The NBA Minnesota Timberwolves dietitian says he owes some of the credit for his career to his days as the head coach of the Mount Saint Vincent University men’s football team.
Luke Corey attended the University of Halifax from 2005-2008 and received a degree in Applied Human Nutrition.
Having exhausted his eligibility during his previous degree while playing varsity soccer at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., Corey wanted to stay involved in the sport.
He contacted Mount’s men’s soccer coach and asked if he could help. The coach hired him as an assistant coach.
In his final year of study he became the head coach, but the focus wasn’t just on what was happening on the pitch.
âThey were my guinea pigs,â said Corey, who grew up in Edmonton but moved to Ontario while in high school.
He spoke to the team about the importance of nutrition for athletic performance and held one-on-one meetings with the players.
âIt was an opportunity for me to use this knowledge and skills that I developed in school and actually apply them to the people I work with,â said Corey. “It was fun, it was like a little experiment.”
Corey was a head coach for eight seasons and upon graduation his job in Halifax included running a business focused on sports nutrition.
In 2014, he moved to Minnesota to work for EXOS, a performance and training nutrition company that works with some of the best athletes in the world. He said he has worked with athletes from the NHL, NFL, MLB and the Olympics in this role.
After a stint in Los Angeles, Corey returned to Minneapolis in 2019, now working with EXOS at the Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. He retains this role, in addition to being the dietitian of the Timberwolves.
Corey is now in his third year as the team’s dietitian.
âIt’s the best job in the world,â he said. âI work with the best athletes on the planet. I can sit on the court and watch these guys play and I can finally see the guys improve as athletes and mature as individuals.â
Corey said he still can’t believe what he can do for a living and loves taking the opportunity to tell his story to show that aspiring dietitians can dream big.
âIf this is your dream, your goal, the possibilities are endless for what you can do,â he said.
Corey said the team’s approach to nutrition is driven by artificial intelligence.
Data is continuously collected on athlete performance and they are regularly tested for things like hydration and micronutrients. This information is then fed into a nutrition platform that will create personalized diets for players, while also taking into account the athlete’s workload on any given day.
The Timberwolves have a team of chefs who prepare these meals for the players.
A typical working day
Corey’s working day with the Timberwolves depends on the team’s practice or game. He said workouts usually start at 11 a.m., but most players will arrive at the facility around 8 a.m. to have their personalized breakfast and then head to the weight room before training.
In practice, Corey makes sure players are hydrated by adding water to the electrolyte packs, and he has snacks on hand. He also makes personalized protein shakes that players can drink after training. Then it’s lunchtime.
Home games usually start around 7 p.m., but Corey has said he will arrive at the arena around 3 p.m. He will prepare pre-game supplements for the players and perform hydration tests. Custom dinners are prepared for the players and once the game starts Corey can relax a bit.
Sitting on the edge of the court, he watches the game until half-time, before returning to the locker room to distribute drinks and snacks, which can take the form of a protein bar or energy chews.
âAnything that’s going to get them that fuel and give them that fuel fast is what they usually like to look for,â Corey said.
When the players leave for the second half, Corey stays in the locker room, making their personalized protein shakes.
Making 16 shakes takes him a little over an hour, which leaves him just enough time to witness the end of the match in person. After the game, protein shakes are distributed and players have a post-game meal.
Corey said he got home after 11 p.m. which was a long day, especially given his work with EXOS.
He doesn’t travel with the team, but still plans their meals when they’re on the road.
Corey’s first season with the Timberwolves was 2019-20. It was going normally, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, temporarily shutting down the league in March 2020. Outside of the playoffs, the Timberwolves season was over and Corey worked with players from a distance.
âThey are all back in their hometowns and training on their own,â he said. “And, you know, I have to find a way to keep them healthy and motivated and to do what they have to do.”
When the 2020-21 NBA season kicked off in December, many restrictions were in place due to COVID-19. Besides the daily COVID-19 testing, mandatory masking, the practice of physical distancing, few people were allowed to work with players in person, but Corey was one of them.
Players were no longer allowed to have their meals in the facility, so they had to pick up meals and eat them in their cars or take them home, Corey said.
Current COVID-19 protocols
This season, things are mostly back to normal for Corey’s duties. Players are again allowed to eat inside the team’s facilities.
Coaches and team staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19, but players are not mandatory, although unvaccinated players are subject to stricter rules and more frequent testing. At the end of last month, the vaccination rate for players was around 95%.
Vaccinated staff and players are only tested for COVID-19 once a week, Corey said. Interaction with players is no longer limited and masking is not mandatory, but Corey continues to wear one.
âI have a one year old daughter at home,â he said. “I’m not going to take any chances and therefore quite a few people still wear masks.”