Football players spend hours working hard in the gym to prepare for domination on the gridiron.
While getting things right in the gym is essential for any athlete, keeping a close eye on your diet and nutrition is just as important. If you don’t eat right, it could be—pardon the pun—a recipe for disaster. Making sure your body is getting the nutrients it need can help maintain your strength, muscle, and athletic ability, resulting in success on the field.
New York Giants offensive lineman Justin Pugh didn’t always focus on his nutrition early in his career, but once he found out about his slight gluten intolerance, he changed his tune and the results have made a difference.
“I have to make sure that I’m as strong and explosive as I can be coming into training camp,” Pugh says. “I did not have as strong of a grasp on my diet coming into the league. I have learned a lot about it and it is huge for me to eat whole, clean foods while limiting the amount of gluten in my diet.”
Pugh detailed his workout plan for Men’s Fitness and stressed the importance of supplementing his workouts with the proper diet: “I think that I am much more aware of what goes into my body and how it affects me,” Pugh said. “This is my body and this is my career—I have to take what goes into it very seriously.”
Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Kony Ealy—who might have been the Super Bowl 50 MVP if his team beat the Broncos—agrees with Pugh. “You are burning so many calories at practice and in games, it’s important to maintain your weight” Ealy says. “Everything that goes into your body is important.”
One way to get things started right is with a nutritious, balanced breakfast. Both Pugh and Ealy agree on that point—Pugh downs a shake filled with fruit, vitamins, spinach, and protein every day, while Ealy goes with eggs and fruit—and so does Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., C.D.N., C.P.T., the CEO and founder of The NY Nutrition Group.
“Starting your day off with a healthy, balanced breakfast is crucial for optimal recovery and getting the results you are looking for while training,” says Moskovitz. “Skipping breakfast and starting your day on an empty stomach can wreak havoc on energy levels, blood sugar, and even your bodies ability to sufficiently burn calories throughout the day.”
During the day, Pugh mixes it up with a wide range of options: "For breakfast, I go with a smoothie packed with fruit, chia seeds, oats, wheat, and protein and sometimes I'll have eggs on the side if I'm really hungry. I take a multivitamin and Vitamin C every day, a fish oil pill, and also use MusclePharm and a protein powder. Lunch is usually a salad with some protein or a wrap with protein, then for dinner it's chicken or steak with vegetables and potatoes." Pugh said he also likes healthy snacks like trail mix, Kind bars, and fresh pressed juice.
Ealy eats stacks of food to keep his 6'4", 275-pound frame where it needs to be: "I eat five meals per day during the season," Ealy says. "After breakfast I'll have a small meal or snack mid-morning. Around noon, I’ll have lunch and then another small meal or snack mid-afternoon before dinner in the evening. I eat a lot of fruit, veggies, and yogurt too. This diet has helped me keep my energy levels high and it really makes a big difference."
Here's a look at some of the best food options for football players looking to stay strong, build muscle, and keep their bodies in peak physical condition.