It’s a common refrain among college coaches (particularly line coaches) that their players need to eat more. A lot more. A big-framed, yet gangly kid coming out of high school might’ve lived on cereal, chips, and energy drinks when he played varsity, but that won’t cut it on the big stage. A football player needs serious calories to gain and maintain playing weight. Put another way, tight ends don’t become OTs without a little effort.
We can get a good guess at just how many calories players need by using an updated version of the Harris-Benedict equation. Though the original version is nearly a hundred years old, this formula is a classic (and still solid) way of estimating someone’s caloric expenditure over the course of a day.
Picture a typical college lineman, say somebody about 6’2”, 295. If you plug these stats into the H-B equation, you find out pretty quickly that during two-a-days this lineman probably needs about 5,000 calories (well, technically “kilocalories”) a day to maintain his playing weight, with variations depending on his muscle mass and how active he is during the sessions. That’s about twice what an average American man needs during the day.
To put the amount of food in 5,000 calories in perspective:
- At McDonald’s, a large quarter-pounder with cheese combo tops out at 1,510 calories.
- A large Supreme pan pizza at Pizza Hut has about 3,300 calories.
- KFC’s Double Down sandwich has a measly 600 calories.
- The Cheesecake Factory’s Bistro Shrimp Pasta (recently named by Men’s Health as “the worst food in America”) boasts 2,730 calories.
Put another way, a typical male would approach this expenditure during a day-long hike while bearing a loaded backpack. So 5,000 calories is a lot of food. How do these guys get through August without shrinking? The short answer is that many don’t. Staving off dehydration means keeping the gut constantly full of water (not food), and exercise-induced fatigue can dull the appetite. And of course, constant practices make it hard to fit in meals.
The biggest tool in keeping the weight on is an American icon: the all-you-can-eat buffet. They’re staples at colleges across the country and critical for players needing to add some pounds. Even the power of fast-food joints and Chinese-American restaurants pale in comparison, as dining out regularly is beyond the budgets of most students. On-campus, though, players can cram in two or three buffet trips a day and supplement with snacks as needed.
Not that mindless gorging is advisable. A binge followed by a long fast might not actually bump a player’s calories enough to stave off lost muscle, while too much face-stuffing leads to fat, winded players who aren’t much good on the field. Getting in enough nutrients (especially protein) is also critical, but fruits, vegetables, and lean meats fill you up without having as much caloric density as fats and carbs, so things are further complicated. This need for intelligent balance is why nutrition coaches have become so important at the college and pro levels (more so at universities—pro players have the financial means to hire personal dietitians.)
In its own way something as mundane as keeping weight can be an impressive and even clinical undertaking. In my experience, the only athletes who manage to outdo football players at this game of calculated overconsumption are powerlifters either seeking to move up in weight class, or competing in the heaviest weight divisions. If you’d like to learn about some of the extreme measures used in the PL culture, or take a slightly more technical look at how athletes manage their energy intake, check out my article on the subject at: http://articles.elitefts.com/nutrition/bulk-cut-bloat-the-basic-science-of-weight-manipulation-and-powerlifting/.