Here’s another entry into the lexicon into unbelievable anecdotes about LeBron James’ body: James once began an Eastern Conference Finals game weighing 271 pounds and finished at 278. Yes, according to an ESPN story published Monday, James gained seven pounds during a high stakes playoff game.
We’ve heard so many stories about James’ remarkable body over the years: his eidetic memory, allowing him to recall exact plays from years ago; his general ability to shrug off injuries that had him limping or in pain just minutes before; his ability to throw down even more dunks than he did in his mid-20s; his workout routine as described by this very ESPN story, which details how James works late into the night and starts again the next morning to fix an ailing back.
But, uh, the seven pounds story might actually be unbelievable. That’s what two sports nutritionists tell me, anyway.
“There is no way he gained 7 pounds during the game,” Marie Spano told SB Nation in an email.
Spano would know — she’s a sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Falcons, and Atlanta Braves. While it’s possible for an athlete to gain a pound or two during a game due to excess liquid intake, especially if they were dehydrated headed into the game, it wouldn’t be possible for them to gain seven pounds.
Ann Dunaway Teh, a certified sports nutritionist for Dunaway Dietetics, Inc., agrees with Spano, as does a third clinical nutritionist, Tara Coleman.
“In my experience, the only time I’ve seen a little bit of a weight gain is in an endurance athlete who was overfueling while cycling,” Dunaway Teh wrote.
OK, look. James has consistently proven himself to be one of the most incredible athletes we’ve ever encountered in any sports realm on the planet. He’s a 6’8 Terminator who has never suffered a major injury and continues to lead the league in minutes with few repercussions.
But gaining weight is understood science: in extremely simple terms, you need to be taking in more than you’re putting out. Unless James also consumed a five-course pasta meal on the bench, there’s no way he would have consumed the sustenance for this feat to be possible.
“He may have gained a few (pounds) — say he started very, very dehydrated, has a low sweat rate (doesn’t sweat much, athletes vary in their sweat rate) then got an IV at halftime and ate some food then as well,” Spano wrote. “He could have gained a few (pounds), but not seven. Even this scenario is pretty far fetched in basketball.”
Coleman suggests the one thing working in James’ favor is that he’s an enormous human — seven pounds for him isn’t the same as seven pounds for you or me, mostly likely. She also says that if James suffered inflammation, that might cause him to weigh more. Still, even those hypotheses are reaching simply given how much water James must have lost through sweat.
So where did this seven-pounds story come from?
We don’t know. But Dunaway Teh would ask James the following questions if she were tasked with getting to the bottom of this:
- How was he weighed before and after? Was he clothed? If he was sweating profusely and weighed while fully clothed then the weight of the sweat in his clothes could be a factor in the weight gain.
- Was he weighed right after the game or had he already begun rehydrating and/or refueling?
- Was the same scale and weighing protocol used before and after?
Likewise, Spano’s best guess was that there was an issue with the scale, or perhaps the weight was misreported and actually came over the course of a day or longer. A seven-pound weight game in one day is possible, especially if James started light, trained hard, and refueled with carbohydrates-heavy meals. But none of that would happen over the course of a single game.
With James, we’ve learned nearly all things are possible within the realm of sports. Except, probably, this.