NBA Referee Reveals Demanding Routine, Says Refs Must Be ‘Marathon Runners’

Being an NBA referee isn’t as glamorous as some people think. Sure you get to travel and appear on national TV in high-profile games. But it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to prepare for the 48 minutes each night that you’re on the hardwood.

Second-year referee Phenizee Ransom explained to GQ magazine what it physically takes to be a referee, including the strict diet that refs must follow in order to stay fit enough to perform the job well. It’s not as easy as you think.

The daily routine for NBA referees

For a new referee like Ransom, there is a four-year probationary period when he must officiate about 30 NBA games and 15-20 G-League games each season, meaning a lot of travel between big cities with NBA teams and the smaller locales of G-League clubs.

On days he has a game at night, he says he gets up around 4:45 am and goes to the gym at 5:15 am, spending about an hour doing stretching and cardio to help get the blood flowing. He eats breakfast around 7, then takes care of things at home until 9:30 or so, when he starts prepping for the game ahead of an 11 am day-of-game meeting with the rest of the officiating crew.

They go out to lunch after that, then Ransom typically returns to his hotel for a nap and iron his clothes for the game. The referees head to the arena together around 5 pm and start their game preparations once they get to the locker room.

How NBA referees stay in shape

Ransom says he believes NBA refs “mimic marathon runners more so than anyone else,” which has helped to shape how he goes about his fitness routine.

He says that mindset has changed the way he works out, focusing more on running and endurance exercises than bodybuilding.

He sees other refs taking a similar approach at the gym as they spend time on treadmills and elliptical machines. How physically fit is Ransom? He estimates he could beat “probably 20 percent” of current NBA players in a race.

As for his diet, Ransom eats a big breakfast if he reffed the night before and burned a lot of calories. His pregame lunch is usually pretty light, like a Caesar salad. Then, he’ll usually have a heavy dinner to replenish the calories he expended during the game after eating light for lunch.

Ransom likes to stay mentally sharp by taking up meditation just like many NBA players. He says meditation helps him “keep a really even-keel mindset, and it truly helps.” When he faces a tough situation, this practice helps you stay mentally prepared and calm. 

The passion of NBA referees

Ransom notes that most people don’t realize how passionate NBA officials are about the game. “There’s so much studying and talk amongst ourselves about getting better. It’s not a job that anyone can just show up and do,” according to Ransom.

You need to be passionate to be able to do the job because you’re doing a lot of traveling, which can take you away from your family for days at a time, and the travel isn’t always easy — especially when you’re working G-League games in smaller cities that aren’t as easily accessible as metropolises like New York City, Boston, or Los Angeles.

Passion is also necessary, along with physical fitness, because refs typically run between two and four miles during a game.