Bismack Biyombo gives a whole new meaning to the saying, “listen to your gut.” The 28-year-old Congolese NBA star has combined the power of instincts and education to personally design a bespoke “high performance diet.”
When “Biz,” as he is called, moved to Florida to play for the Orlando Magic in 2016, five years after moving to the United States as a top pick in the 2011 NBA draft, the forward/center embarked on a dietary overhaul with an emphasis on digestion and gut health.
The catalyst was some much-needed counsel from two-time NBA Champion, Ray Allen, who introduced him to the concept of enhanced performance through a plant-based diet, when he was with the Toronto Raptors.
At the time, the concept of “extreme self-deprivation as a choice” was incredulous to him.
Having grown up poor with six siblings in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), food was a luxury. “I was always in survival mode,” he recalls. “If I ate today, I didn’t know if I was going to eat tomorrow. I’d eat whatever was given to me.”
In the early years after leaving the DRC to play basketball in Yemen and Spain and then the United States, his relationship with food would rapidly transition from “need” to “want.”
“I enjoyed a diet rich in dairy, gluten, meat and a lot of sugar,” he recalls.
“Back then, I used to eat like five times a day. My body never got a break,” says Biz. “It takes time for certain foods to be digested—sometimes up to four hours—but within a window of two hours I would be loading my system again.”
Between 2016 and 2017, Bismack began to try removing certain foods from his diet and stopped eating red meat. He even attempted to go completely raw at one point.
After signing with the Charlotte Hornets in 2018, he would begin to experiment with eliminating meals.
“As soon as I cut out breakfast and snacks, that was a major breakthrough for me,” he says of his ‘aha’ moment. “I started feeling so energetic!”
Today Bismack does not begin to eat until 1:30pm and he finishes his last meal at 6 o’clock in the evening.
Lunch is his most critical and strategic meal of the day—the source of the majority of his daily nutrients—and the reason has no urge to snack between meals.
“My chef and I decided, rather than focus on calories, we would focus on nutrients,” he explains. “When you get enough nutrients in your system, your body isn’t craving snacks.”
The cornerstone of his plant-based diet plan is to consume copious (but regulated) amounts of water, fruits and vegetables, while eliminating large food groups such as animal products, wheat, beans, lentils, processed foods and even some fruits and vegetables.
The principle behind these restrictions is to rejuvenate cells by removing toxic waste through blood alkalization. As a rule, Bismack tries to eliminate everything acidic. “If it’s acidic, my body will reject it. It will slow my digestive process and my energy,” he says.
Here’s what a day in the life of Bismack Biyombo looks like:
“When I wake up, all I consume is water; like a liter and a half,” he says. “I try to get in as much water as I can, more than three liters a day.”
An ideal lunch contains at least ten different fruits and vegetables.
A typical afternoon meal is a smoothie with papaya, mango, ginger, turmeric, coconut water, coconut milk and agave, accompanied by a soup with six added vegetables as well as extra turmeric and ginger (for cleansing and anti-inflammatory properties) and a bowl of grilled vegetables as an entrée.
Dinner typically consists of a bowl of vegetables.
A self-described “treat” and “secret ingredient” that Biz swears by is teff, an ancient grain from East Africa that is ground to make flour. “I love teff pancakes and cookies,” says the pro-athlete of his “cheat day” treats. Other foods enjoyed on special days include fish and plant-based meats.
On low-energy days, or if he is bloated, Biz takes spirulina and seamoss supplements to cleanse his system. “I’ve learned how to pay attention and tell whether my gut is blocked,” he says.
As a center in the NBA, Bismack’s diet is extremely difficult to follow, and he admits that he has the strictest diet on his team. Given the physical demands of professional sports and the need to maintain body mass, his diet was a major concern.
“People thought that I would get skinny and slow down,” he says. “But nothing could be further from the truth.”
Bismack has experienced a 20-pound increase in muscle mass since he began the diet and his performance has also improved. Last season, according to Sports Illustrated, the 6’8” athlete had his best offensive season in the league.
With an average of 7.4 points per game—the first time he averaged more than 7 points a game in a season—he concluded his ninth NBA season on the highest note of his career.
“Over the past few years I’ve gotten stronger,” he says. “Most people go to bed feeling exhausted. I go to bed feeling great. When I wake up, I’m happy and energetic. I don’t need caffeine to get me going. My face used to break out a lot. My skin is now breathing.”
The Charlotte Hornets forward/center says he “does not depend on food” and a peek into his childhood gives credibility to these words.
“When I was a kid in Africa and you’d give me anything, I’d eat it because of the circumstances. Now thankfully, I’m living a much better life and I can choose what I want to eat. I don’t depend on food. I can go a whole day without eating. I’ve lived it, you know?”
Described as “one of the most knowledgeable and humble players,” Bismack has used memories of struggle to give back to the community in which he was raised.
“My experience with hunger has made me appreciate what I have. I don’t waste food. If I never went through that process I would not be able to connect with the kids back home, through my charity. I fit in to their story and so I can help them to overcome it.”
Bismack travels to the Democratic Republic of Congo each offseason to visit his family and run basketball camps with The Bismack Biyombo Foundation, which he formed with a platform of athletics, education, health and a vision that “the opportunities we receive aren’t intended for our benefit alone; they are meant to be multiplied through the lives of others.”
Bismack Biyombo has proven that limited food intake can take the form of both oppression and freedom. By seizing control over what you consume, food can become a source of empowerment.
“The more I pay attention to my body, the better I perform,” he says. “Once my colon is free, so am I.”