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The Real Life Diet of Jalen Brunson, Who Loves Fiber and Protein First Thing in the Morning

Photograph: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte

Everything is coming up Jalen Brunson. This season, the Knicks’ floor general is enjoying career highs in several statistical categories, energizing Madison Square Garden and putting himself in an excellent position to make his first All-Star team. He’s also partnered with Catalina Crunch to create a zero-sugar, fiber-rich cereal—perfect for someone who worships at the altar of breakfast.

Brunson shared some details on his new honey nut creation and also let us know that there’s no off-the-court secret to his sensational season; he’s just doing things as he’s always done them. Despite playing a huge role in revitalizing the Knicks—making them both a serious playoff contender and one of the hottest tickets in New York—Brunson still has one teammate giving him a hard time about his physique.

For Real-Life Diet, GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and other high performers about their diet, exercise routines, and pursuit of wellness. Keep in mind that what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.

What can you tell us about your collaboration with Catalina Crunch?

They came to me, and I’m happy they did! I wish I would have known about them sooner. Their core values and what they’re about—forming healthy habits—are a big part of what I need to do to be in the best shape I can and perform at a high level. I thought it was a great partnership. The things that Catalina Crunch has been able to do for my health have been great. It’s packed with protein and fiber. It was an easy decision for me.

Your particular cereal is a honey nut flavor with almonds. Was that your choice?

Oh yeah, that was my choice, for sure. I’m a very simple person. I think the flavor kind of shows that. It’s packed with nutrition, and it’s simple but good, very impactful.

Are you a big cereal guy?

Growing up, yes. Now—I still have cereal in the morning sometimes—but it’s a great snack to have throughout the day. It fits into my diet perfectly.

As a kid the one that I probably had the most was Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The GOAT. I had Cookie Crisp every once in a while, but my mom wouldn’t get it all the time. Crunch Berries were a big one, but it was really Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Growing up, it was also two-percent milk. Now I switch between oat milk and almond milk.

Is breakfast a big part of your routine?

I’m definitely still on the breakfast train. I will eat breakfast, on average, six-and-a-half times a week. Maybe one day, I won’t be feeling it, but I’m usually eating breakfast. I’m not fully plant-based, but I’ve introduced a lot of plant-based things into my diet. I try not to do the same thing every day for breakfast. Bacon fell out. I haven’t eaten red meat since my freshman year of college. Then after that, I took out pork. I miss bacon, though; I’m not going to lie to you.

What made you decide to go mostly plant-based?

I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully plant-based, but just from knowing the benefits of eating clean like that, I’ve definitely seen a difference in how I feel. There’s a difference in how I feel in the morning—my energy versus slouching around in bed and not wanting to get up. The reason why I’ve always wanted to improve my diet is because I’m always looking for ways to make myself better. You can only do so much with film or on-court stuff. How can you get an extra advantage by doing something in your everyday life? That was something I was mindful of.

What is your normal diet on game day? If the game starts at 7:00 pm, when are you eating?

If we’re at home, I have a set menu for the entire week with my chef. My eating schedule usually starts around 8:15 a.m. Then I’ll come home around noon-ish after the shootaround and have a snack or a shake. I eat my pregame meal between 3:15 and 3:45 p.m., depending on the traffic to the Garden. I’ll maybe have another shake or a light snack before game time, but rarely. After the game I either go out to eat or just come home and eat. I like to switch up what I eat all the time and try different things. I love sushi. I’m very open to new food.

Is the pre-game meal usually at the arena?

I actually eat that at home. My chef makes it for me. One of the things that I’m so happy I did is invest in a chef. It makes life so much easier. One thing I’ll say: I can cook a little bit. I can definitely make a honey-glazed salmon. Breakfast foods I can cook, but plant-based foods? I’m not on that level. I don’t know how to cook any of that yet. During COVID I learned how to make a spicy rigatoni. That’s probably my go-to if I’m trying to impress somebody.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?

