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The grill is hot, and the wings are even hotter. We’re talking about your Super Bowl tailgate! While we’re slurping our beers and chomping on that 7-layer dip, the pros are eating something entirely different to prepare for one of the biggest games of their lives. No pressure.

So, what does an NFL player eat behind-the-scenes?

Turns out their daily diets can include 9,000 calories, up to 10 meals a day! This is mostly because they burn most of those calories on the field, and use the rest to bulk up for different positions on the team to maximize their performance.

But that does not mean they can just eat empty calories (8 tubs of ice cream, anyone)? Nope! Most players have minimal body fat—they’re hundreds of pounds of pure muscle and agility.

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Former New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford told the New York Times he eats “about 200 grams of protein a day (the FDA’s daily recommendation is 50 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet), loading up on scrambled egg whites, bun-less turkey burgers, and lean-ground-beef lasagna.”

On the other end, former NFL-er and CNN sports anchor Coy Wire says most players tend to eat ordinary meals.  “During the season, players get their breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the facilities. Those buffets look like a buffet at a nice hotel. As an example, some guys just eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast, another guy might grab some eggs and bacon. For lunches, some guys make a sandwich, other guys might have chicken and veggies…You get the idea.” 

But Coy has seen his fair share of oddball eating. He recalls, “I once saw an O-Lineman eat an entire large pizza in one sitting while drinking a 2-liter bottle of Coke like it was a 12-ounce can!”  

Noah Spence, defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has a nine-meal, 9,000-calorie daily diet!

He does this with several high-calorie protein shakes a day, and lean meats and vegetables. The NFL describes it as cultivating mass, not gaining weight.

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Lisa Drayer, registered dietitian and CNN health and nutrition contributor, says each player’s diet is based on their height, weight, and body composition.

“[Athletic] diets require plenty of carbohydrates, which are important to fuel muscles during exercise, as well as an adequate amount of protein which can help build and repair muscle,” Drayer says.

Lean meats, as you can imagine, are a staple in most pro-diets. Even snacks need to be healthy!

Former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Rashad Jennings told NFL.com “rather than eating [things] like pretzels or some chips, my snack might be turkey meatballs. One of my favorite snacks is hummus spread on gluten-free toast with chopped avocados and turkey bacon. It’s a great little sandwich.”

Rashad Jennings

Drayer suggests, “it’s important to choose healthy carbohydrates, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, as well as healthy sources of protein, including low-fat dairy foods, lean poultry, fish, and eggs.”

Super Bowl MVP and CNN sports correspondent Hines Ward says on actual game day, he focused on eating a healthy breakfast and lunch, but no dinner. He said nerves get the best of you on the biggest day for an NFL-er. He focused on hydrating before the game. And when he won, he says it was Champagne hydration after the game. We’re here for that!

According to sportsloop.com here are some meal favorites for NFL players throughout the day:

Breakfast

  • Egg whites
  • Oatmeal
  • Turkey bacon
  • Fresh fruit
  • Whole grain cereal
  • Whole grain toast
  • Omelets with sautéed vegetables
  • Yogurt

Snacks

Lunch

  • Bunless turkey burgers
  • Salads with protein
  • Grilled chicken and vegetables

Dinner

  • Bison burger with sweet potatoes and mixed veggies
  • Turkey meatloaf with pesto pasta and sautéed vegetables
  • Lean ground-beef lasagna
  • Grilled chicken breast
  • Steak and potatoes

We must caution you: before you map your new diet around the pros, it’s not just the meals that keep these players at the top of their game; it’s also the EXTENSIVE amounts of exercise (duh). The burn-off is just as important as the intake.

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