You can’t tell it by looking at her sinewy frame, but Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong’o loves to eat. Food is such a major part of who the Kenyan native is, that she often mentions it conversationally.
This includes chatting about the specialized diet she relied upon while filming Black Panther. (The hit comic book flick has been perched at the top of the box office for more than a month now.) To prepare for her action-packed role as Nakia the Wakandan spy, Nyong’o, 35, had to follow a nutritionist-designed regimen full of lean proteins and healthy carbs.
“It was only once we wrapped that I realized I was on a sugar-free diet,” Nyong’o tells ESSENCE, while highly praising personal chef Brandi Patten, whom Marvel hired. “We could have fruit, which is a good sugar, but no fructose or refined sugar.”
“But we could have carbs, which are good when you work out as much as we did, and we weren’t eating less,” Nyong’o adds. “We actually had to eat smaller meals every three hours. I never got bored. I’ve never worked on a project like this where there is a diet and a workout plan.”
Here are five ways Nyong’o ate right and ate well:
Fuel your body with the right carbohydrates: For breakfast, Nyong’o noshed on items such as oatmeal or grits. Lunch and dinner carbs included sweet potatoes and quinoa. “It was all very portioned but enough to give them energy,” says Patten, the personal chef behind the catering company Brandi You’re a Fine Girl in Atlanta. “You have to have carbs for energy. They were doing a ton of cardio and stunt work without stopping. So they were fueling their bodies.”
Snack smartly: Junk food wasn’t an option for Nyong’o and the stars of Black Panther. Instead, cashews with fresh berries or mango did the trick. Other healthy snack items included hummus and vegetables.
Don’t think about what you can’t eat, think about what you can: “We would replace sugar with chopped up dried dates,” Patten explains. “Instead of white rice and potatoes, we did brown rice, millet, wheat berries and sweet potatoes. Just better options. Instead of the typical red beans and rice, we would do beans and quinoa with vegetables. We also tried to expand and make it better with a lot of flavor, spices, and herbs.”
Skip the red meat: Red meat tastes great but can slow you down, especially in the heat. Patten relied on leaner options for Nyong’o including lamb, chicken and turkey tenderloins, “which are a great item to grill or roast in the oven,” Patten says. “Turkey tenderloins are a good suggestion for people who are looking for something different and fresh.”
Everybody loves Salmon: Seafood is also a healthy alternative to red meat. Salmon turned out to be a big hit on the set, but Patten also turned to a local fish supplier for tuna, corvina, sea bass and grouper. “It was really seasonal,” Patten says. “We relied on whatever was coming in on the coast and what was the nicest and most beautiful.”