by Sandy Dover

We all watch the elite athletes on television compete at high levels, we watch them run, jump, hit, kick and a plethora of other things in the whole wide world of sports. We see bodies that are finely tuned and are the best of the best, and there are sightings of greatness that come out of physical development. Obviously, not everyone who is an athlete competes on TV or is a basketball player or what have you, but when it comes to training, it’s something that comes along with the territory.

In the basketball world, there’s only so much that laypersons know about what goes into preparation, and for years, all the prep that any basketball players did, amateur or professional, really only revolved around basic calisthenics, water, and a ball and hoop. With the evolution of the game and the players in the game, new products have come along, and for the basketball world, one company has decided to make a big splash with one of the game’s biggest players and personalities.

CytoSport is a famed health product company that is known widely around the world for their bodybuilding-focused and vitamin-infused beverages, particularly with their bestShaquille O'Nealselling product known as Muscle Milk, which is a high-protein, high-vitamin workout and recovery drink. Recently, The Big Aristotle linked up with CytoSport to introduce the new Shaquille O’Neal bottles of Muscle Milk Ready-to-Drink. The Ready-to-Drink versions feature the likeness of Shaq that are Internet-interactive with his image on the bottle, complete with a special sweepstakes where the winner can meet Shaq and be immortalized in a painting with him (sounds kinda fresh, huh?).

In either case, I was fortunate in being able to receive and try the RTD versions of Muscle Milk, and it was a great experience for me because of my history with the brand. For four of the past six years that I’ve been weight-training as someone between being a quasi-bodybuilder and super-non-professional athlete, I have heavily favored Muscle Milk. As a serious fitness enthusiast and religiously in the gym, anyone who’s like me knows that you need to have the proper fuel and energy to do what you need to do. It doesn’t matter if you’re a novice, on an intermediate path, or an expert-level gymrat, it’s necessary to be straight before you do anything rigorous. Without getting too deep in jargon, basically Muscle Milk acts as liquid nutrition that’s made with the same consistency as regular milk, but has the benefits of being non-dairy and fortified with high protein content, the good kinds of fat that your body likes to use and burn (instead of the kinds that like to hang around on your belly), and many of the essential vitamins and antioxidants that are shown to do a body good (really). Normally, I use the regular powder varieties that you can find at supermarkets and drug stores in the health food aisles, but with the pre-made Ready-to-Drink versions, it makes the process of shaking water or milk with the actual product a little easier than usual. It’s highly recommended that if you play a lot of ball or work out in general that you go out and try to some of the stuff–I guess it sort of goes without saying that I’ve given my stamp of approval.

Now, why does this really matter in the context of the basketball world? There are a few reasons why. One reason is that basketball players on all levels are much more active on the court. There’s more athletic players and lots more physical activity on the hardwood (or asphalt). That usually means that the players have to have more fuel and more long-lasting fuel to perform consistently. The thing with electrolyte-based drinks (think Gatorade or Powerade) is that they many times only provide in the energy that comes from formulations that are based in sodium and sugar–it’s not that they are bad, but salt and sugar can only last so long. With Muscle Milk and other protein-based drinks, players can not only be hydrated, but their muscles can be nourished at the same time.

Another reason why CytoSport’s partnership with Shaq (and Brandon Roy, as well) matters is because the union brings exposure to high-level products that make people who play the game healthier. If you know from drinking Muscle Milk that there are certain components in the beverage that are good for your overall wellness, you might start to look for other things that also carry over into the food you eat, don’t you think? NCAA and NFL football are already big into the products, the running world is as well, and many other sports that place a significant focus on weight-training and recovery endorse the beverages, but basketball in general has lagged behind, and these days the game is all about training and recovery. These specific CytoSport beverages are equipped to sustain your energy and help your body recover from rigorous activity, but are quite yummy (if I do say so myself) and great for brief snacks in-between workouts or meals.

For information on CytoSport, Muscle Milk and the Shaquille O’Neal product line and partnership, you can visit the above hyperlink or go to cytosport.com for more general information.

(Special thanks to SLAM’S Ryne Nelson and CytoSport media representative Jose Martinez for the special opportunity and information.)

(Additional thanks goes to health professionals Ash Blair, Janalyn Turner of JET.Fit, and Riku & Val Laitasalo for their valued professional fitness and supplement advice.)

Sandy Dover is a novelist/writer, artist and fitness enthusiast, as well as an unrepentant Prince fan (for real). You can find Sandy frequently here at SLAMonline, as well as at Associated Content and Twitter.