NOURISHMENT – Defyning Moments
Stanford Graham’s Elements for Success Solves Athletes’ Culinary Conundrum
By Lashaun Dale
Just call him the Bag Guy. For years, Stanford Graham, founder of Elements for Athletes and a self-proclaimed “recovering lawyer,” could be seen with his business bag, book bag, gym bag and lunch bag running from deposition to boardroom to courtroom to the airport, laden down with his menagerie of totes. But Graham wasn’t willing to ditch any one of his copious parcels, especially when it came to his food bag. After all, fitness was important to him. He had trained five to six days a week for decades.
But after committing to a more rigorous physical training goal to break the world record for the mile run for men 50 and older, Graham realized that his nutrition needed sharper focus and consistency. Looking to provide enough nutrient-dense whole foods required to help his body to grow and recover, Graham started carrying a hulking bag of food around with him wherever he went. Unwilling to compromise on having whole, nutritious foods to eat, Graham soon added Food Bag Guy to his moniker.
But toting around that many things understandably became a bit of a burden. Stuck at a crossroads of needing enough of the right nutrition for successful growth and recovery but not wanting to simply “patch together cans of tuna, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, sauerkraut and some raw vegetables and highly processed meal-replacement powders to carry on a plane or in a car” anymore, Graham’s frustration turned to aggravation.
“As I was hitting some really critical training junctures and inflection points, nutrition became critically important,” he says. “I got tired of lugging this food bag all around, and I reached this level of white-hot frustration where I thought, There has to be a better way to eat whole food.”
Farm to bag
So Graham embarked on a new journey, stepping away from his attorney role and into the world of food science and nutrition.
“Being raised on a small farm,” Graham says, “I thought, How hard can it be to get really great nutrition that’s easy to eat anytime I want, anywhere I am?” As it turns out, pretty challenging.
Wanting desperately to create macro-rich, nutrient-dense meals that were essentially “just farm food in a bag,” Graham founded Elements for Athletes and spent years working with a brilliant team to whip up easy-to-make and filling meals, chock-full of only the very best stuff.
Finally, after much trial and error, Graham and the Elements team had their “eureka!” moment developing a line of hand-crafted, freeze-dried meals—ready in just 12 minutes—conveniently contained in, you guessed it, a bag. All you have to do is add hot water.
Graham realized from the outset that freeze-dried food was the answer to his portable-eating conundrum because it is lightweight and, most important, the food doesn’t lose any of its nutritional value. “Freeze-drying is the best nutrition preservation technology on the planet, bar none. But you can only deliver the nutrition you start with,” says Graham. Where to source the best whole food ingredients, and how to make the meals look, smell, and taste great took nearly two years of work.
“The freeze-drying process removes over 99 percent of the water from the whole food itself, leaving cell structures intact—even cell walls,” Graham explains. “It also leaves vitamins and minerals, amino acids, lipids, enzymes, and phytochemicals in their naturally occurring state in the food. We remove only the water,” allowing diners the freedom and flexibility to rehydrate and eat premium animal proteins, vegetables and healthy fats anytime, anywhere.
Your tongue doesn’t lie
Perhaps even more impressive, the meals actually taste good. After solving how to capture the nutritional perfection of clean, whole food, Graham insisted that the team create meals that were delicious.
“The meals had to have the feel on the tongue of natural whole food because your tongue doesn’t lie to you,” he says. “It knows when there’s a substitute or a fake.” Plus, it has to look and smell good.
“If food doesn’t taste good, people aren’t going to eat it.” That’s why Elements meals are additive- and preservative-free and use clean herbs and spices to pump up the flavor, which can be enjoyed by everyone—not just athletes.
“We don’t have a single client profile,” the founder says. “Yeah, we have a lot of athletes who use our food but also busy moms with kids, a lot of licensed professionals, doctors, engineers, lawyers, educators, contractors and generally people who pursue active lifestyles and value their time and health,” who need access to clean, whole foods in places where eating well isn’t always convenient. Elements also caters to individuals with dietary restrictions, food sensitivities and other ailments.
“We actually have a client who is a paraplegic and has many autoimmune diseases. So when he wakes up in the morning, the very idea of cooking keeps him in bed because it’s overwhelming,” Graham says. So for this man to “add a cup of water to a bag and eat a nutritious meal like this—for him, it’s been an absolute and real lifesaver.”
From lawyer to entrepreneur
Reflecting on his unlikely journey from lawyer to athlete to food entrepreneur, Graham realizes that it all started with a walk during a tremendously challenging time.
“It was during a fairly dark period of my life when pretty much every part of my life was going wrong: physical, spiritual, psychological, financial,” he says. “I was going through some very difficult times, including risks of losing use of my arm … and my ability to maintain my health. For many months, my training just stopped. I started walking really as self-administered therapy.”
Soon, the walk turned into a jog and the jog into a run. Graham’s runs quickly became the best part of his day because no matter how out of control his life may have been, running was constant and the one thing in his life that he could control.
This therapeutic outlet then transformed into goal-driven training (Graham implements a full array of elite training methods with his running coach), which ultimately led him to Elements and will lead him to put his training to the test as he aims for the new world record for the 50+ men’s mile run.
“If I hadn’t started training again … starting with simple walking, I wouldn’t be here today. I’m certain of that,” the lawyer-turned-athlete says. Elements as a product and a company grew out of the challenges Graham faced while training. Upon arriving at a nutritional fork in the road of eating processed, meal-replacement bars and shakes or becoming the Food Bag Guy, Graham forged a new path.
“Elements is a consequence of really pushing the horizon,” he says. “Pushing my body and mind to new limits, and then having to find a nutrition solution that simply didn’t exist.” But when faced with this new challenge, Graham ran, full stride, toward a better alternative, ultimately discovering a convenient and healthy way to recover and thrive.
“[Elements] for me … that was the solution I needed,” he says gratefully.
Video & photo credit: Tom Casey, box24studio.com
Grooming: Katie Nash, katienashbeauty.com