Over the course of the Major League Soccer season, the Dynamo spent more than 120 days at the club facility, where breakfast and lunch is served before and after each training session. The nutrition gained from more than 240 meals can help a team during the course of a season.
The Dynamo are fed by Pat Greer, owner and head chef at Pat Greer’s Kitchen, typically an organic and vegan kitchen and catering service that has adjusted to feed the 28-player roster and team staff for the last nine months. As the team considered catering services for the season, Dynamo interim head coach Wade Barrett suggested Greer—who he knew as a regular at the Urban Harvest Farmer’s Market—as a healthy option.
“I’ve known her from being in the community for the last few years,” Barrett told HoustonDynamo.com. “I knew she would be a great resource for us. We were looking to improve our nutrition this year and that’s something we all thought could improve. We had confidence in Pat. She provides seasonal food that she gets straight from the farm or straight from the market, and we have seen results in the body composition testing that we do. It’s been a huge asset for us.”
Greer had never worked with a sports team but adjusted quickly to her new assignment, reading about other clubs and adjusting her meals to incorporate the ingredients required by professional soccer players. Given basic guidelines by the technical staff, Greer worked with Kristen Kizer (RD, LD), a Clinical Dietitian Specialist with Houston Methodist, the official healthcare provider of the Dynamo. Kizer has served as Dynamo dietitian since the 2015 preseason.
“I’m thrilled the Dynamo have brought Pat on staff,” Kizer said. “I’m a proponent of plant-based eating for everybody, athletes included, for overall health, disease prevention, and decreased systemic inflammation. In professional sports there’s a shift away from the traditional high-fat meat and potatoes cafeteria approach to more fresh, whole foods like the fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains Pat provides. She knows how to balance both macronutrients (carbs, fat, and protein) while maximizing micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and been especially helpful for our international players who have had added nutritional challenges.”
The menu for breakfast and lunch is constantly changing, with quinoa, sweet potatoes, salad, vegetables among the constants and a steady variety of protein and carbohydrate sources. When constructing the day’s offerings, Greer considers the day of the week, any recent travel required by the team, the workload expected in the day’s practice, weather and time of year.
“Pat covers all the bases,” Dynamo Sports Performance Director and assistant coach Paul Caffrey said. “She makes sure they have good protein sources and good carbohydrate sources. With all the natural food she provides, that really truly does help in terms of recovery for the cells from a muscular standpoint.”
During the hot summer months, the Dynamo players are required to be at the training facility no later than 8:30 a.m., an hour before training begins 9:30 a.m. Daily breakfast is a new offering to the players this season.
Greer, on her most common breakfast spreads: “We’ve learned what they love. We’ll always have a granola that I make for them. We’ll always have a cereal. Orange juice, milk, coconut milk, almond milk or rice milk. Always a yogurt of some kind. Boiled eggs. Breakfast tacos with eggs or tofu, or avocado or potatoes and homemade salsa. We’ll do bagels a few days before a game. They love the banana bread. I also make little bars for them.”
“A lot of people say breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” Caffrey said. “I think nutritionally everything you eat is important, but if you think about the word, you are breaking the fast. Twelve hours later, if you don’t fuel up correctly you’re going to go out into a training situation where you are running and asking your body to do things that you don’t have the fuel to provide the energy. Then, if you can take it to the next level and make sure that the energy you are getting is coming from good, whole grain foods and fruit and vegetables, then that might give you high octane energy as opposed to regular gas.”
Lunch is heartier, with vegetarian and protein options, along with vegetables and fruit. Every day, Greer writes the full menu on a display board with bright, fluorescent markers.
“One of my abilities in this world is I really know what goes together well. So I try and give them a basic entrée and then the veggie or the vegan option and then figure out what will go with that. I try and bring something green and leafy, so they always have a salad, or so that it’s worked into an entrée. Then we have two or three sides, and during the summer we have watermelon every single day.”
The benefits of Greer’s daily breakfast and lunch menu can be seen throughout the roster.
“We do a preseason, midseason and postseason body composition and blood work for all of our players,” Dynamo Director of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer Theron Enns said. “With the addition of Pat Greer and her staff cooking for our players, we’ve seen notable increases in lean body mass and improved blood markers in their blood testing. That’s been a benefit to our player’s overall health.”
“As I went going through the InBody results from July, almost every player shows improvement,” Kizer said. “Checking body composition rather than just weight captures important successes. For example, from January to July, Alex Lima gained 13 pounds. The InBody [machine] allows us to assess if this is healthy lean muscle or negative body fat gains. The exciting thing for Alex is that of his 13 pounds, only 2.2 pounds were body fat. He has been working on his nutrition and Pat’s meals certainly have helped.”
“Other players have maintained a muscle mass, which typically over the course of our season, it is very hard to do,” Caffrey said. “People tend to burn through that muscle mass and become less powerful and dynamic as the season goes on. We’ve managed to maintain a lot of the levels the players were at, which is a good sign and I think has to do with the nutritional level of what Pat supplies. Boniek García has seen a gain in muscle tone and strength and I think he has had a career year and he stands out.”
Greer has become a part of the team, often hugging players and staff before they head home for the day or leave town for road trips.
“I kind of fell in love with the whole team,” Greer said. “I’m surprised and not surprised [with the relationship with the team]. It’s such a great group of people. It truly has been such a joy in our kitchen for everybody. I don’t have enough words to say how great it is. It’s just been remarkable.”
On a travel day, a locker room visitor can spot over 30 brown bags near the door available for the players and members of the technical staff and support staff to take on the road.
“Before a flight, we do a bag and it will have a wrap in it. It will be a lavash [soft flatbread] and it will have spinach and carrots and I’ll either use chicken or our cashew-based cheese. We give them two of those and a cut up apple with some almond butter. Something for some fuel, and the fat and the nuts in the lavash and the cheese will really hold them. We also put a note in there for them.”
The hand-written note is a sentence or two, with words of encouragement ahead of the road trip.
Consuming healthy, delicious food has led several players to work with Greer to build meal plans for home. For Barrett, the healthy dietary habits can continue beyond a player’s career.
“It is something they can take with them when they walk out of these doors.”