Is It Healthy? The Strangest Eating Quirks Of NFL Players

Since food is energy, athletes have to pay special attention to their diets. Many fans believe that pro football players gain muscle by indulging in high protein and carbs. While this is true for some people, not all NFL players follow this regimen.

Some NFL players are all-organic, gluten-free, and casein-free. Others have long lists of foods that they avoid, and one eats nothing but McDonald’s and Redbull. You might be surprised by these athlete’s diets. Read on for the strangest eating quirks of NFL players and how healthy their habits really are.

Dwight Freeney Only Drinks Grapefruit And Water

Dwight Freeney grins while speaking to the press during the Super Bowl XLIV.
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Dwight Freeney was a defensive end for 16 seasons and won the Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears. During an interview with Sports Illustrated, Freeney said that he only drinks grapefruit juice and water. Occasionally, he will have tea as a treat. He will even bring ingredients to a restaurant and ask the chef to cook with them.

Freeney said that he is sensitive to weight gain, joking that if he eats a spring of parsley, he can “gain two pounds!” Grapefruit juice is a good choice; research from Vanderbilt University discovered that the juice helps people lose weight.

“Only McDonald’s And Redbull” For Chad Johnson

Chad Ochocinco of the Cincinnati Bengals watches the final minute of the Bengals 49-31 loss
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Former NFL player Chad Johnson has been a wide receiver on many famous teams. And yet, he managed to get away with the most unhealthy diet imaginable. In 2009, he appeared on an episode of Hard Knocks and said that he has three meals a day–all McDonald’s!

Even after leaving the NFL, he has not gotten better. A few years later, Johnson told the NFL that he still eats “nothing but McDonald’s ‘n Redbull.” We probably don’t need to tell you why that is unhealthy.

The Long List Of Foods That Tom Brady Doesn’t Eat

Tom Brady shrugs during a gold game in 2020.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for The Match
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Quarterback Tom Brady has a very restrictive diet. He told Men’s Health that he and his wife only eat foods that exist in nature. As such, he cuts out all sugar, caffeine, flour, MSG, and iodized salt. But that’s not all; Brady also avoids tomatoes, mushrooms, eggplants, and all dairy.

So what does he eat? Brady said that his diet is 80% vegetables and “alkalizing” foods that lower inflammation. He also eats a lot of lean meat, fruit, seeds, and plenty of liquids. Electrolyte-infused water and protein shakes are his go-to’s.

Rashad Jennings’s Organic, Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet

Rashad Jennings leaps in celebration after beating the Dallas Cowboys in an NFL game.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Rashad Jennings used to be an NFL running back, and even during the season, he maintained a strict diet. He avoids wheat, dairy, and conventionally-grown food. During an interview with Sports Illustrated, he said that he is entirely gluten-free, casein-free, and all-organic.

Jennings also said that he tried to go vegan, but it didn’t work for him. He still eats meat, but he focuses on plant-based protein powders, seeds, vegetables, quinoa, and vegan chocolate. He also engages in unusual remedies for an NFL player, such as oxygen chambers, acupuncture, and getting his blood tested for nutrient deficiencies.

Sam Bradford Eats Everything In Threes

A close-up shows Sam Bradford's smile after a touchdown.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Quarterback Sam Bradford calls himself “a big routine guy.” He eats almost everything in threes. For instance, he said in an ESPN interview that he eats fruit in the morning, especially on game days. He has three slices of cantaloupe and three pieces of pineapple–no more, no less.

Bradford told a story about going to a restaurant in high school where the waitress would give him three mints, “One night, we didn’t have that waitress and we didn’t get any peppermints,” he recounted. “I had to tell my buddy, ‘Listen: you have got to tell our waitress that she has to bring three peppermints over here.'”

Peyton Manning Eats Carbs And Protein Before The Super Bowl

Quarterback Peyton Manning lifts his fist in victory after his team won the Super bowl XLI.
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning has played in many Super Bowls. According to Stack, Manning loads up on carbs and proteins the night before the big game. His Super Bowl meal consists of marinara pasta, two chicken breasts, a plain baked potato, half a cup of broccoli, and 32 ounces of Gatorade.

Manning’s meal is strategic. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, high protein and carbs improve an athlete’s endurance, minimizes muscle damage, hastens muscle recovery, and strengthens performance. Manning is one smart nutritionist.