I’d probably say Catch, or maybe Carbone.

Spicy rigatoni?

Of course!

Did you change anything up diet-wise heading into this season that might be responsible for your big year?

Nothing’s really changed! I try my best to stay consistent in a lot of things that I do. Obviously, I have my routine and habits and stuff like that, and for the most part, that’s really been the same. Maybe I’ve improved some stuff a little bit, but nothing’s really changed.

Your dad, Rick, also played in the league and is now an assistant coach for the Knicks. Was he on you about nutrition from an early age?

He let me be a kid, but once I got older, he tightened the ropes a bit. He always pushed me in the right direction without forcing me to do stuff. He’d give me the old dad thing of, “I can only tell you what I think is right. You have to make the decision.”

There was some chatter earlier this year about how you’re not exactly the tallest guy on the court and how that can affect a team’s chances of making a serious run in the playoffs. We all know there’s no magical exercise you can do to grow three inches, but what sort of things are you doing in the weight room to help you withstand all the contact you take?

Honestly, everything. I work on balance, strength, and typical weight room stuff. I do a lot of single-leg balance stuff and core stability—there’s nothing tricky I do in the weight room. I’m just in the weight room. I’m a simple man!

Who’s the first NBA player you remember seeing up close that made you think, Oh, you really are built different?

Steven Adams. Without a doubt. One time I tried boxing him out, and he didn’t exactly laugh or shrug it off, but I knew I didn’t have any impact on him. That was wild.

Over the course of an NBA season, is there a particular part of your body that starts to feel the wear and tear more than others?

I would say my hips, from falling on the ground, taking charges, whatever. Both of my hips have crazy bruises that I’ve had since I was younger.

When you first got to the league with the Mavericks, what were the big moments that made you realize you had to start taking nutrition more seriously?

I learned how to eat—what to eat, what to put in my body—when I was in college. We always had a nutritionist who had a plan and taught us what foods to shy away from. So when I got to the league, I kind of already had an understanding of what I should and shouldn’t do. Obviously, you’re going to have to make a lot of decisions.

I could never eat fast food on game day. But sometimes you get in late; you need to stop and get something. For the most part, you want to learn how to limit your bad habits. It’s okay to go out and have something you’re not supposed to eat! You just don’t want to kill yourself. I always try to limit those times when I eat bad food or order takeout. Invest in nutrition early! You don’t want to get to that point where you need to change, and it’s hard to do it. It’s better to address that early.

What’s your strategy for eating on the road? Are you mostly eating at the arenas, or do you like to venture out into the city looking for food?

It depends on the city. Sometimes you want to go get something the city is known for. It also depends on your mood. Sometimes you really just don’t want to leave the hotel, and the hotels usually have pretty good room service.

You’re not on the Mikal Bridges daily Chipotle diet?

Absolutely not! He’s dead serious, too.

You mentioned bacon earlier. What other foods that you’ve given up do you find yourself missing the most?

There was a point in time when I was a pescatarian. I was off chicken for like two years. But I brought it back and decided to just cut out red meat and pork because I was really craving chicken wings for, like, two years!

I’m not a candy person, but I think my Mike & Ike’s addiction comes from [college and professional teammate] Josh Hart. He has a sweet tooth, so being roommates with him in college always meant seeing the big thing of candy in his room. I don’t have an addiction like that, but Mike & Ike’s would be my one thing.

Hart loves to call you “fat-headed” on Twitter. I wanted to give you a chance to defend yourself from the fat-headed allegations.

First of all—you can quote me on this—I have the perfect comeback for him, but I can’t say it publicly. I’ll probably call him after this and curse him out. He calls me fat headed because he thinks I have a big head, my family thinks I have a big head, and I have small ears, so it’s a proportion thing. Everyone calls me Big Head. He calls me fat-headed because he wants to be different. Just know that Josh Hart is a certified asshole.

Originally Appeared on GQ