NY Giants Rookie Does Yoga with Gwen Lawrence

Giants’ Justin Pugh has assembled a team of experts to keep him in peak condition

Published: December 25, 2013 8:52 PM
By BARBARA BARKER barbara.barker@newsday.com
Justin Pugh lines up during a game against

Photo credit: Getty | Justin Pugh lines up during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. (Oct. 27, 2013)
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The text message usually comes in around dinner time when the Giants are on the road or the team has an off day. Tara Ostrowe’s phone will vibrate with a message from offensive lineman Justin Pugh and a photo of a chicken burrito or risotto, or some other restaurant entree, will pop onto her screen.

“Justin likes to take a picture before he eats something and sends it to me,” said Ostrowe, the team’s nutritionist. “He’s one of the guys who really cares about it.”

Pugh, the Giants’ rookie right tackle, cares a great deal about taking care of his body, so much so that he has assembled a team of experts to help keep him in peak condition. Team Pugh includes a personal chef, a yoga instructor and a masseuse. He is thinking about adding an acupuncturist, but will probably wait until next season.

“I hear it helps stimulate muscles,” Pugh said. “I’m all for anything you can do to help your body and gain an advantage.”

That attitude has paid some big dividends for the Giants this year as Pugh’s performance has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season.

Pugh, who was a first-round draft pick (19th overall), has started every game this season. On Sunday against the Washington Redskins, Pugh is expected to become the first Giants rookie to start every game in a 16-game season since defensive tackle Barry Cofield did it in 2006. Pugh also will become the first offensive lineman to start every game since David Diehl did it in 2003, and the first Giants first-round draft pick to do it since Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1981.

Unlike other players making the transition from college, there has been no rookie wall for Pugh. “I don’t see a wall, not at all,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “He’s a focused guy.”

Said Pugh: “I think doing all these different things has really helped me out a lot.”

Those different things begin with a diet that pays careful attention to the nutritional needs of a 6-4, 307-pound athlete.

During the season, Pugh eats 5,000 calories a day just to maintain his muscle mass, Ostrowe said. When he was trying to put on muscle, as he was earlier in training camp, he needed to take in 6,000.

Of course, it’s not just the calories, but the type of calories that Pugh has to pay careful attention to. And to help him do that, Ostrowe hooked him up with Dan Vogt, a personal chef who each week delivers Pugh a week’s worth of healthy meals that he can freeze and reheat.

“I use a lot of lean meats, whole grains and leafy vegetables,” Vogt says, “but the key is Justin has to like it. Everything is custom for him, based on his nutritional needs and his likes and dislikes.”

Pugh says his two favorite dishes are Vogt’s healthy versions of a Buffalo chicken breast and mac-and-cheese.

Another key member of Team Pugh is Mia Mendez, a licensed massage therapist who specializes in sports and medical massage and also works with Giants veterans Will Beatty and Andre Brown. Pugh tries to see Mendez at least three times a week with the primary goals being how to control swelling in his hands and limbs and prevent the formation of scar tissue.

“It’s like a car crash every week,” Mendez said in reference to what Pugh and other players go through every Sunday. “They come in with bruises and cuts and are really beat up. Massage can really do a lot to help with the postgame trauma and decrease the recovery time.”

Mendez says that Pugh in particular has had a lot to adjust to because this is his first year in the NFL and his position is one that can put a lot of pressure on key areas such as forearms and wrists. Gwen Lawrence, another member of Team Pugh, also pays particular attention to his wrists as well as his hands, which she said is a particular area of vulnerability for linemen.

“My read on Justin is he’s already a very focused and intense athlete,” said Lawrence, who teaches a class at the Giants training facility that is attended by all rookies. “I try to work on his flexibility by doing a lot or wrist and hip openers. We also sometimes prevent injuries before they become injuries by looking for misalignments and asymmetries.”

Pugh believes that his team of experts has played a big role in making his transition to the NFL a relatively seamless one.

Said Pugh: “I try to really pay attention to my body. I do have a Ben & Jerry’s across the street from where I live, and I sometimes supplement my plan there. But this is a competitive game, and I want to do everything I can.”