Could You Handle A Professional Football Player’s Pre-Game Diet?

Ever wonder what professional football players are really eating and how it compares with a regular person’s diet? The answer, of course depends on the type of player (skilled positions like running backs vs. lineman), and food preferences. But to stay on their A-games, football players need proper nutrition.

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The Pro Football Diet

Many athletes focus on eating nutritious whole foods without having to count calories. They’ll take in plenty of healthy carbs like veggies, whole grains and legumes, and lean protein foods like grilled chicken, fish, and lean beef or bison. Lots of pro football players add protein shakes (or other protein-rich snacks) to daily meal plans and often steer clear of added sugars, sugary drinks, greasy fried foods, and refined grains like white bread. Some pro players also avoid gluten, certain dairy foods or both.

The calorie intake of pro football players is generally much higher than average adult men in the U.S. Sometimes athletes require double what regular active adult men need daily. Many players eat the same during the off-season as they do during football season, as they still train regularly. Exceptions can occur for players trying to gain or shed pounds during off-season training.

1. Russell Wilson

Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson knows what it takes to nourish his body properly before a big game. His 4,800-calorie meal plan consists of eating nine meals per day and cutting dairy and gluten. For breakfast, he might eat two cups of cooked oatmeal, chicken breast, fruit, and six eggs. Lunch may consist of 8 ounces of lean protein with a cup of potatoes or rice and vegetables. For dinner, he might have steak or fish and vegetables or a salad. And you might see Wilson snacking on whey protein shakes, fruit, nuts or nut butter. Whole foods, with one or a few ingredients, are what he strives for.

2. Rashad Jennings

You might be wondering what type of diet pro running backs typically eat? Rashad Jennings shared what he typically eats in a day. He focuses on well-balanced meals and steers clear of casein, added sugars, empty carbs, gluten and doesn’t count calories. He eats the same during the off-season as he does during football season.

Jennings fits in about three to four full-course meals daily, including a large shake or egg whites with oatmeal and turkey bacon for breakfast. For lunch and dinner, he’ll have a salad with protein, another protein food like bison meat, turkey meatloaf or grilled chicken, a starch like rice, pasta or sweet potatoes, and vegetables, plus fruit or yogurt. Once and awhile he’ll have dessert. He likes to snack on whole fruit, turkey meatballs, protein shakes for muscle recovery or hummus with gluten-free toast, avocados, and turkey bacon. Jennings also loves sushi.

3. Tom Brady

Tom Brady may have a much stricter diet than most people, but it seems to be working well for him and his professional football career. Brady eats about 80 percent plant foods like vegetables, whole grains like quinoa, brown rice and millet, and beans. What about the other 20 percent? It’s lean meats like chicken, duck, fish (mainly salmon) and grass-fed organic steak. He uses raw olive oil and coconut oil and flavors foods with Himalayan pink salt.

Brady has quite the long list of foods he doesn’t eat, however. While his diet is packed with vegetables, he doesn’t eat certain veggies like nightshades (eggplant, mushrooms and peppers — and sometimes tomatoes). He also cuts white flour, white sugar, MSG, iodized salt, caffeine, coffee, and dairy from his diet entirely.

4. Matt Kalil

Offensive lineman, Matt Kalil’s diet may be slightly higher in calories than other professional football players because he’s trying to maintain, or even gain at times, body mass. He can eat up to 6,000 calories daily to stay big and pack on pounds. An average U.S. adult man requires 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.

Kalil takes in about three protein shakes daily at 800 calories each in addition to three large meals. He’ll choose sweet potatoes, pasta, lean meats, PB&J sandwiches and adds extra snacks as needed. But just because he has to keep his calorie intake high to stay buff, doesn’t mean he’ll reach for sweets. Kalil realizes healthy calories are best to keep his energy level and strength at its max.

5. Tony Gonzalez

Similar to Tom Brady’s eating habits (but maybe not quite as strict), Tony Gonzalez’s diet is about 80 percent plant-based with fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc. and 20 percent chicken or fish. Gonzalez also includes vegan shakes in his regular eating routine.

He might eat oatmeal with granola, fruit, and nuts for breakfast. He’ll often add a fruit and veggie smoothie with nuts or seeds to this. Lunch may be a veggie burger, salad, fish, and veggies. A post-workout snack for Gonzalez may be another smoothie with vegan protein powder and a protein or energy bar. Dinner is a lot like lunch for Gonzalez and can consist of brown rice, fish or chicken, veggies, and healthy fats like avocado and walnuts. Sometimes he will even indulge in a vegan cookie for dessert.

6. Lorenzo Alexander

Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was in the unique position of trying to lose weight, as he moved to linebacker from defensive tackle. During the off-season before the transition, Alexander lost over 70 pounds by restricting his carb intake and cutting out sweet treats. Alexander eventually added carbohydrates back in so he’d have plenty of energy come game time.

He now enjoys eating nutritious foods like oatmeal or healthy waffles made with cassava or buckwheat flour with turkey bacon and egg whites. Lunch or dinner might be salmon, brown rice and veggies or a salad. Alexander may snack on protein shakes, fruit, almonds or rice cakes topped with peanut butter. While not every pro football player does this, Alexander says he allows himself a not so healthy cheat meal after games.