SALT LAKE CITY — As Georges Niang was set to embark on the final leg of the 16-city, 2018 Junior Jazz road trip last August, the Utah Jazz forward knew the chances of him cheating on his diet were highly likely with that type of schedule.
So even before the hourlong youth clinics stretched across cities like Morgan, Utah; Green River, Wyoming; and Soda Springs, Idaho, he reached out to a trusted source to remain on track.
That man was Anthony Zamora — Utah’s executive performance nutrition chef.
“When I had to go do the Junior Jazz camp, I wanted to eat well on the road and it was tough because you’re in all those small cities, and he basically got me a cooler, gave me like 18 meals because I was on the road for like a week and a half, and I just ate all the meals that he prepared for me so it was huge,” Niang told the Deseret News after a 111-105 Jazz win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 27.
“Just lean nutrition, and always staying right when it comes to eating and whatever you’re drinking, and he’s always doing research on how to better himself to help better us and there’s nobody better than him,” he continued. “I’ll put my paycheck on that.”
With Zamora and additional kitchen staff members Ben Maldonado and Bernie Calder fueling Jazz players behind the scenes, Utah was able to reach the playoffs for the third consecutive season with the 16th 50-win season in franchise history. Zamora takes his role so seriously because there is a direct correlation between proper nutrition and on-court performance.
“It all starts with the way that we approach the role every day, being leaders and creating a positive environment that supports our players,” Zamora said. “If you can’t get excited about performance nutrition, then how are you going to sell it to your athletes?
“You wouldn’t put 85 octane into a Ferrari, and it is the same thing with an NBA athlete,” he added. “When you modify your nutrition to optimize your body and then basically fine-tune it, that is when you see that extra output.”
Zamora was hired into his role with the Jazz organization in April 2018, and a big portion of his duties are to increase the quality of meals and nutrient density for athletes in creative ways. He studied dietetics and performance nutrition at the University of Tennessee and previously worked with the St. Louis Rams as a team chef and performance nutrition assistant.
He is one of three registered dieticians working for an NBA team, but more so than any meal plan or dish he recommends, he has sparked a friendship with the guys.
On any given night, you might catch an occasional guest appearance of Zamora on the social media accounts for Jazz teammates Donovan Mitchell or Royce O’Neale, like the time he prepared maple cinnamon beet purée, quinoa and seared tenderloin steaks for the guys at Mitchell’s home.
“He’s been doing great,” O’Neale said. “Me and Donovan, we use him a lot outside of the facilities so that the meals will prepare us and all the nutrients that he gives us daily. He tells us what stuff to take and just helping us eat better.”
In fact, prior to Mitchell’s sophomore season, Zamora not only helped Mitchell drop down 5 pounds entering the year but also helped him realize that starting the day with at least four pancakes, five scrambled eggs and four pieces of bacon wasn’t in his best interest for peak performance. Zamora pushed him to chomp on sweet potatoes and scallops instead.
“He’s my guy. He’s been at my house pretty much every other night, just making food, helping me out in every different way, and I think when you have a guy like him who’s dedicated to his craft … like, he’s really passionate,” Mitchell told the Deseret News following a Feb. 26 practice. “He’s in here on off days just studying, working.
“You see that respect and you see that commitment to his craft, and I think it just shows the passion that he has behind it, and he’s the best chef I’ve ever had. He’s great.”
That 24/7 commitment to excellence is not only noticed by Mitchell and O’Neale, though. He’s just as loyal to everyone else on the team.
Derrick Favors respects the fact that he’s always open for suggestions, and Jae Crowder has his own in-house chef but will frequently have them reach out to Zamora for feedback on certain meals.
“We respect him and what he brings to our team with his diet and his nutrition, so he’s been very beneficial to us this year,” Crowder said.
“Just the ingredients he puts in it, those things because of the diet and the way you have to eat being a professional athlete, so he’s really good at that area,” Favors agreed.
Zamora understands that if he wants guys to respect his voice and opinion, he has to develop a genuine and authentic rapport with guys where they can reach out at all times just as Niang did last summer on the Junior Jazz road trip.2 comments on this story
“It is great. In my experience, people are not going to listen to someone who tells them how to eat if they don’t trust them in general,” Zamora said. “It was important to us to show the guys that we care about them, can make good, healthy food and start building the relationship that way.
“Also, the support and trust that we receive from Quin [Snyder], Justin [Zanik], Dennis [Lindsey], David [Morway], Linda [Luchetti] and the entire performance health care staff makes it all possible for us to do what we do.”