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NBA players have a new favorite snack: Energy-boosting stroopwafels

(Washington Post illustration; iStock; Associated Press) (Credit: Washington Post illustration; iStock; Associated Press)

NEW YORK — The Dallas Mavericks retreated to the visitors’ locker room down five at halftime as chants of “KP sucks!” emanated throughout Madison Square Garden. The chorus to the emotional Nov. 14 return of Kristaps Porzingis, who forced a trade from the New York Knicks in February, crescendoed with each miss.

The 7-foot-3 Latvian sharpshooter, having converted only three of his nine shots through two quarters, sank down into the first wooden locker to the right of the room’s entrance. He tore open a small, yellow package — a few inches taller than a deck of cards and the secret of his halftime routine: a stroopwafel packed with organic honey. “Every game,” he later said, grinning. “They’re delicious.”

The stroopwafel, a favorite snack of the Netherlands typically baked by pressing a vanilla-cinnamon dough and a thin filling of caramel between flame-heated waffle irons, has permeated the NBA.

One night before Porzingis chowed on one behind closed doors, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Robert Covington sparked the season’s first viral Twitter moment by doing so midgame. Covington was filmed snacking on a stroopwafel while on the bench in the fourth quarter as his team held a 106-95 edge over San Antonio.

While it’s rare to see an NBA player eat during a game — Russell Westbrook was spotted nibbling on some undetermined refreshments on opening night in 2018 — it’s not forbidden: The NBA’s 2019-20 rule book does not mention anything about eating being prohibited on the bench. Covington, who said he devours as many as five honey stroopwafels a day, went viral for both the unusual timing and seemingly unusual choice of snack. But the stroopwafel is becoming a regular sight in NBA locker rooms.

One company, Honey Stinger, sells its performance-boosting waffles and honey energy products to 18 NBA organizations. In 1954, the company’s founders, Ralph and Luella Gamber, attempted to market two-ounce honey packets to high school wrestling programs as an alternative to candy bars. Their grandson, Bill Gamber, spearheaded efforts to relaunch his grandparents’ initiative, first infiltrating the distance training market with waffles in 2001 as he began competing in triathlons.

Each cookie contains at least 10 grams of sugar, 10 grams of fat and roughly 150 calories. The company says consuming its waffle every 45 minutes during athletic activity — such as during halftime of an NBA game — delays fatigue by nourishing exhausted muscles. That’s largely thanks to the stroopwafels packing honey, not caramel, from the Gambers’s third-generation bee farm in Lancaster, Pa., and another family farm that has been operating in Utah since 1894.

NBA players are gobbling them up. The Knicks hoard boxes of Honey Stinger stroopwafels in their practice facility’s weight room, in addition to several flavors of organic honey chews, ranging from pomegranate passion fruit to pink lemonade. Casey Smith, the Mavericks’ longtime head athletic trainer, said the honey in the stroopwafel functions similarly to other energy bars and bites, which aim to provide a performance boost without the need to digest much food on the fly. Correlation might not prove causation, but Porzingis did make 3 of 6 shots in that third quarter in New York, including his only three-pointer of the night. The Dallas locker room was littered with leftover gold wrappers following the Mavericks’ 106-103 loss.

Diet has surged to the forefront of NBA development. The Timberwolves recently partnered with James Beard Award-winning chefs Gavin Kaysen and Andrew Zimmern to compile individual nutrition programs based on each of their player’s physiological needs. The 76ers plucked the chef from Philadelphia’s renowned Parc restaurant to run the personalized kitchen at their practice facility in Camden, N.J. With teams striving to optimize athlete wellness, clubs have begun adding more and more to their locker room collection of healthy and performance-based goodies, including superpowered stroopwafels.

As Honey Stinger’s popularity with professional athletes grows, each evening’s sports television programming provides an opportunity to track the company’s growth.

“We have a couple of people that comb the sidelines with NFL and NBA games to try and see if our products show up,” said Andy Cheesebro, a sales manager for Honey Stinger. “It’s kind of a little game of ‘Where’s Waldo?' "

One of the company’s collegiate sales representatives learned of Covington’s sideline stroopwafel when a cousin texted him a photo of the moment. The snapshot eventually made its way to Cheesebro.

“It kept kind of popping up over and over again,” he said of the clip.

Kind of like the stroopwafel itself.

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