This summer, as the Porter family moved back to Columbia from Seattle, they flew in a man from England and gave him control of their kitchen.
Doug Graham, who splits his time between the Jersey Shore and a rural town about 90 minutes south of London, lived for a week with the family of 10 at the center of Missouri’s basketball fortunes. He taught the Porters the value of a raw vegan lifestyle.
“Anytime I wasn’t making food, I was talking to a family member about some aspect of health and performance,” said Graham, 64, who had corresponded with the family’s matriarch, Lisa Porter, for about nine years before meeting her in person this summer.
The Porter family had eaten vegetarian for more than a decade. And now, as Michael Porter Jr. and his brother Jontay prepare to play basketball for Mizzou, the family is transitioning toward a raw vegan diet in hopes of maximizing physical abilities.
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“I just didn’t want to make any mistakes,” Lisa Porter said. “These boys are playing at a really high level. I didn’t want to leave anything unchecked.”
Lisa Porter said that as Michael Porter Jr. has become more famous, an increasing number of people outside the family have told him what’s best for him. He heard advice that he should eat meat, drink creatine and consume non-plant-based protein powders.
His mother thought she knew best, but she decided she needed an outside voice to convince her eldest son. She needed a “performance consultant.” She needed Graham, a doctor of chiropractic medicine who sometimes speaks in buzzy taglines. He believes in “causing health” rather than preventing illness, and he has five key words: whole, fresh, ripe, raw, organic.
“We’ve found that it helps our body recover,” 17-year-old Jontay Porter said of the diet Graham has helped implement. “We have more energy. We’re better on the court.”
The family’s movement toward a raw vegan diet has been gradual. Michael Porter Jr. loves Chipotle so much his mom jokes he should own it, and Graham does not expect him to stop eating cooked food at the fast-casual chain. Lisa Porter also does not want to limit her children from eating in social settings, where non-vegan options might be the only food available. Porter Jr. still even characterized himself as a vegetarian on Wednesday at the SEC Tipoff event.
During his visit with the family, Graham taught a lesson each day. He explained how cooking food can produce “detriments” to the body, anti-nutrients that increase the need for specific minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Going to a raw vegan diet also helps grow the ratio of carbohydrates to fats, according to Graham, which in turn benefits a body’s oxygen uptake and delivery process.
“Performance athletes, we’re talking cutting edge,” said Graham, who has worked with tennis player Martina Navratilova. “ … It has to be as fine-tuned as an IndyCar. They have to have everything working right, or it’s wrong, and the other guy will take advantage of them.”
When Lisa and Michael Porter Sr. had their first child, now-22-year-old Bri, they were vegans, and for about the next 10 years, their kids mostly were, too. But with more children, Lisa Porter said, following a vegan diet became too difficult.
The children ate real cheese and they stopped liking the fake stuff. The mother said she let too much cooked food back into their diets, and the dairy the basketball-playing family consumed served as a natural inflammatory. Cutting dairy from his diet is part of the reason Michael Porter Jr. said he now recovers faster from workouts.
“We grew up on a farm and ate steak and eggs every Sunday morning for breakfast,” said Robin Pingeton, Lisa Porter’s sister and the Missouri women’s basketball coach. “… You choose different lifestyles, which I’m not here to judge anyone’s lifestyle.
“But I will tell you this: I continue to eat my steak and eggs, and I enjoy them.”
What Graham promotes — eating fruits and vegetables — is not complicated. It just takes devotion, he said, and a belief that “you can make anything, if you wish, out of fruits and vegetables.”
“It’s an inspirational level of commitment,” Graham said of how seriously Porter Jr. takes his vegan transition. During the lessons he taught in the Porter home, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft was always engaged.
“We text back and forth everyday, for sure,” Porter Jr. said of his relationship with Graham. “I have tons of questions I’m still asking him. He’s old and still bench pressing, deadlifting, so I have tons of questions to ask him.”
Other elite athletes have taken dietary measures in pursuit of any physical edge. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s private chef told Boston.com that the future Hall of Famer does not eat nightshades — mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers or eggplants — “because they’re not anti-inflammatory.” Tennis star Novak Djokovic drinks room-temperature water, because cold water slows digestion.
Lisa Porter said her eldest son has been conscientious of calorie intake since he was a freshman or sophomore in high school. He used to set an alarm for 2 a.m. to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that he made before he went to bed.
“He’d tell us the next morning, ‘I don’t even remember eating that,’” she said.
Graham utilized a dehydrator for many of the dishes he cooked for the Porters. One of the family’s favorites was his cinnamon bun. It uses thinly sliced dehydrated bananas, still malleable but strong enough to withstand being rolled like a cinnamon bun, with cinnamon on the insides of the roll. There’s even a sweet sauce to cover the concoction, made from dates and raisins.
He also prepared a vegan pizza that Lisa Porter said she now makes about once per week.
“Depending on what kind of crust you want, if you want Chicago or New York … you can make a crust out of shredded vegetables,” Graham said. “You can make a crust out of zucchini slices.”
Lisa Porter described Graham’s work as revolutionary. He presented new ways for her children to eat healthier foods, including twists on old favorites. She now makes a cashew-based cheese sauce for Mexican food.
“And the kale chips, that just opened up a whole new world,” said Lisa Porter, a former star basketball player at Iowa. “He was making amazing kale chips.”
These vegan dishes have given the Porter children a reason to come home. But they prepare their own food, too.
The Porter children have NutriBullet blenders, and in a family with multiple accomplished athletes, the effort to use fruit as a means of increasing calorie intake without upping fat consumption has inspired a healthy competition.
Michael Jr. and Jontay regularly post pictures of smoothies they make on their Snapchat accounts. Their father, a Mizzou men’s basketball assistant coach, recently bought another NutriBullet for road trips. His sons have requested smoothies at halftime.
Jontay Porter, who claims to be “not a huge veggie kind of guy” despite going vegan, likes to make strawberry-peach smoothies with some banana, honey, lemon and water — far superior, he said, to his older brother’s recipe.
“If you were to try my smoothie, then try his,” Jontay Porter said, “you would think his was awful.”
He did not know what mixture Michael Porter Jr. preferred, however.
“Trash,” Jontay Porter guessed.
“Nah, don’t listen to that,” said Porter Jr., who claimed to drink “about five or six big smoothies a day.”
“I usually just put a couple bananas in there,” the country’s top recruit said. “Some strawberries, some mixed berries. Sometimes I’ll put almonds in there. Sometimes I’ll put spinach in there. I drink, like I said, five or six big things a day.”
When it comes to anything other than smoothies, though, their mother said there is no debate. Jontay Porter is the better cook. When he was in middle school, before basketball took off, he considered a career in food.
Michael Porter Jr.’s fate, however, has been clear for years. Barring injury, he will be a coveted NBA prospect, guaranteed millions. And the most important thing he has discussed spending his money on, his mom said, is a private, vegan chef.