Chicken dishes made by X-Factor Meals. The catering service for athletes was created by a Stony Brook student. PHOTO COURTESY OF X-FACTOR MEALS

Whether it is post-workout or post-practice, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team can be found eating together. For dinner, it might be chicken and vegetables; for breakfast, it might be protein cereal. But every time, it is catered by X-Factor Meals, a meal-prep business started by a fellow Stony Brook student and his friend.

Matt Riss, a senior business management major, and Mark Ciaburri say the inspiration for the business stems from their days playing on a high school soccer team.

“There were multiple times we were eating at McDonald’s or Golden Corral the night before our biggest games of the year,” Riss said. “We struggled with nutrition and there was no immediate solution to the problem.”

The company started as a vendor at sports tournaments on Long Island in 2016, selling meals for athletes to eat on premise. The pair built a relationship with Stony Brook Athletics and the Assistant Athletics Director for Athletic Performance, George Greene, developing the Fueling Station — a spot where athletes could grab a healthy snack in between their demanding schedules. But Riss and Ciaburri wanted to expand more toward meal prep.

“We started with four friends and family as routine customers,” Riss said.

Ciaburri took the role as head chef and created all of the company’s menu options. While their snacks were processed at the Stony Brook incubator in Calverton, the move to meal prep meant they needed something bigger and better.

Currently, Ciaburri and staff cook the meals themselves out of a large catering facility in Ronkonkoma.

X-Factor has over 1,000 customers and sells about 6,000 meals per week after starting only two years ago. To date, they have made over half a million of their “healthy versions of unhealthy meals.”

“They provide high-quality, nutrient dense fueling option for our athletes,” Greene said.

The General Tso’s chicken, which Riss says is one of their most popular meals, sits at 411 calories with a whopping 38 grams of protein. Caloric demands do vary by athlete, but Greene has a solution for that.

“Our players wear heart rate monitors at practice,” Greene said. “We can see the calories burned, which helps us give the athletes an opportunity to replenish what they just burned.”

The calorie surpluses or deficits are tailored by athlete based on whether they need to gain, lose or maintain weight.

Josh Dacunha, a 22-year-old full-time college student and weekly customer of X-Factor Meals, says he is living proof that the meals can help people achieve their fitness goals.

“These meals legitimately taste like you are cheating on your diet, yet they are all super low calorie, low carb, and high in protein,” Dacunha said. “This company makes dieting, one of the most difficult things a human being can do, fun and easy. You can eat chicken bacon ranch quesadillas followed by a cinnamon sugar donut, and still lose weight.”

For young entrepreneurs like himself, Riss has advice.

“Find a problem and solve it,” Riss said. “We found a small niche, something very small and day by day expanded it. Eventually you will look back and realize you built something pretty cool.”

Riss and Ciaburri have certainly found their niche.

“The food is great,” Greene said. “And so is the convenience factor. The food is right there for [the athletes] when they’re done. They eat and then they can take care of business outside of the arena.”