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Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell reaps on-court benefits from change in diet

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Collinsworth (5) tries to stay in front off Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) during the Toronto Raptors versus Utah Jazz preseason NBA basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018.
Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Collinsworth (5) tries to stay in front off Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) during the Toronto Raptors versus Utah Jazz preseason NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Donovan Mitchell began his days the same way.

He had to have at least four pancakes, five scrambled eggs and four pieces of bacon before he could carry on with his daily activities — including practices.

Most afternoons would also consist of at least two packs of gummy bears — or sometimes Skittles — before ending with a Ruth’s Chris steak at night, but the Utah Jazz star has realized that diet isn’t the most impactful for his performance on the hardwood.

“I've gotten it down to two pancakes, two eggs, steak once a week,” Mitchell said during a recent Utah Jazz Live Q&A session. “I used to have two packs of gummy bears a day. I've cut that out. Sometimes Skittles if they didn't have gummy bears. Gatorade, a lot of Gatorade.”

As Mitchell enters his second year in the NBA, he says he’s dropped down from 220 pounds as a rookie to 215 pounds. His teammate Ekpe Udoh applauds him for making the switch because he describes Mitchell as a “fat boy” at heart.

“We’re laughing and joking (about Mitchell's appetite), but at the same time it shows the growth mentally that he’s gone through in this past year from not knowing and still being able to compete at a high level to now really taking it serious and going to take his game to another level just by doing that,” Udoh said.

Mitchell wasn’t the only Jazzman to shed weight this offseason. Jae Crowder is down 14 pounds from his playing weight last season while Derrick Favors slimmed down from roughly 265 pounds to the 250-pound range.

“I wanted to get leaner for health reasons and also to be able to guard on the perimeter better than I did last season,” Favors explained during Media Day. “I think it helped me out a lot, I was working out a lot this summer and I've seen it through pickup games and just working out, I felt a lot better, had a lot more energy and was just moving quicker and faster, and it’s paying off for me.”

In addition to his player development during practices, Jazz coach Quin Snyder also realizes the importance of making sure guys are eating the correct meals.

Anthony Zamora was hired as the Jazz’s executive performance nutrition chef and a big portion of his role is to increase the quality of meals and nutrient density for athletes in creative ways. He studied dietetics and performance nutrition at the University of Tennessee and previously worked with the St. Louis Rams.

“The time that we spend in the gym, one of the things that’s great about where we are right now as a program, I think our chef is the best restaurant in Salt Lake,” Snyder said. “So we want a place where the guys are comfortable being and we have guys that like each other and enjoy being around each other.”

While Mitchell’s rookie campaign is mostly remembered for his strong postseason performances and 41-point outburst against New Orleans, most forget about last October month when he struggled. Mitchell was ultimately unanimously selected to the 2017-18 NBA All-Rookie First Team after averaging 20.5 points with the NBA rookie record for most 3-pointers made (187), but averaged just 9.3 points on 32.9 percent shooting in his first seven games.

Part of that was adjusting the NBA game coming out of Louisville, but it was also his diet.

“It used to be Ruth’s Chris (steaks) every night. Every night,” Mitchell said. “I’ll give you a little background to that. I played at Louisville; Coach P (Rick Pitino) took us to Ruth’s Chris every time before a big game.

“Being drafted, you have a little more money now so you go to Ruth's Chris every night,” he continued. “I don’t know if you remember the first 12 games of the season? I was not playing well at all. You want to know what really changed? I stopped eating at Ruth’s Chris every night … just healthy grilled chicken, pasta (now). It's been a complete change.”

So while the downtown Maverik gas station stops for junk food are far less frequent, the 22-year-old doesn’t pretend to have the entire dieting thing under control. However, he;s doing a lot better.

He’ll at least chomp on sweet potatoes now and is no longer the biggest eater on the team.

“It’s hard. It’s not easy trying to stop (eating),” Mitchell admitted. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, trying to manage your weight and play at a high level. It’s a lot.”