We’re not talking about carbo-loading like a linebacker, but there are definitely some health and fitness tips you can rip out of the NFL playbook. On any given game day, there are an average of 27 medical professionals on the field, according to the National Football League Physician’s Society. So we learned from a few of them about their best tips for staying fit like a professional athlete.
One way pro athletes work to prevent sports injuries: correcting muscle imbalances, says Robin West, M.D., orthopaedist for the Pittsburgh Steelers. She always tells her players to focus on the front and back in every exercise. So work out your core and your lower back, then target biceps and triceps.
Take a Time-Out Before the Big Event
Training for something major like a 5K or a triathlon? Hold off on strength training for 48 hours prior to it, says West. Even NFL players take a similar break before games.
Get Stronger Where It Counts
There’s a reason the quarterback has a different training regimen than the kicker. Trainers often focus on building up the muscle groups that are most prone to injury for that particular position, says West. For example, a swimmer would want to strengthen her rotator cuff while a runner would focus more on her hamstrings. The key is tailoring your fitness routine to prevent future injuries.
Right after the game, even before they hit the showers, players are given shakes or other sports drinks to help them replenish. While a linemen might need around 30g of protein and 60-100g of carbohydrates post-workout, most women can aim for 14g of protein and 30g of carbs, says Tara Ostrow, M.S., R.D., nutritionist for the New York Giants. The key is getting it within 30 minutes of the workout. Try a protein shake, Greek yogurt with granola, or two cups of chocolate milk.
Don’t Shy Away from Sports Drinks
Athletes guzzle Gatorade like it’s going out of style, and they might be on to something. Sports drinks are proven to help in performance and recovery, especially if you’re doing an intense workout or exercising for over 60 minutes. “A lot of women will say “why would I want those calories that I’m burning off?” says Ostrowe. “But they’re going to be able to work out harder, and you end up burning more too.”
Fight Soreness With Food
Even if you aren’t on contract with the NFL, chances are that you hate missing a workout because of soreness or injury. Ostrowe suggests loading up on omega-3 rich foods (like flax seed, chia seeds, salmon, and walnuts) to fight inflammation. And limit your intake of red meat, white flour, and sugar. “Those promote inflammation and prevent your body from recovering as quickly as it normally would,” says Ostrowe.
Hydrate. A Lot
One thing that all NFL medical experts could agree on was the importance of hydration. You can check if you’re falling short by hopping on the scale before and after a workout to see if you lost weight, something that players often do during training camp. For every pound you lost during a workout, you need to replenish 20 ounces of fluid pretty quickly, says Ostrowe. Ideally, you should be hydrating enough so that you don’t lose any water weight after exercising.
Hit the Sheets
Seriously, even NFL players need to be reminded of a bedtime. Since sleep is involved in working memory, it’s essential that the guys get enough shuteye to remember the new plays each week, says Joe Lenac, team psychologist for the St. Louis Rams. Plus, your body can’t perform at its best without this crucial recovery time.
Brush Off a Setback
Literally. After a bad play, Lenac tells players to imagine that they are actually throwing the mistake onto the ground, and maybe even squishing or kicking it for good measure. It’s an imagery trick that helps you move on and pulls focus back to your strengths instead of dwelling on a mishap. Try it the next time you miss a workout or don’t meet your PR for the day.
It’s not uncommon for a player to psych themselves out before a big game, just like you might stress out about your fitness goals. So Lenac tells players to catch themselves when they’re “fortune-telling,” or assuming that something is going to happen, like that they’ll drop a pass or lose to the favored team. Similarly, you might assume you’ll binge on vacation or that you’ll be too busy to work out next week. When you catch yourself doing this, remind yourself that it’s not a fact, then refocus on what you can do right now, says Lenac.