Some of the information below may be contrary to things you have read or heard throughout your life as it relates to fitness and health. I will be happy to discuss those items with anyone who wants more info or have a friendly debate. Keep in mind that many of the fitness or health topics you have read in your life are designed for one goal: to sell a product. So take them with a grain of salt.
Let’s start with a paraphrasing of something John Fox use to say, “It takes a year to get an NFL body”. To put this into some perspective he is not referring to you or me. He is referring to a three to five year college player who has just entered the NFL. In essence, he is saying that it takes a guy who has been weight training in some sort of football aspect since the age of sixteen a year to get an NFL body.
That is a significant amount of training before these individuals enter the NFL. However, the coaching, dedication, and understanding of that training can vary wildly. Except in extreme cases, these players are not solely focused on that training. They have school, social lives, training not related to muscle building and other distractions along the way.
Here is a great article about natural genetic potential. I’m going to have to assume, for the sake of this discussion, that these athletes are natural as the NFL tests for performance enhancing drugs. I suspect some or many are not natural but that is another topic. You can see in the article that there is a specific amount of muscle mass a body can naturally support. If you are curious what that is for you, put your height, wrist and ankle measurements into this calculator. I realize these are “bodybuilder” aspects but I will tie them into football by the end.
How does someone go about reaching this potential? There are really only two aspects to this: eating and lifting.
Eating and/or diet can be broken up into some very simple basics. If you want to know the in-depth version go here calories and macros.
First, it is important to know your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is pretty much the amount of calories your body needs to maintain its weight if you were in a coma and performed no movement functions what-so-ever. For simplicity reasons we will use the rule of 10/11: 10 calories for each pound of bodyweight for women and 11 calories per pound of bodyweight for men. At 190lbs, my BMR estimate is 2,090 calories per day. Do yours and follow along.
Since BMR is for an absolutely inactive and sedentary person, we will have to calculate some extra calories per day to accommodate our activity level on a day to day basis. As a general rule, one should tend to underestimate this activity if you want to calculate calories for losing weight and overestimate if you are calculating calories to gain weight.
I’ll keep this simple and basic as well. The following can vary based on weight but consider you burn about 100 calories for running a mile and around 60 for walking a mile. Quickly check the pedometer on your phone for the fun of it and see what it tells you. Change it to tell you what your per day average over the course of a month is. I get 1.54 miles per day. I’ll round up and add 100 calories per day to my BMR for my activity level. Rounding up again, I’ll call my new total 2200 calories per day and consider this my Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). TDEE a fairly accurate measurement of how many calories it takes to maintain my bodyweight.
After this I need to decide what I want to do with my life. Do I want to maintain my current weight, lose weight or gain weight? We are going to consider me a sophomore or junior college player and say that I would still like to gain lean mass cause at 6’1” and 190 pounds, I am still a bit small to be an NFL safety. The basic rule is to subtract 500 calories a day to lose weight and to add 500 calories to gain weight. One pound of bodyweight is roughly 3,500 calories so these numbers work out to either a pound per week of weight gain or a pound per week of weight loss. I’ll be gaining weight on 2700 calories a day.
Now it is time to separate the calories into macro nutrients. There are three macro nutrients that make up ALL food (yes there are micro nutrients but for this function they are basically irrelevant). The macros are protein, fat and carbohydrates. As discussed in the linked article above, we will start with calories from protein. Again, we that article if you want to know the specifics. We will be using one gram of protein needed for each pound of bodyweight. This is a well-recognized standard for muscle development. Each gram of protein contains 4 calories. Therefore, at 190 pounds, I will need 190 grams of protein per day resulting in 760 calories from protein. If I subtract this from my original calorie total, I have 1940 calories left.
Next is calories from fat. This can range from 0.4 to 0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. For me that is 76 grams of fat per day at 0.4 grams per pound. Fat has 9 calories per gram, so that is 684 calories for me. I now have 1294 calories remaining for my day.
Carbohydrates will make up your remaining calories. Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. I am allowed 323 grams of carbohydrates.
As I gain mass I will have to adjust these numbers because the calories needed to maintain a certain weight change as your weight changes. Based on the 10/11 rule you can see I’ll need another 100 calories to maintain my weight gain once I reach 200 pounds and so on. This also applies to weight loss.
I want to make the separation between lifting and training here. I want there to be a distinction between creating an “NFL” body and training specific skills important to the game. I will not discuss training here as that will be position specific to some degree. I will discuss weight lifting and more accurately powerlifting. I know the biggest intent here is to put muscle mass on the body and that might suggest body building but at the same time football players will not be as concerned with aesthetics as much as they are mass and strength.
