Fueling the Athlete: Bruins Team Chefs Dish on Sports Nutrition

October 2022 Update: Boston Bruins President Cam Neely shared the very sad news that team chef Keith Garman '21 had passed away at the age of 33. Neely posted a statement on Facebook that reads, in part: “Keith was loved by all who had the pleasure of working with him, both at Warrior Ice Arena and TD Garden for the past four years.” He continued, “Keith cared deeply about providing the Bruins with the very best meals ... He was, simply, a world-class chef. [He] also had a passion for giving back to the culinary community. He worked regularly with students at his alma mater, Johnson & Wales University, to share his expertise with the next generation of aspiring chefs.” Garman’s presence, talent, and expertise will be missed by many.

Have you ever wondered what a “day in the life” looks like for a sports team performance chef? As part of the recent FIT Symposium, a jam-packed day of in-depth panels concerning all aspects of the culinary world, Associate Professor Jonathan Poyourow '03 brought together two alumni who work for the Boston Bruins — Keith Garman ’21, who serves as team chef, and Mike Schauer ’16, who is assistant chef — and one professional athlete who loves cooking: Justin Bethel of the New England Patriots. In a wide-ranging conversation, they discussed their love of food and ways that chefs and players can work together for better results.

Poyourow graduated from JWU’s culinary nutrition program. From there, he completed his registered dietetic internship with the U.S. Army and worked in various medical centers as a clinical dietitian and chief of food service. He quickly established himself as one of the Army’s lead sports dietitians, eventually becoming the division dietitian for the 101st airborne division. He deployed with them to Afghanistan. Now back at JWU, he uses his skills to educate the students about performance-maximizing nutrition.

“You need to know how to manage costs, you need to know how to manage inventory, and to be able to come up with dishes that cross-utilize product.”

Since his graduation from JWU, Schauer has cooked professionally for a range of teams, including the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Cubs, and the Boston Red Sox.

Garman’s path led him to fine dining, where he won accolades during his tenures at such esteemed Boston-area fine-dining destinations as No. 9 Park and Alden & Harlow. When his lifelong love of hockey aligned with an opportunity to cook for the Bruins organization, he couldn’t pass it up.

As for Bethel, he was seriously thinking about attending Johnson & Wales University for cooking before a full scholarship to play collegiate football put him on his eventual path to the Patriots.

How Can Food Help Athletes Recover?

Poyourow kicked off the discussion with the major challenges that sports dietitians and chefs have to assess every day for the athletes in their charge, namely: “What sport do they play and what is their primary energy system for that sport? Are they a power athlete? Are they a strength athlete? Or a combination of both? And what day or days are they performing? How do I have to fuel them over the week so that on game day, they’re performing at their peak capability?”

This can involve more calories on some days, if your goal is overall recovery. One huge consideration, Poyourow pointed out, is how to reduce inflammation in the body. “As Justin can attest, playing football is like getting into a car accident — you’re getting pounded.” So any football team dietitian wants to increase foods containing nutrients that can help reduce that inflammation in the body. “You gentlemen have a hard job of taking the science, then implementing it and [translating] it into food.”

What Are the Top Skills Performance Chefs Need to Master?

While all the panelists agreed that culinary skills need to come first, any successful performance chef needs to develop good time management — and a thick skin.

For Schauer, time management is all about “seeing how much you can get done in a certain amount of time for certain pregame or postgame meals. And then also being just super flexible, especially with baseball. You can get rained out — there’s a lot of different delays that could happen. You also need to be able to put stuff behind you fast.”

For Garman, cooking is the foundation that informs everything. But they’re not the only crucial skills from JWU he draws on: “As you get to a team chef-type position, you need to know the backend aspects that are present on the play, you need to know how to manage costs, you need to know how to manage inventory. And to be able to come up with dishes that are cross-utilizing product, because the team’s going on a road trip for a week and a half, and you need to use the product that you have instead of ordering new product that’s going to sit there until they come back. Even the things like maintenance that you don’t think about, but the chef is ultimately responsible for making sure it’s taken care of.”

Fine-Tuning the Daily Nutritional Needs of Athletes

Patriots Pro Bowler Justin Bethel (left) and JWU Providence Associate Professor Jonathan Poyourow (right) Poyourow wanted to know how team chefs make allowances for and plan around the uncertainties of travel days, where schedules may be thrown off for any number of reasons: “How do you all balance the calorie macro needs for your players daily? How do you do it in season at home, and talk about how you do it for travel, as well?”

Schauer drew on his time in baseball to explain the challenges posed by “road food”: “With baseball, some of our hardest challenges were to figure out the road food, because half the time you have to look up different restaurants and hope that their catering system worked out for you — and, obviously, sometimes it didn’t, sometimes it did. There was a push to try to have someone go on the road with them, but that comes with a lot of other problems that you have to think about: Do they have something to cook with? Is there an area where they can cook? Where are they going to serve it all?”

Now that Schauer is working with the Bruins, he’s expanding his skillset. “Working with Keith [Garman], it’s awesome to learn what hockey players need, their calories, the kind of different starches that they might want instead of the typical just white rice or brown rice. It’s really cool to just have these different sports and have different athletes all needing different things and getting a better grasp overall of it.”

“During season, I try to watch the sugar, and watch things that are going to keep me playing.”

More from the Q&A:

When did the importance of nutrition for performance click for you?

Bethel: “Once I got to [left college] my first couple years, I can’t lie — my nutrition was kind of all over the place. I was still young. I could go out to practice I didn’t have to warm up. Around year five or six, I started to take a little longer to warm up, I’d have some sugar that week and I worked out and it’s like, “Man, I am sore for a lot longer than I used to be!” Things like that, as you get older, especially in the sports world just because it’s so hard on your body, it becomes very important. If you can get on it earlier, obviously that’s better but I think around year, four, five, I really was like, “Okay, I need to start watching what I eat, especially during season. Off-season I’m a little more liberal with what I eat, but during season, I try to watch the sugar, and watch things that are going to keep me playing.”

Where do you get culinary inspiration, if you need it?

Schauer: “Any kind of social media platform. It’s really easy to take a quick look and find something: “Oh wow, I didn’t think those flavors would go together,” and then you try to do something yourself. Try to switch up one or two ingredients. I still go into a bunch of my old cookbooks to find something I haven’t used before.”

Garman: “Inspiration can come from a number of forms, whether it’s Instagram or going out to dinner with your significant other that maybe sparks a train of thought. At a base level, seasonality is a huge contributor to my philosophy when being inspired to create some new stuff and then from there, it kind of piggyback on a specific ingredient and then utilizing cookbooks for inspiration. ‘The Vegetarian Flavor Bible’ and ‘Vegetable Literacy’ are my current favorites. One little tweak to a vegetable and then you’re often running on something totally different, at least for me.”

Bethel: “I have a couple cookbooks or I’ll see something on Instagram I learned how to make something. … Once you have the base technique of how to make something, then you can explore from there with things you already know how to do.”

This discussion has been edited and condensed from the complete panel discussion that took place in March. Watch the entire video below:


Patriot All-Teamer Justin Bethel Is Chef for a Day at JWU
The JWU Advantage: Dietetics & Applied Nutrition