An occasional series to feature the behind-the-scenes work of some unsung NBA staffers. The “Day in the Life” project was conceived by Michael H. Goldberg, longtime executive director of the National Basketball Coaches Association (NBCA) who passed away in January 2017.
Heath & Wellness/Nutrition consultant
NBA.com: We never would have guessed it by glancing at the menu in the typical NBA media dining room, but March is National Nutrition Month. That makes this the perfect time to learn a little bit about your work with both the National Basketball Coaches Association and the NBA. Unlike others in this series, you don’t work for just one team, instead providing your services to multiple teams in the league. Tell us some more.
Stacy Goldberg: What my company does is provide healthy, allergen-friendly foods for sports teams and businesses. I spend most of my time working with strength coaches, helping them to find the right nutritional products that are great, performance-based fuels for their players. For their practice facilities, their locker rooms and on the road when they travel.
NBA.com: From what we witness at arenas and with players away from work, that seems to be a growth industry.
SG: These days, people have different dietary lifestyles. We’re working with a lot more players and coaches who are dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan and other approaches to their diets. That presents a challenge for nutritionists, strength coaches or anybody who’s responsible for sourcing in the NBA setting, because it’s overwhelming to figure out what’s the right choice. “How do I find it? How do I know if it’s healthy?” That’s my job. We help these teams easily find the right products and information that can meet the needs of their teams.
NBA.com: So your company, Savorfull, provides food and supplements that would be considered better for professional athletes than what they might otherwise seek out?
SG: We don’t deal with supplements. We source foods from manufacturers across the country. So we’re the middle man. At this point we probably work with 30 food manufacturers. So think about that: a team’s strength coach, nutritionist or chef is likely to be overwhelmed by the number of things they have to get done in one day. The last thing they want to do is go to individual vendors to stay on top of which products are new. Or to place orders and learn all the details. It really is a pain for them. And a lot of times, the person responsible for procurement of food for players and coaches might not be trained in nutrition. It might be a food manager at an arena. Or a chef who doesn’t really know what’s out there. As a nutritionist and a nurse, I’m a trusted source. And we try to make it really easy for them.
NBA.com: Are you NBA specific or do you work with other sports leagues?
SG: We work with about seven NBA teams, including the Charlotte Hornets. They’ll come to me and say, “We need this” and they want to centralize their ordering for us to make it easier. We also work with a couple of MLB teams. We’re still a start-up, doing this for the past two years as part of the Quicken Loans family of companies, and our biggest growth in the past year has been in the college market. We started testing in the NBA and quickly learned how much the NCAA programs could benefit from our work.
NBA.com: You also work with consumers?
SG: That would be great for NBA fans to know. We started out marketing to consumers, then shifted more to business. Now we do both.
NBA.com: Tell us about your introduction into the NBA world.
SG: Michael Goldberg [no relation] and I met four years ago at the [pre-Draft] combine, at an NBA vendors show held in one of the Chicago hotels. We started talking about what I do and the opportunity that I saw for the NBA to increase its access to these healthier choices. Michael just embraced it — he was so passionate about nutrition and he felt very strongly there was a better way to get better information to the coaches.
NBA.com: So it was coaches first, players after?
SG: There’s a lot of emphasis on the health and wellness of the NBA players. But very quickly, our conversation became, “What about the coaches?” Their level of stress is so high. They’re up all night watching film. So Michael and I talked about initiatives to keep the coaches healthy.
NBA.com: Knowing Michael, his enthusiasm was immediate.
SG: He was amazing. He brought me on board as Health & Wellness Consultant to the NBCA. He would call me all the time and say, “I just read an article about this in the New York Times.” It would be Sunday morning at 10 o’clock, he’d be eating his bagel and he would call and ask, “Did you see this story about bacon today? What is this about eggs?” He loved to talk about it. He would say, “This month I want to get information to the coaches about sugar.” Or hypertension. Or sleep.
NBA.com: How receptive were the coaches to your high-fiber, gluten-free, whole-grain advice?
SG: Michael put together a nice group of coaches who worked with us, talking to us a couple times. We asked them “What are your biggest challenges? Is it on the road? Is it at night?” Some of them were really pivotal at providing information for how I could help them. We started a monthly bulletin and I provided most of the content, but Michael and I both liked to collaborate with experts in the field. So we would pull from cardiologists that he knew or relationships with doctors he had. One of the things we were proudest of was a sleep study, because Michael knew that sleep was one of the biggest challenges for these coaches.
NBA.com: We’ve seen a fair amount of that relating to teams’ travel itineraries, adjusting their flights especially when going east across time zones late at night.
SG: We reached out to sleep experts from around the country, including Charles Czeisler [Director of Sleep Medicine] of Harvard. We wanted to learn about the sleep habits of NBA coaches and the dietary influences that they had on them. We gathered great data and turned that into usable results and strategies for the coaches, as far as things they should and shouldn’t do. I supplied the diet information. That was just over a year ago. It seemed like the coaches appreciated that study.
NBA.com: So many of those guys are classic workaholics, burning the midnight oil.
SG: They can’t shut it off. So we told them simple thing like not ordering spicy foods. Or knowing which foods have caffeine in them. Or alcohol and how that impacts your sleep. From there, it was driven by Michael in targeting, “How can we have an effect on the players?” It might help them to know what to have for breakfast when they’re on the road. Or what sort of snacks to put in their bag. Now it could be working with the chef on menus the players are going to be eating.
NBA.com: How did you get started in this?
SG: I had been practicing as a nutritionist for almost 20 years in a variety of settings. I’d been a consultant for individuals, as well as business, corporations, food companies national and internationally. It was a business “accelerator” offered by [Cleveland Cavaliers owner] Dan Gilbert in Detroit that allowed me to create Savorfull. I’m a single mom with two beautiful children [daughter Sloane 13, son Spencer 11]. I wanted to build the business so I could reach more people, on a different scale.
NBA.com: Was nutrition a specialty that always attracted you?
SG: I didn’t recognize my interest in this until my third year in college at Michigan. But my father was diagnosed with very high cholesterol when I was in high school, so food started to change in my house. Looking back, that was my first awareness of healthy eating. My mom [Phyllis Canvasser] was in charge of that — my dad needed a nutritionist — and she’s my partner in this business now. Now, as hard as it is to have your own business, I’ve never contemplated doing anything else. I’m an entrepreneur. And I have that fire in my belly for nutrition.
NBA.com: Good one! We’ve asked this of other folks featured in this series, so we’ll ask you too: what do you consider a good day? Where does the satisfaction come from?
SG: I wake up every day and I can’t wait to go to work. I help people for a living. In the NBA world, I can see someone’s performance, whether it’s a coach who’s excited that I changed his breakfast. Or it might just be changing the type of bar that someone’s eating to get more protein, to help them last through the game. They’re small things and it seems quite simple to me. But then when you can make it taste good and they’re satisfied, it’s great.
My goal is to help people make the connection between food and performance. Once you can help an NBA player or a coach do that, that’s half the battle. So many of them are so disconnected from what they eat and how it makes them feel and perform. To me, nutrition is the difference. It’s my world, but I think it’s the edge. Every coach and every player — whether you’re a rookie or whether you’re LeBron James — can benefit from gaining that edge, in my opinion. That’s my passion and I’m so happy I get to do it in such a fun way.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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