Dwyane Wade’s Personal Chef on how to eat like a Championship Athlete

Take it from the guy who’s in charge of Dwyane Wade’s diet — being a chef is tough.

Early mornings and long, numbing nights are the norm for some of the world’s most renowned cooks. When you factor in all that flying, being a personal chef for an all-star athlete goes from glam to grind fast. Not to mention, the stakes are high when you’re cooking for a four-time NBA champion. 

When Chef Richard Ingraham first met Dwyane Wade during the 2004-2005 NBA season, the Miami Heat guard was a sophomore and still unproven, but everyone knew he’d be big. Wade was playing with future Hall of Famer, Shaquille O’Neal, and together they helped lead the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals. Nicknamed “Flash,” flying up and down the court for 25 points per game was something that Dwyane did on the regular, and while eating “really whatever he wanted.” A year later Chef Richard and Dwyane Wade had their first NBA title, and Wade was named Finals MVP. 

While time would ultimately change the way Wade’s body performed, Ingraham was often responsible for making sure the athlete’s diet only fuelled his ageing needs, prolonging his career. But cooking for elite athletes wasn’t always the reality for Ingraham. In fact, the Miami native started his career as a hairstylist. After years of building his client list, Richard was introduced to a professional sports agent by the name of Lisa Joseph. Lisa became one of Richards dedicated clients and two got on right away. At the same time, Ingraham was studying at culinary school part time and that’s when Lisa offered Richard a new challenge. To take his new-found talents to South Beach with her newest NBA recruit which turned out to be none other than Miami’s number three. Before you know it, the guy was feeding one of the greatest basketball players of our generation. 

Ingraham has since launched a catering and hospitality company called ChefRLI that serves elite athletes and celebrities alike. These days he’s working on a cook book called Eating Well to Win which gives men and women the recipes he presents to Wade, Gabrielle Union, NBA All-star John Wall, and former Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland, to name a few. 

On top of all that Ingraham’s got impeccable style. His round tortoise shell Prada frames have become a style staple for the celebrity chef, but his NBA championship ring, festooned with diamonds along the iconic flaming basketball is a true stand out.

Here’s a look at the gruelling life of a performance-based personal chef. Plus, a few cooking tips from said chef.

What’s your favourite dish to make?

I don’t have a favourite dish and that’s a question that comes up quite often. I don’t have a favourite cuisine, I don’t have a favourite dish – I just love to do it all. I love seafood. I love baking. I like Italian. I love Asian food. Of course, soul food. So, I’m influenced by so many different things and being a personal chef, you have to be open to different cuisines at all times. With what I do and working for a world-renowned actress and world-renowned athlete, their tastes change quite often depending upon what it is they’re doing off-season and on-season. When they have different guests as well, you don’t know who you’re going to be cooking for and you have to make sure that you’re influenced by all food, and I can truly say that I am. 

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We know that Dwyane and Ms. Union are big fans of your food. What are they eating most of the time?

Right now, one of Gabrielle’s favourite dishes for breakfast is rainbow fingerling potatoes that I make into a spicy hash. It has some Applewood smoked bacon paired with some cinnamon buttermilk biscuits. One of Dwyane’s current favourite dishes that I prepare is a Japanese sweet potato, and I stuff it with chicken chilli. I put it in the oven with a little cheese on top and a little sour cream.

Walk us through a regular day.

Well I usually get up around 4:30 and start working out myself. Then, I’m in the kitchen waiting for him to come down which is usually about eight o’clock or so. I may prepare something like a nice omelette with some red bell peppers, fresh thyme, a little broccoli, some turkey sausage and maybe a slice of toast, finished with some orange juice and his daily vitamins. After I send him off, I head to the grocery store and prepare lunch for him once he’s back from practice. Typically lunch is a recipe from my book, Stu chicken thighs with chickpeas and quinoa. By that time Gabrielle typically joins him and eats whatever Dwyane’s having.   

On game days however, he typically does a chicken sandwich for lunch and I cut up some apples and bananas and pack him up with some peanut butter for him to bring to the arena. After the game, I often prepare a nice rib eye steak, with some sweet potatoes and kale but it really all depends on his mood and if they won or not. That’s typically around 12 -12:30 am and I am up again for 4:30am the next morning – Game days are the longest. 

How has Dwyane’s Diet shifted throughout the years? 

The biggest change has been adding more vegetables and seafood to his diet over the years. As his body changes and his workout regiment developed so did the food he needed to consume to make sure he’s performing at an elite level. 

So, that begs the question, does his diet change as the season progresses? 

His diet definitely changes throughout but it all depends on what’s going on with him. If he is on a long road trip, he may gain a couple pounds and when comes back home we cut down on sugar and carbs so that he can be at a weight where he can perform the best he possibly can. At this point of the season we are basically in auto pilot mode but we make adjustments as things happen like he would in the game. 

On the topic of diet adjustments, what advice would you give guys who are looking to eat for optimum performance? 

First things first I would say you need to consume as much water as possible. Other than that stick to lean protein, good carbs, quinoa is key, and lots of green leafy vegetables. 

As we get older it’s important to have a variety of nutrients in your diet – especially fibre- but remember if you have a piece of cake here and there its not the end of the world. Everything in moderation. 

Good to know. In your book, Eating Well to Win, what’s the one recipe everyone needs to try? 

There’s so many great ones… it’s tough to choose from. But one that stands out is the stu chicken with the garbonzo beans. It has a ton of flavor and its pretty good for you too. 

With Dwyane’s career slowly coming to a close, what’s the next 5 years looking like for you? 

I definitely would still love to be cooking for Dwyane in five years. He’s still got to eat and after all this time, he’s like family to me. So I couldn’t abandon him. On the other hand, once Dwyane calls it a career it would also be nice to spend a bit more time with my family in Miami. On top of that I’m looking into creating a second book and we’re in talks on having our own TV show. I’m excited for the future.

Interviewed by Jonathan Cavaliere

Photography by Justin Lawrence

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