Stronger, faster and (mostly) vegan, Blackhawks’ Adam Gaudette has ‘changed who I am as a player’

After years of playing underweight, Gaudette has gained 20 pounds and counting this offseason, transforming his health in his daily life as well as his abilities on the ice.

SHARE Stronger, faster and (mostly) vegan, Blackhawks’ Adam Gaudette has ‘changed who I am as a player’
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Adam Gaudette played just seven games for the Blackhawks at the end of last season, but could make a much bigger impact next season.

AP Photos

Adam Gaudette notices the difference in his workouts and skating sessions. He notices it during meals. He notices it when he first wakes up.

The 24-year-old Blackhawks forward, locked in with a one-year contract extension in July, will arrive at training camp this fall feeling by far the best he ever has in his NHL career.

He’s 20 pounds heavier and counting — almost at his target weight, finally. He’s stronger, faster, more fluid on his skates and harder to knock off pucks.

And he’s almost completely vegan, which he credits as the source of it all.

“It’s changed who I am as a player,” he said, “and given me a bunch of confidence.”

Weight gain, at last

During a promising seven-game audition with the Hawks in April and May, Gaudette opened up about his candidiasis issues.

For years with the Canucks — and even dating back to his college hockey at Northeastern University — he struggled with digestion, vomiting stomach bile most mornings, developing nausea from the mere smell of certain foods and almost never feeling hungry.

A blood test eventually revealed that the amount of Candida — a naturally occurring type of yeast — in his stomach was 250 percent above normal. A two-week antibiotic cycle in November and another in February solved the immediate problem.

But until that point, Gaudette — 6-1 with a boxy frame — not only suffered from daily discomfort and confusion but also played perpetually underweight. Every season, he’d lose 10 or more pounds.

“An 82-game season is strenuous on the body, and I wasn’t getting enough calories and nutrients to repair the muscles that had been working so hard,” he said.

“In 2019-20, I came in at 185 pounds, and I was feeling really good [about that]. Two months later, I’m weighing in at 177. And last year was tough because I had a tough offseason, being sick, and then COVID hit. I hopped on the scale one day and saw it in the 160s, and I was like, ‘Jesus.’ ”

It’s a different story now. He noticed his weight starting to increase within the first two weeks of this offseason, while he and his wife vacationed in the Caribbean. It continued once he returned home to Massachusetts and began his regular summer workout routine.

He weighs 190 now, and he’s hoping to reach 195 or 200 by the start of the season.

“Every week, I’ve just felt the weight going up and up,” he said. “I didn’t put on any fat at all; I put on all muscle. My body fat [percentage] stayed the same. I feel much more limber, more energized.”

‘This way of eating works’

Gaudette believes the key to maintaining his newfound health is his diet.

What started as an effort to simply eliminate sugary and processed foods and drinks has evolved into nearly full-fledged veganism. He eats no meat, dairy or other animal products outside of an admitted few “cheat days.”

“I’ve tried a ton of new foods this summer — a ton of new recipes, different types of vegetables I never thought I’d like, but it’s been really good,” he said. “This way of eating works.”

A quick follow-up question about those recipes sends Gaudette on an excited search for his new cookbook.

One of his favorites is an Asian-style bowl with chickpeas, edamame beans, quinoa, broccolini, sweet potatoes, cabbage and kale. Another is a wrap with “fake bacon,” tofu, avocado, spinach and vegan cheese. On Tuesday night, he devoured fried tofu, carrots and vegetarian dumplings.

“It was hard to switch . . . but it’s definitely worth it,” he said. “As I did it more and got more committed to it, it became easier and easier.”

While most vegan converts tout the weight-loss benefits, Gaudette is one of few vegans trying to gain weight — and do so while maintaining pro athlete-level fitness.

The key is enormous food intake. He burns about 3,000 calories daily, so he tries to eat 4,000 to 4,500, which requires constant effort. In addition to sprawling lunches and dinners, he snacks on peanuts and cashews all afternoon and adds protein-rich beans into anything he can.

“I have this breakfast bar that has 350 calories in it,” he said. “I have two of them for breakfast on my way to work out, and that’s 700 calories already. Then I come home and I eat a full meal after working out. I try to keep track of my calories, and these little bars and the nuts help, because they add up.”

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Despite scoring just five goals last season (including just this one with the Hawks), Gaudette expects to be able to win more puck battles now.

AP Photos

Coming to Chicago soon

On the ice, Gaudette’s improvement is obvious. Northeastern sports performance director Dan Boothby, who has worked with Gaudette every summer since 2015, can tell better than anyone.

“There’s really no secret to it — he’s just worked really hard this summer,” said Boothby, who holds 8 a.m. workouts for a group that includes Gaudette, his brothers and fellow Hawks signee Mike Hardman.

“I felt bad for him when he was working as hard as he was before and still struggling to gain weight. To have that issue figured out, to put on the weight that he has this year to build on that frame, and [to see] his efficiency and quality movement patterns, I’m excited for him.”

Gaudette’s old 82-flex sticks have been cast aside; they started feeling too “whiffy.” Instead, he now uses 87-flex sticks with the resistance to match his weight.

He’s setting new personal bests in every weight-room exercise, from bench presses to pull-ups. And he’s doing all of it without dealing with hip-flexor or groin injuries, which nagged him in previous summers.

“I feel more powerful, quicker coming out of turns,” he said. “What I didn’t really expect is I feel more fluid and smoother, too, [because before] sometimes I felt like I’d trip over my own feet.”

He plans to drive to Chicago and move into a yet-to-be-found apartment at the end of the month, giving him plenty of time to settle in before camp begins.

And then he expects Hawks (and Canucks) coaches, management and fans will see a far different Adam Gaudette than they’ve seen before.

“I don’t think I need to change the way I play,” he said. “Some things are just going to be a little bit easier. I won’t be bumped off pucks as easily, and I’ll be able to win more stick battles or get in front of the net or be better defensively by containing guys.

“It’s going to be 20 more pounds that somebody has to fight against. Playing at 170 [and] going up against a guy who’s 210, that’s a lot of work you have to put in to try to win that battle. Being 190 or 195, those things will come a little easier, and I’ll be able to come out on top of those battles a lot more.”

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