What Do Athletes REALLY Eat? Part 3: Football
January 29th, 2019
As Super Bowl 53 approaches, we thought it would be a great time to continue our series on “What do athletes REALLY eat?” When looking at professional football players, it probably comes as no surprise that they eat a lot of food. Of course, that comes with a relentless regimen of strength and endurance training that sees these athletes burning far more calories than the average person. That said, NFL teams have adopted a very scientific approach to feeding their players, seeing reductions in injuries as well as extending careers for some of the game’s top players.
So with the Super Bowl just days away, we thought it would be fun to look back to the pre-season. In August of 2018 the Washington Post looked at what its local, Washington, DC NFL team did to feed their team during a single week in an article titled, “875 pounds of fish, 54 dozen eggs and a kombucha machine: A week feeding an NFL team.”
The article was written during training camp, when the team’s final roster of 53 was still being determined. The author described what players would see when walking into the team cafeteria. “To their left was one of their favorites: a smoothie bar stocked with single-serving bags of frozen fruits, milk options and kale. To the right was a toppings-filled salad bar, next to rows of six different lunch entree options and trays of pizza with thin Greek yogurt crusts.”
The Post spoke with the team’s assistant strength and conditioning coach, Jake Sankal, who is also the team’s director of sports nutrition. Sandal says that part of his job is education and helping players realize the benefits of healthy eating in a competitive field. Another aspect of the job is being intentional about providing healthy choices. Says Sankal, “What we try to do more than just being the food police is provide them healthy options. We focus a ton on quality food here. That’s really the biggest thing we do. And then we try to educate them.”
“What we try to do more than just being the food police is provide them healthy options.”– Jake Sankal
Sankal encourages players to be thinking constantly about their levels of hydration, meal preparation, and how they are fueling their bodies for the grueling schedules they face. The Post describes this level of education by team as a “dietitian revolution sweeping college and professional football.” The paper says that in 2007, just 13 NCAA institutions and one NFL team, the New England Patriots, had a full-time sports dietitian. In August 2018 that number had swelled to 84 colleges and 20 NFL teams.
Players have become increasingly interested in the topic as older stars and mentors pass along information. And while rumors swirl about the secret or proprietary elements of diets, Sankal says that the reality is that, “the majority of it is all fundamental good nutrition.” Cutting out sugary drinks, being mindful of what players eat at which times of the day, and trying an array of foods that may be new to many players are all part of the team’s plan.
So when you watch the teams square off this weekend, know that behind the marquee names of coaches and coordinators there is likely a small group that has worked to shape diets to allow these elite athletes to reach the pinnacle of their sport. Nutrition is a choice, and these athletes have gone all-in.