What would you say if I told you that some of the world's most gifted athletes are heavily addicted to a substance they believe greatly enhances their performance?

Not surprised, you say.

But wait: This performance-booster isn't a drug.

It's an age-old classic: the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich.

That's right. Yesterday ESPN published an extensive investigation entitled: The NBA's Secret Addiction. (I encourage you to check out the complete story, which is a great read.)

The "sandwich revolution" began sometime during the 2007-2008 NBA season, when an unnamed Boston Celtics player complained of hunger, with a very specific craving: a PB&J sandwich.

Superstar teammate Kevin Garnett thought it was a great idea. After rounding up a sandwich and partaking, Garnett went on to have a great game that night. He then decided to make the PB&J a necessary staple for his pre-game routine. Soon after, one of the Celtics coaches was tasked with preparing 20 PB&J's about three hours before every game, labeling them to avoid confusion: "S" for strawberry, "G" for grape, "C" for crunchy.

As the season went on, the Celtics went on to win 66 games--and win the NBA championship. Soon after, their secret leaked.

ESPN reports:

"There was no putting the jelly back in the jar. Over the course of the following seasons, as that Celtics championship run ran its course, the pieces of that team would be spread far and wide: [Paul] Pierce and Garnett migrating the PB&J down I-95 to Brooklyn; Glen "Big Baby" Davis converting the Orlando Magic; Tony Allen spreading the bug to Memphis; coach Doc Rivers bringing the virus across the country to infect the Clippers."

Nowadays, the PB&J is a staple in numerous NBA locker rooms.

Just a few examples:

  • The Portland Trail Blazers prepare at least 20 crustless, PB&J's cut in half (10 of them toasted).
  • The Houston Rockets provide PB&J's in their kitchen at all times, offering a variety of breads, peanut butters and jellys.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks spread a PB&J buffet before every game, featuring smooth and crunchy, peanut and almond, an assortment of five different flavors of jelly, three types of bread from a local bakery (including gluten-free)...and even Nutella.

But what is it about the PB&J that attracts these players over other, more...sophistacted cuisine?

The Science Behind the Obsession

ESPN interviewed dozens of players, coaches, executives, nutritionists, trainers and others in and around the NBA, and the initial explanation is what you might expect:

PB&J is comfort food that so many of these players (and the rest of us) grew up on. Eating a sandwich (or two) simply makes you feel at home.

Brett Singer, a dietitian at the Memorial Hermann Ironman Sports Medicine Institute, calls it "peace of mind," adding: "You feel good, you play well."

Science, however, tells a more complex story.

Research indicates that the chemical composition of a PB&J, which includes fats, sugars, starches, proteins and salts, triggers a release of dopamine, opioids and endorphins in the brain, which subsequently provides an energy boost and briefly reduces stress.

Dr. Trevor Cottrell, director of human performance for the Memorial Hermann Ironman Sports Medicine Institute, makes a fascinating comparison:

"These are the exact same pathways that make heroin addicts chase their next fix."

Which helps explain why some NBA stars and coaches have practically revolted when team nutritionists attempted to remove the PB&J from the locker room.

As a lifelong basketball fan, I for one am pleased that the NBA's secret addiction isn't heroin, or steroids, or any of the other performance enhancing drugs that have plagued so many professional sports.

Peanut Butter and Jelly? I can live with that.

And hey--based on this criteria, my five-year-old just may have what it takes to be the next Lebron James.