The longtime Grizzlies center discusses favorite fertilizers, gazpacho tips, and the one meal he misses the most.
Many athletes in many sports have adopted plant-based diets to help shed weight, boost their energy levels, and speed up recovery times, but Marc Gasol insists on adopting a more hands-on approach. In the summer of 2014, the longtime Grizzlies center decided to build his own vegetable garden at his offseason home in Spain, which gets perfect exposure to the sun from its perch on the cliffs of the Mediterranean Sea. While a caretaker tends to things during the NBA season, Gasol communicates constantly with the team to discuss plans for the following year’s crop placement.
Gasol had always been fond of gardening thanks to his parents, but he elected to build his own garden at a time when he was removing processed foods, red meats, and sugars from his diet. Thanks to a sprained MCL that forced him to miss a significant portion of the prior season, he had time to evaluate how the foods he was putting into his body affected him, and as the league began trending more toward perimeter-oriented, small-ball lineups, Gasol realized that his game needed to evolve, too. In the years since, he has gone from low-post bruiser to a face-up nightmare for opposing defenses. We recently caught up with Gasol to get some seeds of wisdom on how to achieve the perfect harvest.
GQ: You were making big changes to your diet a few years ago, but why start your own garden, too?
Marc Gasol: Well, first, because I have the space! [Laughs] Also, it was about education, to be honest—learning how eating certain things can affect your body. As an athlete, if you train your body but don’t fuel it the right way, that doesn’t make much sense. Adopting a plant-based diet with the right amount of proteins that came from the right places was the way to go. I also just love gardening. If you grow the food you eat, it tastes better. Seasonal vegetables are grown at the right time, and you can make sure everything matures on the plant or on the tree. It’s as fresh as you can get.
How big is this garden?
We live on a cliff, so we have different meter levels for the terrain—two levels of 150 square meters each, which is enough for me to grow more than everything I want. For example, if you have four or five zucchini plants, you’re going to have zucchinis for everybody—for you, your family, and your neighbors. And with as much sun as we get in the summer in Spain, zucchini does well. We’ve been growing them for three or four summers, and they’ve been a hit. Every year, you learn something new about the plants, too—about how they react, or how they can blossom better, or how they can get more fluids. You tweak and change things that haven’t gone well, and do more of the things that have gone well in the past.
It sounds like a lot of thought went into your garden. How involved are you with its maintenance and upkeep?
Oh, when I’m there, every day. The soil is resting right now, and we’re allowing it to regenerate. In February, we’re going to fertilize again using goat excrement, among a few other things. I get it from a farmer not too far from where I live. We know the guy and what he feeds his goats and what’s going to go into the soil—which is eventually going to feed you, too. We care about all those things.
What are some of your favorite foods that you harvest?
Tomatoes, because we use a lot of them. We spread it over bread and make tomato salad, so we have a lot of different tomatoes in the garden. Cucumbers were huge this past summer. Plums, squash, peppers, and eggplants did well, too. The peppers blossomed late, and I think it was because where they were positioned—they had too much shadow. It wasn’t a great year for all the tomato varieties, so I’m going to have to move them lower next year, closer to the sun. The trees created a bigger shadow and affected some of the plant growth, so that is going to affect our placement.
I heard you make a mean gazpacho. Is this true?
Oh man, yes! Homemade gazpacho tastes different than any gazpacho you can buy because you know exactly how much time it took for each plant to mature. That’s why I would encourage buying at a farmers’ market or at Whole Foods, because it comes straight from the source to your table. I make gazpacho with a little bit of bread, so it’s thicker, and I like it to be more tomato- and green pepper–based. Everyone has their own preferences, of course. But I think my gazpacho is the best.
The physical changes resulting from your new diet are obvious, but what does growing your own food do for you mentally?
Gardening does so much for your brain. You’re learning how a process works, and how important it is to do everything right so that you can eventually enjoy a tomato three months later. I’ve always been patient, but gardening really helps you with that. And sometimes, even if you do everything by the book, something crazy happens—like, birds can come and eat your garden. There are no guarantees. All you can do is try to do everything the right way and then be patient.
When you look back at photos of a huskier Marc Gasol from earlier in your career, do you have any regrets about that, given what you know now?
You know, I don’t really regret anything—I’m really good with who I am. I rarely, rarely have cheat days where I allow myself to go off of my diet. As an NBA player, you’re always thinking of what’s next and what the next goal might look like. Maybe I can get a little nit-picky with something like the micronutrient numbers. It’s all in pursuit of getting better.
Before you made this significant change in your diet, what were some of the foods you were eating that now you wouldn’t even consider putting in your body?
I always loved breakfast—that was my thing. I enjoyed taking my time with it. I would have two to three slices of bread with spread tomato, sunny-side-up eggs, and maybe some turkey links. Now, we started intermittent fasting, so I don’t have breakfast and won’t eat until the afternoon. After we have practice and we work out, I can get home and start eating again. The hardest part to give up was that bread and tomato spread with olive oil and a little bit of salt, and the eggs. That was my favorite. And if you go way back, we’re talking fast food—I ate it regularly, just because it tasted good.
As I mentioned earlier, if you don’t treat your body right, you’re not going to get the results that you want. You have to be really honest with yourself. There are things I didn’t use to like that now I love, and there’s stuff that I used to love that I don’t even think about anymore because it doesn’t fit my nutritional goals.
With the fasting, what does your game-day meal routine look like?
After shootaround, I’ll have about 100 grams of carbs that come from some sort of potato, sweet potato, or white rice. I’ll have some protein with that. If you can imagine the plate, 25 percent will be carbs, 25 percent will be protein, and the other 50 percent are greens. For a snack, I’ll have almonds, or something else with healthy fats and a little bit of protein. There are natural bars that you can find, but they have to be gluten-free. I don’t have dairy, and I’ve pretty much adopted a paleo diet that’s about 75 percent plant-based.
I know your brother Pau is quite the foodie. Being younger, perhaps it’s harder for you to convince him to go plant-based, but with all the athletes leaning toward that direction, what advice would you give anyone on the fence about making the change?
I’ve made pretty much every mistake you can make as a young man, eating and drinking the wrong things at the wrong times. But it’s never too late to start. And I think Pau has done a great job! I just went to his house when we played San Antonio, and we ate mostly greens. Obviously, he still eats some things I don’t eat, but that’s his position. I’ll never judge what makes other people happy. What I’m doing makes me happy, and I’m going to keep at it.
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