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.
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.
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.