Philipp Grubauer certainly didn’t feel bad. He didn’t feel well either.
During his first season with the Colorado Avalanche in 2018-19, the goaltender simply coasted, preparing for games as he always did, and ignoring—at first—his growing sluggishness in his body.
At the time, Grubauer, like most of his NHL peers, followed a meticulous and well-thought-out pre-game routine that didn’t include questions about how — or more importantly, why — he ate certain foods. Convenience overcame everything.
And then Grubauer crashed into the wall.
“In my early years in the league, I didn’t pay much attention to food. It didn’t really matter,” Grubauer told Sportzshala last month. “But the more I thought about it, the more I felt pretty tired. [during games]. Like probably in the first or second period, I used to get pretty tired and I pumped myself up with energy bars and stuff. [processed] things between periods.
“Probably it was wrong. But there is very little time to cook something at home. By the time you get home from your morning skate and take a nap, you almost need to get back. I needed a way to make eating easy so I could focus more on the game.”
Around the same time, Grubauer, who now plays for the Seattle Kraken, received a call from Amanda Guran. She is a Denver-based chef and co-founder of Elevated Eats, a food preparation service for professional athletes. They chatted, and Grubauer thought he had found the perfect solution: someone could design and execute a meal plan with minimal effort on their part.
He became Gyuran’s client. It was the first step in an eye-opening journey forward.
“At first it was all about food,” Grubauer said. “And then we started and did a couple of tests like gut tests and DNA tests that show what your body can absorb or what nutrients it can’t absorb. For example, eating steak may not remove iron from your body. steak he could get it better, for example, from salmon or from another vegetable. So, from the time Amanda started cooking for me, we’ve been recruiting more and more.”
Welcome to the world of designer sports nutrition. This is an increasingly popular trend in an industry where durability is paramount, efficiency is key, and finding the slightest edge can add extra zeros to pay.
GURAN WORKS WITH players in all major sports, each with their own motivations for seeking an alternative approach to health, but with the common goal of maximizing their potential. This requires an individual look at each person and an understanding of what makes their body work.
“First of all, all my athletes go through extended functional lab work with physicians and naturopathic physicians,” Guran said. “These are really their markers of blood, stool, urine, genetics. It really helps us customize both the supplements and the meal plans we give them based on what’s going on inside. We also test which antioxidants their bodies respond best to, and each one is so different.”
This may be true in terms of genetics. But by identifying the unique characteristics of each client, Guran also found that athletes in certain sports are more similar to each other than one might expect.
“What’s cool is that, especially with hockey players, there are a lot of similar things in their lab work related to hormone levels and vitamin deficiencies,” Guran said. “Lab work really makes what we do the most effective, because really everyone can cook healthy food for an athlete. But adding all these really specific ingredients helps us give meaning to every meal.”
It’s an approach designed specifically for the athlete’s body, just like his skates fit to the size of the foot. When Cailin Bogden, a certified sports nutritionist and functional nutritionist, worked at the Cleveland Clinic early in her career, she began to notice that players were drawn to this more holistic, progressive approach to addressing not only nutritional issues, but general health issues as well.
She recalls one athlete who had no idea he was living with a dairy allergy. His daily bowls of cereal caused unexplained chronic nasal congestion and fatigue that would not go away and eventually affect his performance. Bogden discovered the problem with a blood test, and a day later, she realized, “he could breathe again.”
“You saw some of these athletes and they were unwell,” Bogden said. “They bloated after every meal or they had a face full of pimples, eczema, psoriasis, hives. [medicine] every day to get through the season because they have crazy allergies. This not normal. We have to dive deeper than this basic, superficial, traditional approach to nutrition, because it’s one thing to be low in body fat. But if your overall health isn’t up to par, you’ll never reach peak performance, and we need to start making that unique to players.”
Access to such a standard of service and information is a privilege of professional athletes over the average person. The same can be said for affording services like Gyuran’s that manually deliver the optimal diet. This is not a position that Grubauer takes for granted, especially when the benefits of implementing the changes assigned to him have materialized faster than expected.
“I would say [I felt different] in about a week,” he said. “Your body has to adjust a bit, but once you eat the right food, your body immediately starts to adapt. We ate better, ate cleaner, and I didn’t have that tiredness anymore. So it all started with a focus on food, and then as I learned more about her food, what she does, and the science behind it, it all shifted to a different perspective.”
CALE MAKAR NO leave everything to chance. Not on ice, not on his plate.
Colorado’s top quarterback found Gyuran when he faced some new dietary restrictions. Makar was keen to take on the challenge head-on and he relied on Gyuran’s adjustments to find his way forward, supporting both his body and his game.
Makar was so impressed with the offerings and the overall food philosophy that he began avoiding some of the meals provided by the team in favor of fueling his road trips with Gyuran’s cooking.
That’s why Guran packed Makar coolers to take with him. Then, instead of risking eating unknown foods in an unfamiliar city, Makar finds access to a microwave oven and reheats his preferred pre-cooked meals.
The current winner of the Norris and Conn Smythe trophies has no regrets.
“I play preliminaries on the road and I love it,” he said. “It can be a bit of a hassle at times, but at the end of the day, I know exactly what I’m putting into my body, and there’s certainly convenience in that. It refers to the mental aspect of the game, knowing that you don’t have any questions deep down: Did I do something wrong during the day?
“You try to maintain and control everything you can, and for me, the diet aspect is definitely important.”
Not every athlete will be this picky eater, but Guran has noticed a real spike in the number of picky eaters. Like Makar, many are motivated by the desire to reduce the risk of switching habits or by the commonplace superstition that what worked well before one game will again be the right choice.
“A lot of guys use the excuse, ‘Oh, I’m taking so many things on the road,’ or they don’t care to do it,” Gyuran said. “But those who do, they want to eat food prepared especially for them. So I vacuum the food in the fridge with their pre-game meals or snacks. I pack their pre-game drinks that really help boost nitric oxide levels and blood flow, and keep them energized with beetroot juice and pomegranate juice, and then I add certain ingredients based on their lab data, be it B12 or mushrooms that can help. with energy and endurance.
These performance boosters were foreign to Makar until recently. He admits that he was a “finicky eater” for most of his youth and explored the many dining room options available during his freshman season at the University of Massachusetts in 2017-2018.
When Makar arrived in the NHL two years later, he saw that some players were more mindful of what they put into their bodies, and in the dressing room he learned how proper nutrition could lead to better results in his game. .
The appeal to Gyuran’s eating style made this message true.
“Basically, all my guys eat paleo-satiated. [diet], – she said. “It’s all gluten-free, soy-free, and mostly dairy-free, except you can occasionally eat butter and grass-fed ghee. It contains no refined sugar and is largely grain-free. Sometimes they will eat white rice. But the focus is on high-quality grass-fed organic proteins. Sources of carbohydrates are starchy vegetables and fruits. I believe that many athletes feel better.”
A typical meal for Makar consists of “sweet potatoes, maybe some rice, chicken, maybe also some salmon, and then usually just vegetables like lettuce or some broccoli, just to improve digestion,” he said.
This is a far cry from the stereotypical meals that players are thought to eat, such as pasta dishes with gravy or regular post-game pizza. For some, they’re still on the menu – and of course, they can be seen from time to time in the corridors outside the NHL locker room – but Makar is one of those who stick to what’s in his lunch box.
“If you feel good when you eat a certain way, then it’s not a problem,” he said. “And in my mind, it’s just, ‘Why give it up?’ Everyone is always trying to get better, and this is exactly the atmosphere you need. So whether it’s during a game or in a meal, people are always looking for that advantage.”
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