Silicon Valley startup ships healthy meals to athletes’ front doors

This isn’t Blue Apron for athletes. Silicon Valley health startup Fuel is fine-tuning performance nutrition at a whole new level.

There’s no cooking involved.

Fuel’s chicken wings with swiss chard and kale is sauteed with garlic and bacon. Photo: Courtesy of Fuel

The tech-boosted mail-order service customizes healthy, convenient vacuum-sealed meals for athletes based on genetic makeup, health conditions and activity level.

Fuel’s claim to fame is its proprietary food processing methods, developed by founder and CEO Chandra Duggirala, MD, a power lifter who created the service because of his own struggles finding convenient foods that adequately fueled his body for health and performance.

Unlike frozen foods from the grocery, Fuel meals for athletes aren’t mushy or rubbery, which is often the result of water expanding during traditional freezing.

OK, this is what a vacuum-sealed FUEL meal looks like after it’s cooked. Photo: Courtesy of Fuel

“Frozen foods are loaded with chemical and preservatives to protect taste, but we are able to get around that though our cooking and packaging processes,” explains Duggirala, who has applied his background in macrobiotic science to the Fuel product.

Fuel meals are paleo-friendly, contain no preservatives or antibiotics, and are low glycemic and keto-enabled. The chemical-free, micronutrient-packed meal combinations are made for athletes who are too busy training to bother with calculating calories.

They can be customized for activity levels and types. For example, an endurance athlete needs more complex carbohydrates where a boxer, who moves in short bursts, will require a lower-carb, higher-protein diet.

A photo posted by Marissa (@whole30_marissa) on

Marissa Ierna, 22, a marathoner out of Tallahassee, Florida, is currently customizing her Fuel meals around specialized needs for her body and training for the Boston Marathon.

“Being a cancer survivor, I strive to eat minimally processed foods,” she says.

She knew her body functioned well on a lower carb and higher fat diet, with most carbs to sustain her endurance sport coming from starchy vegetables rather than grains, which she’s struggled to process in the past. Ierna makes a salad for lunch, but has been eating the heavier Fuel meals for dinner, adding extra veggies.

Ierna, who is a self-proclaimed “big cook,” says she has been blow away by the mail-order foods’ taste. Her favorite is the Kahlua Pig dish with steak potatoes and pineapple.

“It’s like a pulled pork, and I love the sweet,” she says. She also chose dishes with the high-carb root vegetables like beets and butternut squash to fulfill that sweet craving.

Meals can be conveniently customized, ordered and monitored on the Fuel app. Photo: Courtesy of Fuel

Fuel is out of the tech capital of the country, so naturally it leverages a robust app to streamline the decision-making process for athletes. Users can plug in data to make a meal plan; sync diets with a Fitbit to adjust during a vacation; and switch things up to eat right even in the off-season.

“It’s a few taps on a phone and food magically appears,” Duggirala says.

The sautéed chicken and paleo burger are among Fuel’s favorite recipes. Meals are meat-based, but Duggirala says veggie options are coming online soon. Fuel plans come in 6-, 12- or 15-meal sets, starting at $70 per week.