Some NFL players turn to classic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a pregame snack. Others might build their own smoothies, while those with game-day jitters might have no appetite at all and focus mostly on staying hydrated.
As the Super Bowl approaches – with the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams facing off in Atlanta on Sunday – those might be some of the foods NFL players are eating while training for the big game, but every player is different, said Leslie Bonci, a sports dietitian with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“A lot of the guys love PB&J. That’s a comfortable food for them,” Bonci said.
“Some of the guys have it with a glass of milk, just like they did in grade school … and that works as a fuel source,” she said. “Some of them like to be a little bit more sophisticated or fancy with their food choices, but at the end of the day, what’s going to sit comfortably in the stomach when the stakes are high, that’s really what we’re looking for.”
Other foods that Bonci says are popular among NFL players are yogurt, Greek or regular, by itself or as a parfait; smoothies that are typically fruit-based, possibly with protein powder added; vegetable stir-fry; eggs; and pastas.
Oatmeal is “a real comforting one because it’s a comfortable food. They like it. Even soups are a great one, because it’s liquid and food. It’s one-stop shopping,” she said, adding that chicken also is a popular protein source.
Mike Minnis, coordinator of performance nutrition and assistant strength coach for the Philadelphia Eagles – the winning team in the 2018 Super Bowl – said in an email that staying consistent with food and meal choices before a big game is key.
“There isn’t necessarily any ‘magic’ food that we recommend the players to eat leading up to the Super Bowl. The most important thing is consistency and trying to stay on the same eating schedule that they are used to, especially the week leading up to the game,” said Minnis, a member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association.
“By the time of the Super Bowl, the players have been practicing and playing for 20-plus weeks and recovery leading up to the game is crucial. We also want to make sure the athletes are maintaining their weight and fueling appropriately during the week leading up to the game so that they have a full tank when the whistle blows,” he said. “Most importantly, we would not want the athlete to eat a food that they have never had before, especially on the day of the game.”
The only foods that Minnis would not recommend on the day of the Super Bowl would be those extremely high in fat or fiber, he said. “These foods can sit in your gut longer than others and could potentially cause some adverse gastrointestinal discomfort if eaten in excess.”
The timing of a meal also remains important; most players will eat about three hours before a game, Bonci said.
“A meal may be three hours prior, but that doesn’t mean that everybody’s eating it,” Bonci said.
“The nerve factor is there, and there are a lot of players that just don’t have an appetite,” she said. “Typically, the closer you get, the smaller the amount of food that you want to have. So if somebody wants to do something just liquid, like a smoothie, you might do that an hour before.”
Overall, each player in the NFL typically has an individualized diet, and the amount of calories he consumes each day can vary.
“I think there is a misconception that every NFL player is on a 6,000-calorie diet. That is not necessarily true,” Minnis said.
“One thing to consider is that the training load and stimulus of practices and overall training usually changes as the season progresses, and as a result, the athlete is not burning near the same number of calories that he was earlier in training camp and at the beginning of the season,” he said. “Also, across all the position groups, you have a huge variety in body weights and body compositions, and everyone has different goals relative to themselves.”
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A growing number of players also are adopting vegan or plant-based diets.
“The public is assuming that these players are eating ridiculously large amounts of food. They’re ridiculously large human beings, but they really don’t,” Bonci said.
“It is very individualized,” she said. “On any given Sunday – I love that movie – there’s a lot of variables you cannot control. You can’t control the weather. You can’t always control your opponent, and you can’t control how other people on your own team play. But you can always control your food and fluid.”