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Before your NFL picks against the spread are graded either a winner or a loser, there’s been a whole week of preparation put in by the players. This includes the usual practices and endless pouring over the game film but also fueling the engine that drives these high-caliber athletes – their bodies.
It is often said that an NFL player’s best ability is their availability. Part of staying healthy involves not only intensive cardio and weight training but also eating right so that this exercise can have a maximum effect. It doesn’t make sense to spend 2 hours in the gym when you’re just going to wash that all away by eating a greasy pizza and downing a 12-pack of soda.
While players’ individual diets do have some variation, there are some staple foods built into the nutrition plan of all 32 NFL teams. Here are the key players:
Former Tight End Reggie Kelly said salmon (along with hummus and sweet potatoes) was one of the three main foods that every NFL player had in their refrigerator and dietician Bonnie Taub-Dix agreed with him, saying she’d be fine if those were the only foods she had with her on a deserted island.
Salmon is known as a great recovery food, which helps players restore cells after practices and games. Salmon has low levels of cholesterol and is rich in Vitamin B6, niacin, and riboflavin, which helps build back muscles and tissues. Omega-3 fish oil promotes heart health and, in some studies, has reduced the risk of coronary disease by up to 25% – important for 300+ pound athletes who put their heart through a lot.
Salmon is considered exceptionally good for your health due to its rich nutritional profile. Here are several reasons why salmon is beneficial for you:
High-Quality Protein: Salmon is an excellent source of high-quality protein, which is essential for muscle maintenance and repair. Protein also helps with the feeling of fullness, aiding in weight management.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Salmon is renowned for its omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These essential fatty acids are associated with numerous health benefits, including:
Heart Health: Omega-3s can reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, reducing triglycerides, and improving cholesterol profiles.
Brain Health: DHA is crucial for brain development and function, and it may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases.
Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory effects, which can help alleviate symptoms of inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Rich in Vitamins and Minerals: Salmon is a good source of several essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, selenium, and niacin. These nutrients play various roles in maintaining overall health, including bone health, energy metabolism, and immune system function.
Astaxanthin: This is a powerful antioxidant found in salmon, particularly in its pink or red flesh. Astaxanthin helps protect the body’s cells from damage by free radicals and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Protein and Weight Management: Salmon’s combination of protein, healthy fats, and omega-3s can help you feel full and satisfied, potentially reducing overall calorie intake and aiding in weight management.
Reduced Risk of Macular Degeneration: Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon may help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of vision impairment in older adults.
Skin Health: The omega-3s and antioxidants in salmon can contribute to healthy, radiant skin by reducing inflammation and protecting against UV damage.
Bone Health: Salmon is a good source of vitamin D and calcium, both of which are important for strong and healthy bones.
Reduced Risk of Certain Cancers: Some studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA and EPA, may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, such as breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer.
Improved Mood: Omega-3s have been linked to improved mood and a reduced risk of depression. Consuming salmon may help support mental well-being.
It’s worth noting that while salmon is a highly nutritious food, it’s essential to include a variety of foods in your diet to ensure you get a wide range of nutrients. Additionally, opt for wild-caught salmon over farm-raised whenever possible, as wild salmon often has a more favorable nutrient profile and is less likely to contain contaminants.
Omega 3 also reduces stiffness in joints which can ease the pain in the knees, hips, and other parts of the body that take a beating during a long NFL season.
One of Kelly’s other main staples is sweet potatoes, and other athletes agree, labeling them as one of the pristine ‘superfoods.’ The first thing sweet potatoes do is provide carbohydrates which the body needs to provide the gas for training but also to aid in recovery.
After a workout or a game, the body drops glycogen levels, and sweet potatoes can help restore that with their package of beta-carotene and various anthocyanins. Slow-digesting carbohydrates help keep the athlete full, and high potassium levels work to prevent muscle fatigue.
Besides the obvious health benefits, NFL players like sweet potatoes because they are a versatile food to prepare meals with. Whether baked whole, made into fries, or chopped and roasted in other dishes or salads, there are many ways to get the benefits of sweet potatoes without the recipes getting stale.
A somewhat surprising addition to Kelly’s list is hummus, but it serves as a healthy snack for NFL players. Hummus is a protein-packed snack that helps keep athletes full, so they don’t give in to the craving of eating a whole greasy pizza. The chickpeas in hummus have healthy fats and fibers, and other ingredients in hummus include olive oil which helps with joint inflammation, and garlic, which promotes gut health.
Hummus is considered a nutritious food that offers several health benefits due to its ingredients and nutritional composition. Here are some reasons why hummus is good for you:
Rich in Plant-Based Protein: Hummus is primarily made from chickpeas (garbanzo beans), which are a good source of plant-based protein. Protein is essential for muscle maintenance, repair, and overall body function.
Healthy Fats: Hummus typically contains tahini, which is made from sesame seeds. Sesame seeds are rich in healthy fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats can help support heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Fiber Content: Chickpeas are high in dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Fiber aids in digestion, promotes a feeling of fullness (which can assist with weight management), and helps regulate blood sugar levels.
Vitamins and Minerals: Hummus contains various vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin B6, manganese, phosphorus, and iron. These nutrients play essential roles in energy metabolism, red blood cell formation, and overall health.
Antioxidants: Chickpeas and tahini are rich in antioxidants, which help combat oxidative stress and reduce inflammation in the body. Antioxidants are associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.
Heart Health: The combination of fiber, healthy fats, and antioxidants in hummus can contribute to better heart health by lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart disease.
Blood Sugar Control: The fiber and protein in hummus can help stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent rapid spikes and crashes, making it a suitable choice for those with diabetes or those looking to manage their blood sugar.
Weight Management: Hummus can be a valuable addition to a weight management plan because it provides a sense of fullness due to its protein and fiber content. This can help reduce overall calorie intake.
Improved Digestion: The dietary fiber in chickpeas supports a healthy digestive system by promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation.
Bone Health: Hummus contains minerals like calcium and phosphorus, which are essential for strong and healthy bones.
Nutrient Dense: Hummus is nutrient-dense, meaning it provides a variety of essential nutrients while being relatively low in calories. This makes it a healthy and satisfying snack or addition to meals.
Versatility: Hummus is incredibly versatile and can be used as a dip, spread, or condiment. It can be paired with vegetables, whole-grain crackers, or used as a substitute for other high-calorie dips and spreads.
It’s important to note that while hummus is nutritious, its nutritional content can vary depending on the recipe and brand. Be mindful of portion sizes, especially if you are watching your calorie intake. Additionally, opt for hummus with minimal added ingredients and preservatives for the most health benefits.
Some other lighter foods that athletes might prefer include avocados which are packed with healthy fats, fiber, and nutrients and also aids with recovery due to high levels of potassium. Oatmeal is almost the perfect breakfast as it is slow digesting and can provide energy well into the afternoon. Bananas and almonds can be added to the oatmeal to give it some flavor but also provide more essential nutrients.
Berries are also another almost imperative snack food for athletes because athletes can load them with natural antioxidants, which help combat muscle soreness while also providing carbohydrates to fuel the workout in the first place. Perhaps the best attribute of berries is that they taste good, something other snacks like oatmeal or plain nuts can’t always boast.