Check out the following weight lifting programs. These have all been developed over the years by some very top lifters and their counterparts.
Hopefully you noticed some similarities between these programs. The biggest similarity you will see is what are known as the big three: Deadlift, squat and bench press. The big three are what powerlifting is made of. Nothing correlates to strength and size like the big three. If nothing else, I hope that everyone trying to make the NFL was taught the big three. After the big three, the important lifts are overhead press and power clean. The reason for choosing these lifts is actually pretty simple: together they target every muscle you have and each one is essentially the largest weight you can possibly lift for that muscle group.
Another similarity is the sets and rep ranges. These routines are not set up for a hypertrophy range of 10 to 12 reps for many sets. They are set up for a low rep and set range. This is to maximize strength by maximizing the weight. You can’t lift as heavy if you want to do a lot of reps.
The last similarity is the progression. Each routine is designed to shorten the time it takes you to get stronger. This is done with linier progression for as long as that can last. You complete the rep and set scheme at whatever weight and you get to add weight the next time you do that lift. Eventually this method will come to a halt but strength gains can be made very quickly using this method and size is a byproduct of strength.
As high school players I’m sure many players are taught about weightlifting but I’m sure less are taught about how to maximize the time they put into it. I’d image there is a fairly high correlation between high schools with good weightlifting coaches and those you see in the top rankings nationally. De La Salle, the alma mater of D.J. Williams and T.J. Ward, comes to mind. Read the last sentences of the 2008 bio on T.J.
If you remember the remodel of the Broncos training facility a few years back, you might recall that there were little to no “machines” in the new facility. Take a gander at your typical gym and then look at the Bronco’s weight room. The difference is a focus on squat racks and free weights.
24 hour fitness in Long Beach – stock website photo
Photo via denverbroncos.com
Putting it all together:
Many people spin their wheels with weight training because the industry is filled with mis-information. They also don’t know how to structure a program or how it works in conjunction with diet. If I ate the 2700 calories we calculated above but didn’t lift then I’d just get fat. When I combine that diet with a routine like starting strength then I gain muscle mass. With weight gain there will ALWAYS be some fat gained with the muscle. This is why you hear about cutting and bulking cycles.
Circling back to what John Fox said, I’m sure you can see how even a top tier college athlete may not be putting all this together to maximize his natural genetic potential. When you hit the NFL you then are not only paid to be in the top shape put the facilities, coaches, and cafeterias are designed to help you achieve just that. If you read the genetic potential article linked in the beginning you may remember it takes about 5 years to reach almost 90% of your natural genetic potential. That assumes you are training consistently and know how to not only lift properly but eat properly. That isn’t always the case with students in a H.S. or college program so this could be drawn out to possibly 8 years since they are not fully dedicated. This is how a guy like Tyler Polumbus put on mass after leaving H.S. at 6’6” and 240 pounds.
Things to know if this interests you:
This is general and some of it applies to weight loss
– Buy a kitchen scale and weigh everything that you eat to accurately track calories and macros.
– Count calories using a site like MyFitnessPal.
– Lift heavy weights to preserve muscle mass, on a structured program developed by an expert. You are probably not an expert.
– Stuck on a plateau? Read this. And remember, you are not special.
– Weight changes are not linear and predictable. Weigh yourself every day and track the average. Ignore short term fluctuations.
– No specific food has a fat loss advantage over any other food. Eat foods you enjoy that deliver adequate macros.
– Cardio is not necessary to lose fat. It’s just a tool to increase your net calorie deficit.
– Muscle loss is not an issue if you get adequate protein and train properly, even on a big deficit (unless perhaps you are already quite lean).
– Keto offers no fat loss advantage over any other caloric deficit, except perhaps for very obese, sedentary folks.
– Eating fat does not make you fat. Low fat diets screw up your body. Adequate dietary fat is crucially important.
– The only bad fat is trans fat. Saturated fat is fine unless you eat stupid amounts of it.
– Protein powder is a processed convenience food and offers no advantage over protein from whole foods. Use it if you like, its fine. Remember to count the calories in it.
– Sugar & simple carbs are irrelevant for fat loss as long as you hit your macros within a calorie deficit.
– You cannot, in any way, change where your body chooses to burn fat from. There is no spot reduction.
– Eat 1 meal/day or 10, there is no measurable effect on fat loss.
– Eating carbs before bed is irrelevant within a calorie deficit and adequate macros.