Meet Jenna Stangland, a powerhouse in sports nutrition. With a background in genetics and cell biology, Jenna's journey into sports nutrition led her to become the current Team Dietitian for the Minnesota Timberwolves. In our interview, she shares insights into her role, the integration of Manukora honey into athletes' diets, and the fascinating pre-game rituals of the Timberwolves players.
Can you share a bit about your journey into the field of nutrition and how you came to work with professional athletes like the Minnesota Timberwolves?
My background is actually in genetics and cell biology so I was deep into understanding science at the cellular level, asking the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ biology and human physiology worked the way it did. I also have always been passionate about exercise, sports and human performance.
When I went to grad school I wanted to conduct research that combined my understanding of cellular sciences and how it could be manipulated to influence the performance and recovery of an athlete. My advisor introduced me to the field of sports nutrition and how I could work professionally in both areas that intrigued me. That was my first turning point into sports nutrition.
In grad school I joined a professional network of dietitians working at the collegiate and professional level for sports and acquired multiple mentors who I aspired to mimic in my own career. I started a consulting role with a human performance supplement company which continued to expand my network of professionals in sports and build my relationships. Through that network I connected with the Minnesota Timberwolves and they were ready to bring a full time dietitian into their team of performance staff!
In the world of sports nutrition, there are many options available. What set Manukora apart as a choice for the Timberwolves, and what aspects of the honey align with your nutrition philosophy?
When I look at foods and specific products to bring in, I love seeking out the food with a function. Between all the recovery smoothies I make, the hot tea some guys have on game day and the need for a quick digesting simple carbohydrate before tip off, honey is essential in our organization.
I knew properties of honey included it being antimicrobial but to fuel professional athletes, I want to give them the HIGHEST antiviral, antibacterial form of honey. I read a couple research articles about manuka honey where I learned of the methylglyoxal content and other beneficial compounds. From there I came across Manukora.
I love the transparency of the company, the authenticity of the brand and the sourcing of the manuka honey, the ethical bee keeping practices, just all around Manukora checks so many boxes that make it the company I want to support and purchase our team honey from!
It is great when I can take a food in its raw form and it serve a dual purpose for the guys - tasting delicious and functionally optimizing their health and performance. Manuka honey does just that for our guys and we are using it daily.
Can you share a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a typical game day in the life of the Timberwolves nutritionist, from planning meals to ensuring players are adequately fueled for peak performance?
Buckle up for a wild ride! I oversee all of the food, hydration and supplementation for our 16 rostered players. Whether it is a game day on the road or at home it starts off with guys coming in for breakfast before they get treatment.
I’ll make a variety of functional “shots” to have out which include an immunity shot, a greens shot and a collagen shot. At breakfast we have a made to order menu and every guy has an individual meal plan I’ve created based on their needs and goals. That is a theme consistent throughout game day - every meal or beverage is either curated or comes highly recommended based on each guy’s individual needs.
When guys order breakfast or lunch they can see how their order lines up with their needs. During pre shootaround lift, I’ll conduct wellness surveys. After shoot around guys will order off of a made to order lunch menu that I have worked with our culinary staff to create. We have a working relationship where I specify the types of foods I want to have on the menu and our chefs use their expertise to come up with flavorful menu options with those foods. For example, I want the guys to have higher polyphenol consumption such as more blueberries at lunch and the chefs came up with a blueberry pomegranate vinaigrette for the salad station.
Guys will leave the facility to nap before returning for our game. During this gap I take advantage of the down time to plan menus for upcoming road trips, track inventory of products, prep vitamin containers, manage the budget, read research articles, the list goes on.
Three hours before tip off is when I pick up our acai bowls, all customized based on player preferences and needs and then head to the arena. I prep every player’s pre game drink, also based on their needs (caffeine, carbohydrate, sodium, fluid ounces, additional functional ingredients aka ergogenic aids). I then do hydration testing on every player to ensure they are fully hydrated before the game starts.
