As the Los Angeles Dodgers are making their playoff push, team performance chef and dietitian Tyrone Hall is working his culinary magic to keep its stars on the field. After 162 games plus spring training, even the most dedicated professionals get worn down. Hall explained the nutritional approach the team is taking at this crucial time of the year.
“Everybody’s on their last leg physically, so to speak,” Hall said. “You’re trying to maintain what physical strength they have left, maintain muscle mass that may have been sacrificed throughout the season. It’s a long season, a lot of natural stresses that occur throughout the season, whether it be from travel or injuries. We’re always trying to make sure guys are consuming enough protein to rebuild muscles that may be going because it’s overuse and just the nature of baseball. We’re trying to get them more carbs to give them energy where appropriate, and then, when appropriate, try to get antioxidants and anti-inflammatories because tissue is just inflamed at this point in the year.”
One of the anti-inflammatories Hall has turned to is Cheribundi’s tart cherry juice. The nutritional supplement has gained popularity inside MLB clubhouses for its natural ability to aid in recovery after a tough outing. Hall said the tart cherry juice is a staple in their recipe to help them bounce back for the next game.
“it’s just been something that’s been ever present in my career as a dietitian,” he said. “Guys are using it right after they come out, especially like pitchers. Starting pitchers, they’re out five-to-seven innings and in some cases, almost complete games with 100-120 pitches. It’s hard on you, so we try doing everything we can to get that in them to help them recover a little better and fight that inflammation. In addition to muscle recovery and inflammation, it’s also aiding some guys in their sleep, which is also incredibly beneficial for just their recovery as a whole.”
With the Dodgers veteran-laded squad including 41-year-old Albert Pujols, eating for recovery has become even more essential at this time of the season. Hall said the older players take their nutrition seriously, something that was driven home by Chase Utley when Hall started with the club in 2016.
“Chase Utley was one of the guys that understood that his body is truly his investment and his moneymaker,” he said. “He actually impressed upon a lot of the younger guys, not necessarily like rookies, but guys that were in the middle of their careers, [to take] their health more seriously. For the guys that are the veterans, they have invested more in what they put in their body. [They] eat more complex carbohydrates and eat more lean proteins, and we make sure to have those ready.”
His approach is different with the rookies, as they are at a stage where their faster metabolism allows them to have an increase caloric intake. With the younger players, Hall said it is challenging to make sure they are eating enough to stave off weight loss from a long season.
“Some of the young guys on the skinnier side actually have trouble keeping weight on,” he said. “We have those conversations about having calorically dense meals … because there’s more decline to be found, especially the younger and skinnier guys losing drastic amounts of weight than it is the chance of them becoming on the heavier side.”
The Dodgers have a unique performance nutrition team, as both he and his colleague Kristen DeCesare are both chef-dietitians. Not only do they work to create the culinary offerings in the clubhouse, but as dietitians, they can adjust the menu on the fly without having to consult a team of experts. He feels this gives the Dodgers an advantage, as they can take nutritional measures to assist with injuries faster than other organizations.
“We have the ability to order food, create menus, and then execute the menus at the same time,” he said. “We’re in a very unique position where we can actually plan and execute. A lot of times, creates a very immediate action if there’s a problem. If a situation arises that we can fix nutritionally, we can present an option very quickly. It doesn’t have to go through three or four levels and get translated by the dietitians to the chefs and then double checked by dietitians.”
While Hall and DeCesare often make changes on a scientific level to meet the players’ nutritional demands, he learned a lesson during his early tenure about meeting their cultural needs as well. Soon after Hall started working with the team, Dodgers legend Manny Mota pulled him aside with concerns from the Latin players. When he told Mota about his lack of experience preparing Latin-style food, he unexpectedly found himself inside Mota’s kitchen learning how to make some Dominican staples.
“I [told him] my experience isn’t that great when making Latin food,” Hall said. “He’s like, ‘Don’t worry, come by the house, I’ll teach you and my wife will teach you how to make a bunch of food.’ I spent like an eight-hour day with him and his family, with them teaching me how to make arroz con pollo, oxtails, carne guisada, pollo guisada, good plantains and good rice and beans. It was just invaluable in learning that different skill set. You have to realize even though there are multiple people in the clubhouse, you understand you’re not going to be able to make everybody happy, but you can try to make as many people happy as possible.”
The connections he’s made from the daily interactions in the clubhouse have allowed him to build a rapport and trust with the players. Working with the players to fuel their performance and recovery, he’s been able to keep them healthy as they make another run at the World Series.
“It’s 162 regular season games and spring training as most teams hope for a playoff run,” he said. “You spend nine months of your life together with these people. We get really close.”