Arian Foster’s Controversial Vegan Diet

Arian Foster warms up for a game with headphones on his head.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Throughout his six-year career as a Houston Texans running back, Arian Foster received a lot of slack for his vegan diet. Many don’t believe that he still gets enough protein for football. “Everybody cares what I eat now,” he told Men’s Journal. “Everybody is a nutritionist and they’re an expert on protein.”

However, Foster receives plenty of protein through sweet potatoes, rice, beans, quinoa, and kale. His favorite breakfast is oatmeal with fruit, which gives him enough fiber to feel full throughout the day. If he needs more protein, he will occasionally eat chicken.

Russell Wilson Eats Nine Meals Every Day

Quarterback Russell Wilson gets in position prior to the start of a game.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

In 2017, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson surprised the world with his diet. When he dropped over ten pounds, he credited eating nine meals per day. These meals are smaller than usual and were recommended by Wilson’s registered dietitian.

By eating 4,800 calories through tiny meals, Wilson believes that he kickstarted his metabolism. He also refuses to eat inflammatory foods, including yeast, cheese, milk, breads, and gluten. In an interview with the NFL, Wilson admitted that his diet has not been easy, but his “results speak for themselves.”

Troy Hill’s Diet: “Just Eat, Eat, Eat”

Troy Hill warms up before an NFL game.
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Troy Hill tends to be rather skinny compared to other cornerbacks in the NFL. During the season, he aims to increase his weight by eating 5,000 calories per day. According to Bon Appetit, Hill described his diet as, “Just eat. Just eat, eat, eat.”

His average breakfast features waffles, an omelet, bacon or sausage, and a protein shake. He’ll eat two servings of pasta and chicken for lunch and some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for snacks. This kind of diet is only safe for athletes who burn hundreds of calories per day. “I get kinda tired of eating,” Hill admitted.

Steve Weatherford Eats 200 Grams Of Lean Protein Daily

Steve Weatherford of the NFL attends the AOL Build Speaker Series.
Brad Barket/Getty Images
Brad Barket/Getty Images

Some have claimed that punter Steve Weatherford was the Giant’s strongest player, despite only having 5.5% body fat. His secret? Loading up on protein. While the FDA recommends around 56 grams of protein for a sedentary man, Weatherford eats 200 grams per day.

During an interview with the New York Times, Weatherford said that he stacks up lean meats: scrambled egg whites, bunless turkey burgers, and turkey meat lasagna. This is a wise choice, as the American Heart Association says that lean meats are far better for cardiovascular health.

J.J. Watt Eats 9,000 Calories Every Day

J.J. Watt yells in celebration during an NFL game.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

J.J. Watt, a defensive lineman for the Houston Texans, shocked fans with his diet. During a 2016 interview, he said that he eats 9,000 calories daily during the NFL season. His average lunch consists of three chicken breasts, whole wheat pasta with Italian dressing, and a side of broccoli.

Watt claims that he does not count calories and that he will “pay attention to my body.” Unlike some football players, Watt eats carbs, but he limits it to whole grains. He also eats two breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners.

How Matt Kalil Gains Weight During The Season

Matt Kalil is seen during a game against the Tennessee Titans.
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

During the football season, Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Matt Kalil often works to gain weight. He told the Pioneer Press that he uses high-protein snacks. His favorites are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and shakes with 60 grams of protein. Expect Kalil to eat these around three times a day.

His other protein sources are meats and vegetables: sweet potatoes, pastas, and lean meats. Kalil added that he only bulks up during the NFL season. “If I wasn’t playing football, I’d probably be about 220 [pounds],” he said. He’s closer to 315.

Why Tony Gonzalez Bounced Back From Veganism

Tony Gonzalez runs with a football during a 2013 NFL game.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Tony Gonzalez, the tight end with the Kansas City Chiefs, also used to be a vegan. But in 2012, Gonzalez told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was trying to bounce back. He strictly eats fish and a little bit of chicken and only has red meat once or twice a month. He stays away from dairy.

“[The extra protein] helps you last longer when you’re in the game,” Gonzalez said. “I definitely try to eat clean and eat healthy, plenty of fruits and vegetables, lentils, grains, and I can definitely feel the difference…It helps me focus and helps me recover faster.”

