Diet right: Bertans on a shooting binge
3-point specialist went pescatarian, became one hot shot
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.”