NFL players are elite athletes that workout hard and need to fuel their bodies right to stay injury free and on top of their game.
Just how much do they need to eat during the season? And what type of foods do they eat? That’s what I set out to find out.
Not surprisingly, the answer to those questions really depends on the individual athlete and the position he plays.
According to an interview in February of 2014, Susan M. Kleiner, RD and nutrition consultant for the Seattle Seahawks told the Huffington Post that a quarterback typically “needs a minimum of 4,000 calories a day and up to 6,000 calories a day, depending on where they are in their training, in the season, and how quickly they gain or lose weight.”
Former Tennessee Titan defensive tackle Torrie Griffin maintained a playing weight of 290lbs. To keep his weight up he ate roughly 8,000 calories per day!
Griffin says for breakfast he’d often down supersized restaurant portions of waffles, eggs, bacon, grits and toast. At dinner Griffin and his fellow tackles would be something along the lines of two burgers, mac and cheese and fries. Griffin says he now recognizes he should have paid more attention to the type of foods he ate during his playing days.
As more NFL teams begin researching the impact of a healthy diet on player longevity and injury prevention, meal times around the league are changing.
During the season teams will usually provide meals and snacks for players that consist of healthy fats, healthy carbs, protein and lots of fruit and vegetables.
In the NFL Kleiner says, “the typical day starts with as much breakfast as we can get in, consisting typically of some kind of heart whole-grain cereal, maybe a whole-grain toast, flax seeds, whole fruit. On many teams they’re getting lots of sautéed vegetables with omelets or eggs in the morning.”
Nose tackle, Zach Kerr told the Indiana Star he tries to eat healthy and likes to have “eggs with veggies and a protein shake” for breakfast.
Safety, Chris Crocker says, he starts his day with turkey sausage and egg whites with tomatoes and spinach.
This is pretty typical for NFL athletes. Across the league here’s what you can find players eating in the morning:
- Egg whites
- Turkey bacon
- Fresh fruit
- Whole grain cereal
- Whole grain toast
- Omelets with sautéed vegetables
Starting the day off with a balanced meal of lean protein, fruits and vegetables and healthy carbs allows players to practice and play hard.
Many NFL players will have at least two healthy snacks per day, which might consist of:
- Whole fruit
- Turkey meatballs
- Protein shake and smoothies
- Nuts and nut butters
- Hummus on gluten-free toast with chopped avocados and turkey bacon
Kerr says on the weekends he’ll cheat and really enjoys eating wings with honey barbecue or chipotle barbecue sauce.
While cheat meals happen from time to time, Leslie Bonci, RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and team sports dietitian for the Pittsburgh Steelers preaches to players that their emphasis really needs to be on lean meats.
Bonci says, “I don’t want my players saying ‘I got all my protein because I ate wings'” Instead she wants players to focus on eating lean chicken, lean beef, soy and beans as healthy proteins.
Running back Rashad Jenning told NFL.com, “rather than eating [things] like pretzels or some chips, my snack might be turkey meatballs. One of my favorite snacks is hummus spread on gluten-free toast with chopped avocados and turkey bacon. It’s a great little sandwich.”
Lunch for many NFL players will be served in the form of a sandwich, wrap or salad. Favorites around the league include:
- Bunless turkey burgers
- Salads with protein
- Grilled chicken and vegetables
Jennings says he often has “a house salad with probably chopped up chicken, or it might be tuna, whatever the salad may be, but some type of protein in it.”
Running back, Arian Foster is a vegan and often enjoys vegetables, potatoes and rice for lunch. He says from time to time he’ll eat a chicken breast, but does so sparingly.
Dinner for NFL players consists of – you guessed it – lean protein, vegetables and healthy carbs such as:
- Bison burger with sweet potatoes & mixed veggies
- Turkey meatloaf with pesto pasta & sautéed vegetables
- Lean ground-beef lasagna
- Grilled chicken breast
- Steak and potatoes
Jennings says chicken is a staple for him, but one of his favorites is “turkey meatloaf with pesto pasta and sautéed vegetables” combined with sweet yogurt.
While us mere mortals may not need to consume as many calories as NFL players, we can certainly take a leaf out of their books and place a focus on eating more lean meats, healthy fats, good carbs and lots of vegetables.