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Eating to Lose Weight and Build Muscle: How the NFL Does It

Think Lean

When it's on your plate, which it should be at every meal, protein needs to be the right kind. "My emphasis is lean," Bonci says. "I don't want my players saying, 'I got all of my protein because I ate wings.'" Lean chicken, lean beef, soy, and beans are some of the healthiest protein sources.

During the season, former Tennessee Titan defensive tackle Torrie Griffin was burning so many calories on the field that he had to consume upwards of 8,000 calories each day just to maintain his 290-pound playing weight. "That is, I would say, a standard portion for some of the guys," he says. "I was one of those who had to work to keep the weight on."

Griffin, who is now a certified personal trainer and owner of TTrain Fitness Bootcamp in Atlanta, doesn't recommend the kind of diet he and his teammates ate to stay big. For breakfast, they'd down supersized restaurant portions of waffles, eggs, bacon, grits, and toast. At dinner, they'd pack in two burgers, mac and cheese, and fries. "In general for the linemen, it was three very large meals," Griffin recalls. "I didn't really think about how much of the bad stuff or fat and calories were in the food when we ate out."

The only guys who need to be as huge as defensive linemen are defensive linemen. If you work a desk job and eat like a lineman, the only thing that's going to grow is your belly. Guys who work out but eat nothing but junk food will gain fat on top of their muscle and bulk up. "When you're talking about lean muscle mass, you've got to have a clean diet ... a balanced diet of protein and carbohydrates [with a] low level of fat, and lots of fruits and vegetables," Livingstone says.

For that, you're better off taking nutrition tips from the NFL players who keep their diets lighter and cleaner.

Crocker only gets 3,000 to 3,500 calories on days when he trains. "As a free safety, it is best for me to be lighter on my feet so I am able to get to the ball and get to the plays a lot quicker." He says he can cover the field faster when he's a pound or two lighter.

If you're working out three days a week, you can eat about 15 calories per pound of body weight, according to Bonci. Men who work out five days a week can up their calorie count to 20 per pound. That doesn't mean everyone gets a free pass to eat more than 3,000 calories a day, though. "The range of calories you require on a daily basis varies greatly and is dependent upon your weight, your activity level, your age, and your muscle mass," Bonci says. "So one size does not fit all when it comes to determining your calorie cap!"

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