m lucky to have a strength coach like Travelle. He helped me with exactly what I wanted to focus on.
What was your diet like before going down there to Los Angeles?
I’m not going to lie to you: It was bad. I was eating chicken strips and pizza almost every day. That really isn’t good for you.
I’m still a kid—I’m only 19. I’ll still eat chicken strips and pizza every now and then. But I definitely have worked myself over to eating as healthily as I can. I drink a lot more water now. And the thing that helped me put on all that muscle and the weight was the protein shakes. That was big for me.
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I heard you were putting down five protein shakes a day. How…is that possible?
At the end of the day, I knew I had to sacrifice if I wanted to get something I wanted. Drinking those shakes? Part of the greater sacrifice.
Describe your training schedule during this time.
I would wake up and eat something very light before beginning my first workout—a banana or an orange. I would have my first shake. After the workout, I would have my second shake and then go eat breakfast. I would then head back home and get some rest before my lift at 2:00 P.M. Lunch was, like, Chipotle and another shake. Then I would lift or get in some skill work, and come back and eat and have another shake. Dinner was after my last workout of the day. I would have a final shake before I went to bed.
What are some things that you incorporated into the training diet that will be mainstays for you going forward?
I have more variety now—baked chicken, steak, baked potatoes, macaroni and cheese. Things like that.
With your travel over the past few weeks, how have you worked to maintain those hard-won gains?
It was definitely tough, and I did start to lose a little bit of weight. When I would go back to Los Angeles, though, I would gain it right back in two days. Whenever I’m on the plan and I stick to it, I’m good. If I go off it for a few days here and there, that’s when it starts getting tough.
It’s easy for any kid to deviate from a targeted diet plan. What are some of the things you miss and crave still?
My favorite restaurant is Raising Cane’s. That’s my spot. I would eat that after every game, and sometimes even twice a day. My go-to is their Box Combo. [Ed. note: That’s 1,300 calories, not including a drink.]
Adjusting to the NBA game is already a formidable challenge. But…what happens if you’re drafted to a city without a Cane’s?
We’re going to have to build a Cane’s! [laughs] Maybe I will work on that.
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