Editor’s Note: Chris Long breaks down his experience with nutrition in the NFL and how it helps separate good teams from struggling ones.
There are guys in the NFL that are overweight and underweight, generally, and you’re fighting in either direction. Some people are lucky. They weigh exactly what they are asked to weigh when they arrive at camp.
I was consistently an underweight guy, even dating back to college. I played in a 3-4 defensive scheme. So 285 was my weight. I walked around now at about 253. As a 37-year-old man, it’s hard to keep that weight on in the first place. I have a hard time keeping weight on. So I would walk into the college weigh-in with a couple of two-and-a-half pound weights—the little, tiny plates that fit in your pocket—in my pockets to get over 280 and inch closer to 285.
There are challenges, and I think one of the big things is anticipating the attrition, the kind of pile-up. Not only does this make you lose a ton of water weight—every day, it could be ten to fifteen pounds of water weight—but it also kind of wears down your muscle tone. Coaches always think in training camp that you’re going to be able to build strength. That’s not the case. Everybody’s bodies are so worn down the best you can do is maintain—if you’re lucky.
You’re going to lose muscle tone. So for me, it was coming into camp and knowing I’m underweight. So I’d be packing on a little bit of muscle even at the risk of being a little less explosive knowing over that month, my body is going to break down a little.
That’s OK because when I get to week one, I’ll probably lose enough to settle right at the playing weight that I desired, which was about 265 most of the time in my career. But I would show up to camp weighing 273 pounds knowing I’d probably lose 8-10 pounds by the season.
Peek Inside an Al Groh Practice
I’ve been down 12-15 pounds after practices. Probably more even in college. In Virginia—a pretty humid place—we practiced in a bubble, and Al Groh was our head coach. He’s part of the Parcells coaching tree, so I’m sure some people here at The 33rd Team have coached with Al or know Al well.
There was a lot of hitting. There were long practices, and these were the two-a-day days. After that CBA in 2011, when we stopped really having two-a-days, it got a lot easier replacing that weight. When you were young, when we had two-a-days—or in College—you might lose 12 pounds twice a day.
Now kids are losing 12-15 pounds once a day, and that’s way easier to recoup and keep your muscle and weight where you want it to be.
It was really challenging after two-a-day practices. Two-a-days are rough because you would get back to practice, and not only were you tired, but your pads were also still wet! It’s a reminder that you just did this a few hours ago. And if you haven’t replaced your fluids and your foods, it’s going to be a problem,
A franchise is going to vary, just like a restaurant. I was in St.Louis for a while, and I’m not dogging anybody because they’re not a franchise anymore. They are the LA rams, and I’m pretty sure they have pretty good food out there now.
But when I was in St. Louis, we were on—especially during the seasons which is really criminal—a three food-genre rotation of choices. On Monday, it was Chinese. Then, on Wednesday, it was Mexican. On Friday it was like pizza, and sometimes they’d mix in some Popeyes. That’s not good! That is not what we should be eating. When you think about it, NFL players are allegedly some of the best athletes in the world. We’re like Ferraris, and we’re putting regular fuel in a Ferrari. That’s not great.
That’s the bad end of the spectrum.
How Good Teams Operate
The good end of the spectrum is a place like New England or a place like Philly. Where everything is really gourmet and really intentional. When there is a marrying of the nutritionist and the chef, and there is an effort to give football players a “football player meal” that is healthy and that tastes good.
Always, on the first day of camp no matter how bad your food is, they are going to roll out the red carpet for you. They want to butter you up for that conditioning test, and carb you up a little bit that first day. There is that big buzz. The first meal is always good. But then by day three, you find out what that franchise is all about. Day one is easy. It’s usually steak and lobster.
Day four… day five…. day six. That’s when you really find out what kind of food you’re going to be eating, and it does vary from spot to spot.