Diet right: Ber­tans on a shoot­ing binge

3-point spe­cial­ist went pescatar­ian, be­came one hot shot

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS - By Can­dace Buck­ner

WASH­ING­TON — Davis Ber­tans was a young bach­e­lor liv­ing and start­ing his pro­fes­sional basketball ca­reer in Ser­bia. His prac­tice hours re­sem­bled a work shift of a 9-to-5 job, and left lit­tle space for any­thing else, in­clud­ing no time to pre­pare proper meals.

“It was un­be­liev­able. I’d never seen that much junk food. Pizza, KFCs and McDon­alds and all type of crazy things,” Dairis Ber­tans said of his younger brother’s eat­ing habits from five years ago. “When I came into the apart­ment there was like old pizza boxes from — I don’t know, two, three months ago. It was a big mess.”

Ber­tans’ palate has evolved. Now the Wash­ing­ton Wizards’ 3-point spe­cial­ist, he’s a gluten and dairy-free pescatar­ian, who only added fish to his diet this sea­son af­ter years as a ve­gan.

Al­though Ber­tans, 27, grew up in the ice cream cap­i­tal of Latvia and de­lighted in pork and pota­toes as a puffy-cheeked child, he now cred­its his re­formed diet for im­proved en­durance and strength. He needed only 26 games to reach 1003point­ers, the fastest in team his­tory. Ber­tans also ranks among the league lead­ers in 3-point field goal per­cent­age (.434).

Ini­tially, his di­etary switch caused con­cern within his fam­ily. Some NBA per­son­nel ex­pressed reser­va­tions, too. But Ber­tans cred­its one of the best shoot­ing sea­sons in the his­tory of the Wizards’ fran­chise to eat­ing red snap­pers seared in grape­seed oil and al­mond but­ter and ba­nana sand­wiches on gluten-free bread.

“Af­ter I cut it,” Ber­tans said of elim­i­nat­ing an­i­mal prod­ucts and pro­cessed food, “my body was feel­ing so much bet­ter.”

Gone are the days of liv­ing in a fast-food waste­land — “Yeah, it was pretty bad. I’m not proud of that time in my life,” Ber­tans ad­mit­ted, chuck­ling. Now, most morn­ings Ber­tans wakes up and he and his wife, Anna, make ve­gan avo­cado and tomato toast, heavy on the avo­cado. On game days, with the menu cre­ated by team nu­tri­tion­ist Sue Saun­ders-Bou­vier and food pre­pared by chef Stephen Korda, Ber­tans’s plates con­sist of some com­bi­na­tion of lightly-sea­soned fish, clean veg­eta­bles and sim­ple grains.

The day Ber­tans re­turned af­ter a nine-game ab­sence due to a quad in­jury, he ate his usual pregame meal: his go-to sand­wich, a side of roasted beets and a cold-pressed beet juice.

Though Ber­tans now has ex­perts to cater to him, he cred­its Anna, who played basketball in Latvia, as his nu­tri­tion­ist for the past sev­eral years. In 2014, Ber­tans moved on to Spain and Anna lived with him. She ate healthy foods and slowly, he came around too — es­pe­cially af­ter a par­tic­u­larly bad ex­pe­ri­ence when he got sick from con­sum­ing dairy be­fore a game.

At that point, Ber­tans de­cided to quit dairy. It was ironic con­sid­er­ing his small home­town of Rújiena, nes­tled in the north­ern pocket of Latvia, is widely known for its ice cream fac­tory.

“[Ber­tans is] great about it. He’s found things that work for him and that he likes.

He’s made it re­ally easy,” said Saun­der­sBou­vier, who also works with all teams un­der the Mon­u­men­tal Sports & En­ter­tain­ment um­brella as well as the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals. “He likes shrimp fried rice or ba­si­cally things that fairly easy to get and not that dif­fi­cult for chefs to make and make well.”

“We were so used to it, we didn’t feel it,” Dairis said, ex­plain­ing how the broth­ers could con­stantly con­sume the sug­ary treat, known as salde­jums in Lat­vian.

Dairy was the first to go. Then af­ter Ber­tans tore his right an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment for the se­cond time in his ca­reer in March 2015, he de­cided to make a more dras­tic tran­si­tion.

“That’s when I started think­ing, ‘I’ve got to change some­thing. I can’t keep do­ing the same thing all over again and maybe come back to the same re­sult,’ ” Ber­tans said.

Mo­ti­vated even more af­ter watch­ing food doc­u­men­taries, Davis and Anna Ber­tans turned ve­gan.

“There were def­i­nitely doubts about it,” Ber­tans said.

Ber­tans dou­bled down on the lifestyle fol­low­ing a late reg­u­lar-sea­son game in his rookie sea­son. Ber­tans, who had re­ceived only scat­tered min­utes through the sea­son, started and played nearly 39 min­utes then felt great fol­low­ing the April 2017 game.

In Wash­ing­ton, Ber­tans plays the big­gest role in his pro ca­reer, com­ing off the bench and fir­ing up the of­fense. He av­er­ages 8.63-point­ers a game, which has helped him lead the league with 3.23point­ers made on catch-and-shoot at­tempts.

“I’m quicker, faster than ev­ery­body else in my po­si­tion and that’s what I try to use,” Ber­tans said. “I can run from one side to the other side. I’m prob­a­bly cov­er­ing more ground this way, side­ways on the court, than up and down. It’s tough on de­fense. I’ve heard de­fend­ers com­plain to me in the game, ‘Can you stop for a se­cond?’ ”

“[My fam­ily] didn’t get it when I said I’m not eat­ing any an­i­mal prod­uct. My dad said, ‘You’re crazy. You’re prob­a­bly go­ing to switch back in a month,’ ” Ber­tans said.

When Ber­tans joined the San An­to­nio Spurs in 2016, he said his new NBA team also ex­pressed con­cern that he wasn’t get­ting enough pro­tein.

Last sum­mer be­fore join­ing the Wizards, Ber­tans added fish to his diet partly be­cause the NBA travel lifestyle can be dif­fi­cult for a ve­gan. He uses an app, Happy Cow, to find hid­den ve­gan spots in places like Ok­la­homa City.

Ber­tans has emerged as one of the league’s best sharp­shoot­ers, he be­lieves by stay­ing vig­i­lant about his diet.

“Maybe when I was 18, 17, it didn’t mat­ter,” Ber­tans said, “but once you get older and the games get tougher some­times, I re­al­ized that food is one of the most im­por­tant things. Food and sleep.”

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