Cam Newton Was Once A “Cereal Connoisseur”

Cam Newton yells as he takes the field for a game against the Dallas Cowboys, 2018.
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

In 2015, quarterback Cam Newton told Charlotte Magazine that he is a “cereal connoisseur.” He admitted that he often ate sugary cereals; Apple Jacks, Lucky Charms, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch were his favorites.

But later in his career, Newton realized that he had to eat healthier to play better. During a 2020 interview with Insider, Newton said that he had been vegan since March 2019, but he had recently switched to pescetarianism. He claimed that he gets enough protein and nutrients through his largely plant-based diet.

Montell Owens Had To Reintroduce Fish

Montell Owens is seen during an NFL game against the Detroit Lions.
Rich Kane/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Rich Kane/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Fullback Montell Owens has changed his diet throughout the years. In 2010, his wife got the book The Thrive Diet by Brendan Brazier, which inspired the couple to go vegan. However, Owens’s coach said that he was “too small” and looked more “like a wide receiver” than a fullback.

As a result, Owens added fish back into his diet. “It’s more calorie-dense [than chicken],” he correctly said. “You’re eating the same size of salmon or shrimp as you would vegetables, but you’re getting twice the calories and protein.”

Luke Kuechly’s Diet Has To Be Clean

Luke Kuechly has a serious facial expression during a game against the New Orleans Saints.
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly takes his diet seriously, especially when he played with the Carolina Panthers. He told Men’s Journal that, in order to bulk up, he has to eat a lot of calories. “But they have to be clean,” he clarified.

Kuechly eats lean meats, steak, fish, and plenty of vegetables. He also takes supplements in the form of protein shakes. “Supplementation is also important for me, especially with products that I know are beneficial and clean,” he said.

How Eli Manning Is Still Fit At 39

A close-up shot shows Eli Manning's face as he walks onto the field for an NFL game.
Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

Despite being 39 years old, Eli Manning is one of the NFL’s fittest quarterbacks. During a 2018 interview with ESPN, the former New York Giants player credited his breakfast routine. Every morning, he eats oatmeal with a lot of fruit and some form of protein (sometimes in a smoothie).

According to research in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, oatmeal keeps people full and increases energy output during exercise. Manning makes a smart breakfast choice. That’s why fellow quarterback Davis Webb called him “a freak when it comes to nutrition.”

To Lose Weight, Cam Thomas Dodges Candy

Cam Thomas smiles at a camera during an NFL game.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

While many NFL players aim to gain weight, Cam Thomas tries to lose it. Defensive tackles are prized for their speed, so to stay nimble, Thomas has to avoid sweet snacks. He admitted that Reese’s, Sweet Tarts, and Skittles are his biggest temptations.

To drop weight, Thomas limited himself to one candy per week. He eats popcorn, strawberries, and water for snacks. He tried to be vegan around 2019, but after it negatively affected his playing, he incorporated lean meats into his diet.

Why Julio Jones Switched To “Clean Eating”

Julio Jones is seen warming up before a football game.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

When Julio Jones first joined the Atlanta Falcons in 2011, he was “a young kid eating everything.” He ate Honey Buns for snacks and brownies with candy for dessert. But throughout his ten-year career, Jones acclimated to more restrictive “clean eating.”

He avoids all red meat, fried foods, or sugar. When he eats fish and chicken, he ensures that they are fresh-caught or farm-raised. Jones also makes it a priority to get between nine and ten hours of sleep per night. “I can recover quicker, and I think a big part of it has to do with the way I eat,” he told ESPN.

Von Miller Is A Fan Of Cold-Pressed Juice

    Von Miller of the Denver Broncos warms up before a game against the Kansas City Cheifs.
    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Linebacker Von Miller avoids sugar whenever he can. During an interview with GQ, he said that his favorite snack is beef jerky, as it’s healthier than a sugar-filled granola bar. He also drinks cold-pressed juices for both breakfast and lunch.

    Store-bought fruit juice is packed with sugar and is just as unhealthy as soda, according to a 2014 study in the journal Nutrition. By cold-pressing juices, Miller receives most of the nutrients from fruit without the added sugar. The downside is that juices contain less fiber than whole fruit.