Diet and Nutrition in the NFL
At one time, the National Football League was considered a seasonal sport. Players would occupy the role of being a professional athlete during the season, but aside from the stars who were garnering big contracts (for the time), many of the players had offseason jobs whether they worked in the local grocery store or even in sales.
However, the modern-day NFL is very much a year-round ordeal. And although the NFL season is only about 6-months long if you count the pre and postseason, the job of a professional football player never actually ends. There are no more sales jobs for the players who make the final 53 man roster. In fact, even top-end practice squad players earn enough to make a living compared to the average joe. Whether its photo-ops, red and black carpet affairs or the everyday grind and training routine that it takes to keep themselves ahead of the proverbial next man up on the depth chart, the NFL athlete must be on point seemingly 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That means they need to be in tremendous shape. But there is more that goes into it. In order to keep up without their bodies breaking down, the player must fuel themselves with the proper diet, supplement, and nutrition plan. But it’s not all serious all the time. Even the most dedicated athlete treats themselves to the proverbial ketosis cheat day.
Sounds simple right? But it’s not. It’s 2018, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, diet, health, and fitness have taken over pop culture like Beanie Babies did in the 90s. Everywhere we look, whether it’s on television, social media or even in your own home, we all know someone who is dieting and training for something. And it’s confusing. Take it from me, I’m 33 years old and signed up for my first gym membership when I was 16. In that time, I’ve trained as an amateur non-competitive bodybuilder. Personally, I’ve used multiple diets that include intermittent fasting, low-carb/ low-fat/ high protein for cutting, high-carb/ low-fat/ high protein for bulking and anything in between. The same could be said for the professional football player. Everybody is different, so naturally, every diet and training routine should vary and be modified to the individual down to the final rep and calorie. Moreover, because the NFL is so diverse and employs players of all shapes and sizes, their diets are broken down to an individual’s height, weight and even position. After all, a punter isn’t going to need the same calorie intake as a lineman trying to maintain their 6″4,’ 310-pound frame or a running back who enters training camp overweight and needs to cut down.
For example, Patriots QB Tom Brady lives by his own program, the TB12 lifestyle, which includes one of the more fascinating diets out there. Similar to the Paleo diet, Brady, or anyone else out there who utilizes TB12 is instructed to avoid gluten, caffeine, sugars, and dairy. As a result, Brady’s diet is very much plant-based. Another example comes from former NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez. His diet primarily consists of a high amount of fish, some chicken, and red meats only twice a month while loading up on fruits and vegetables and completely deterring from consuming dairy. However, the new kid on the block in terms of NFL diets is the ketogenic diet better known as Keto. The Keto diet is unique. While the lion’s share of diets is low or high carb, depending on one’s goal, Keto’s focus is high in fat (80 percent) while taking in an adequate amount of protein with a carb count that is so low that it is non-existent.
How does it work? The Keto diet works by changing the way the human body breaks down food into energy. In normal carbohydrate-based diets, the body breaks down the carbohydrates and uses them for energy. However, with Keto, the body must adapt and find another way as there is not a sufficient amount of carb intake for the body to function in a normal capacity. And because the human body is so complex, it has a backup plan for when someone hasn’t eaten in a while or is deliberately shying away from carbs. This process is called ketosis.
When you’re in a state of ketosis, the human body releases fat from cells and turns them into ketones. If I can’t eat carbs, what can I eat? Like I said before, when you choose Keto, you essentially eliminate carbohydrates from your diet, leaving you with fats and proteins. With foods like bread, pasta, rice, fruit and potatoes out of the mix, someone on the keto diet will survive off of eating high amounts of red meat, fish, chicken and pork to get their protein while targeting avocados, green vegetables, fatty oils, nuts, seeds and berries for the rest of their nutrients. While Keto may not be for everyone, it is a diet that former NFL player Tim Tebow swears by. It is safe and could be life-changing for the right individual.
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