Former NHL Star Mike Cammalleri Talks Nutrition and The Creation of BioSteel
When he was 11 years old, Mike Cammalleri was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract. This diagnosis led Cammalleri to become passionate — and very careful — about what he put into his body as he grew older and eventually became a professional athlete, playing in the NHL for 15 seasons before retiring in 2018.
“I was fortunate to have great influences in my life growing up,” says Cammalleri over the phone from just outside of Toronto. “I worked with some of the best trainers and nutritionists in the world at a young age, and I kept hearing the same thing — be careful about the harmful preservatives, food colourings, dyes, and sugars that are in products you consume.”
Known throughout the league as a fitness junkie, Cammalleri became frustrated with the nutrition products available at the time he was breaking into the league. There were countless options, but there was almost no transparency about what was actually in these products. This became even trickier in 2004 when the NHL implemented drug testing for its players. Cammalleri reached out to Matt Nichol, then the strength and conditioning coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who went to these companies and requested drug testing documentation for the products in which Cammalleri was interested; not one company could provide proof that was in their products would pass NHL regulations.
An idea was then born. Cammalleri and Nichol, along with Cammalleri’s childhood best friend John Celenza, founded BioSteel and got to work on a hydration beverage that met a few principles important to the three of them: it was natural, 100% safe, and transparent.
Much of the research and development happened on NHL benches, says Cammalleri, who currently is the co-chief executive of BioSteel. His teammates would try different formulations of the beverage as it developed, providing feedback along the way. Earlier this month, BioSteel became the official hydration partner of the NHL, cementing a relationship that has existed since before the product officially launched over a decade ago.
“It’s a full-circle moment for the company,” says Cammalleri. “This product was born in NHL locker rooms. We’ve always been in the bottles on the bench, but to have an official partnership is a proud moment, both for me on a personal level and for our company. I get emotional thinking about all the people involved and all the work that they’ve put into the company over the last decade.”
The partnership kicked in at the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal earlier this month, with BioSteel on board as a presenting sponsor of national coverage across Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. As part of the deal, BioSteel receive rinkside marketing and supply rights, as well as retail activation rights and community engagement platforms.
Cammalleri’s interest in business goes back to his time at the University of Michigan, where he studied sports management and communications on a hockey scholarship before being drafted 49th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2011 NHL entry draft. “My dad was an entrepreneur, and my scholarship at Michigan was endowed by the dean of entrepreneurial studies, so business is something I’ve always been interested in and wanted to explore,” he says. “I was lucky that I found an opportunity while I was still playing hockey, and it’s gone much further than I could’ve ever expected.”
The Toronto native also credits his career as a professional athlete for helping him develop skills that translate to the business world. “Professional sport is a workspace where you work with highly motivated people,” he explains. “The culture that creates enables people to really push themselves beyond their comfort zone, challenging the status quo and challenging themselves to do exceptional things.”
At the end of the day, Cammalleri believes what separates BioSteel from the rest of the hydration beverage market is authenticity. “BioSteel was literally made for athletes by athletes,” he says. “The product that we make for Connor McDavid is the same product that the everyday consumer who just wants to hydrate buys at the grocery store. And that makes such a difference.”
Learn more about BioSteel here.