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You Won't Believe What Pro Football Players Eat in a Day

What does it take to eat like a player in the NFL? We share the diets of 13 top pro players, from breakfast to dessert to snacks (4!) in between.

By Emma Kumer, Digital Editorial Intern

Football players standing side-by-side with their backs to the camera displaying their red jerseys and numbers

Shutterstock / kuzmafoto


While we might indulge in some honey barbecue wings or seven-layer taco dip while watching football, we know that the muscular NFL players probably can't eat like that. Instead, to stay powerful yet light on their feet, most of them follow a very strict meal plan. Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots, became famous last year for revealing his clean diet: 80 percent organic vegetables and whole grains, 20 percent lean meats like salmon and chicken. Brady also doesn't eat tomatoes, mushrooms, flour, or sugar in any form—even fruit! (He's even written a $200 cookbook...really.)

On the other end of the spectrum, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watts shapes his diet mainly around calories—9,000 calories per day, which could mean 50 slices of bacon, 20 chicken breasts, and 13 avocados. Such different approaches to the everyday diet made us decide to look at what most NFL players eat to fuel up for practice and games. Let's break it down!

Most people believe these foods are healthy...but they're really not.



Breakfast

When it comes to starting the day off right, most NFL players focus on getting in plenty of protein and vitamins, even if that means eating things we normally wouldn't consider breakfast foods, like kale and cheese. Which of these would you find most appetizing?

Von Miller, Denver Broncos linebacker: Four eggs, five slices of turkey bacon, fruit, cold-pressed juice

Tom Brady, New England Patriots quarterback: "Green juice" protein shake with electrolytes, kale and collards, or "Brady Cakes" made from egg whites, protein powder and almond oil.

Troy Hill, LA Rams corner back: Waffles, sausage, an omelet and a protein shake.

Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills linebacker: Half a cup of oatmeal with egg whites.

Rashad Jennings, free agent running back: Toast with hummus, avocado and turkey bacon.

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints quarterback: Two gluten-free waffles, potato hash browns, sausage and a pear.

Brandon Marshall, New York Giants receiver: Seven egg whites, chicken sausage, cheese, and two cups of blueberries.

Here's how to eat eggs all day.



Snacks

After working out or practicing for a few hours, it's important to refuel and keep that energy up with protein powerhouse bites. Most players aim to get in at least four snacks per day. (OK, we're starting to get jealous...)

Von Miller, Denver Broncos linebacker: Plenty of beef jerky!

Tom Brady, New England Patriots quarterback: A handful of almonds.

Troy Hill, LA Rams corner back: Two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Cam Thomas, free agent defensive tackle: Skinny Pop popcorn and strawberries.

Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills linebacker: Rice cakes with peanut butter.

Rashad Jennings, free agent running back: Turkey meatballs.

Is cheese vegetarian? The answer might surprise you.



Lunch

You might expect players to down a couple cheeseburgers for their midday meal, but most NFL lunches consist of a lot of greens topped with protein of many sorts. We have a feeling they'd like these satisfying protein-packed salads!

Von Miller, Denver Broncos linebacker: Chicken breast, complex carbs, cold-pressed juice.

Tom Brady, New England Patriots quarterback: Half a cup of quinoa with broccoli, beets, sweet potatoes, avocado, kale and bean sprouts.

Cam Thomas, free agent defensive tackle: Spinach salad with chicken, hard-boiled egg and light ranch dressing.

Matt Kalil, Carolina Panthers offensive tackle: Lean meat, pasta and sweet potatoes.

We're down with whole grains.



Dinner

Winner winner, chicken dinner! This meal is focused on lean meats like salmon, chicken and turkey. It mostly mirrors lunch, though the players try to add some variety.

Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills linebacker: Brown rice, salmon, broccoli and a small side salad.

J.J. Watt, Houston Texans defensive lineman: Eight chicken breasts, three wrapped in bacon.

Peyton Manning, retired quarterback: Grilled chicken, potatoes, pasta with marinara sauce, broccoli.

Ryan Pickett, retired defensive end: Grilled chicken, green beans and rice.

Love chicken dinners? Here some ready in 30 minutes or less!



Dessert

A lot of players try to avoid dessert and "cheat foods," but a few indulge now and then—especially to celebrate a win!

Tom Brady, New England Patriots quarterback: Avocado ice cream! (Wonder if he makes his without a machine, like we do...)

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver: Candy and brownies. (According to Jones, he's not a "health nut"!)

Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders running back: A pack of Skittles (after every touchdown).

Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills linebacker: After games, what he calls a "brinner" of pancakes and french toast.

We prefer to celebrate with these tailgate recipes.


How can you incorporate some of these ideas into your diet? Well, you might not be trying to bulk up to tackle anyone soon, but you still need plenty of fuel to get through your day. Try packing a protein-filled breakfast, getting in some greens at lunch, and limiting your sugar intake throughout the day. That way, you'll stay full and satisfied without feeling those dessert cravings. Sounds like a touchdown to us!

That is, of course, unless you want to eat more like J.J. Watt. For him, we suggest our most over-the-top recipes ever!