In game every player has a drink based on their sweat rate and sodium losses so I have a spreadsheet with those recipes on it for our ball assistants to put together. I’ll set up a fueling station in the locker room so players can grab a snack or drink and their HONEY as they go through their pre game routine. Timing is critical with nutrition and how it can be used to strategically work just when you want it to in the game. I also have the coaches on board with nutrition routines that I support on game day - making sure they have their supplements and their functional drinks to be focused and locked in for game time.
During the second quarter I make everyone’s specific needs for half time (this includes the Manukora honey sticks) so they can refuel and get back out on the court as close to 100% as possible. Our post game food arrives near the end of the third quarter so while that is getting set up I’ll make each guy’s post game recovery smoothie. Every guy has his own concoction of what his needs are based on playing time, hydration, protein and micronutrients. I place those in each guys locker making it easy for them to grab when they come off the court and then I head over to our kitchen to clean up for the day!
Can you describe the ways in which Manukora is integrated into the players' diets and nutrition plans? Are there specific use cases or mealtime preferences among the team?
One of our guys is a big ginger tea drinker with mega doses of honey so every morning I have a hot ginger tea with Manukora waiting for him. We even make this on the road so it is in his hotel room or on the bus when he gets on.
When we first got Manukora, we only had the 850+ jar and the guys would pass the jar and spoons around the locker, taking a spoonful before the game….it would get to the last guy and be an absolute MESS that I would have to figure out how to unstick-ify so I could pack it up and travel to the next city. Thank goodness for the travel stick packs that I can now just hand to each player and not have to worry about that messy jar!
As I mentioned earlier, we do customized acai bowls before the game and we don’t have the store put honey on them so we can add our own Manukora honey on top of the bowls and get much greater benefit than whatever honey the acai store would typically use.
When a guy is starting to feel symptoms of a cold come on we double up with the Manukora travel sticks. One time, one of our coaches was feeling congested so he actually put Manukora in his nostrils before falling asleep. Said the next morning he woke up completely cleared!
On the airplane, especially long flights, I’ll walk around to each player and hand out Manukora sticks for the guys to take straight or put into their drink.
One of the most popular recovery smoothies I make is a cinnamon roll smoothie and this includes a long pour of the 850+ squeeze bottle into the blender :)
Some athletes have superstitions or rituals. Have you encountered any interesting food-related pre-game rituals among the Timberwolves players?
A good number of our players are very ritualistic with their pre game food - we have about half of the team that eats the exact same pre game pasta they ate when they played college basketball! Other details that they can be particular about for pre game include the temperature of their beverages matters to them, the brand of water matters and the ratio of the peanut butter to the jelly on a PBJ is definitely an area they can be very particular about!
As a professional nutritionist, what's one piece of advice you would offer to anyone looking to improve their diet and overall health, regardless of whether they're an athlete?
Consume food with flavor AND function and you will make beneficial choices throughout the day! It can be a helpful question to ask yourself when placing an order at a restaurant or grabbing a snack out of the pantry or prepping a meal for dinner - what flavors is it providing you and what function is that food serving in your body. It could functionally be for energy, immunity, hormone balance, relaxation, hydration, recovering muscle soreness, etc. When it checks both of those boxes it serves a purpose in your body and can support your diet and overall health!
Could you suggest one resource (book/podcast/doco etc.) that you believe is essential for those interested in gaining a deeper understanding of your nutrition philosophy?
I’m a fan of the Dhru Purohit podcast, it is not solely nutrition but explores the inner workings of the brain, body with wellness experts around the globe. I love how his guests take a deep dive in their area of expertise, share research and both evidence and experience based recommendations and tie it all together with what listeners can do with what they just learned to apply it to their own lives.
Jenna's emphasis on flavor and function encapsulates the essence of intentional nutrition, highlighting the intersection between sports, well-being, and the unique benefits of Manukora honey. From ginger tea rituals to innovative recovery smoothies, Jenna unveils the versatility and impact of Manukora as part of the Timberwolves' routine.