Back in March, Nike asked Precision Nutrition to help organize the food for their upcoming NFL Pro Training Camp. Working with their culinary team, we prepared an awesome menu for the event. Then they flew us to Nike World HQ to work with the athletes one-on-one. Here’s the story of our trip.
His name is Greg and he plays in the NFL.
That’s pretty much all I know.
“You think I should get a private chef?” he asks. “With my wife and kids at home, we could really use some help to prepare for next season.”
John Berardi and I are sitting at a long table in a lavish private dining room at The Nines, a luxury hotel in Portland, Oregon.
A dozen Nike-sponsored NFL athletes and trainers sit around the table, eating, joking, and playing with their iPhones and Blackberries.
On one side of the room is a table filled with glass bottles of Voss water, loose leaf tea, and gourmet coffee. Against the opposite wall there’s a table lined with PN-designed meals including filet mignon, wild salmon, roasted chicken, raw mixed nuts, and every type of vegetable you can think of.
All of it has been freshly prepared by a chef with a big white hat and brought out on silver trays by waiters. In other words, this ain’t no Olive Garden salad bar.
JB looks up from his plate of veggies and meat and smiles at Greg. “Yeah, I think that’s a great idea. We’ll help you with recipes and give you some guidelines on what to look for,” he says.
We arrived a few hours earlier by private chauffeur, a friendly guy named Darryl who picked us up at the airport in a jet-black Lincoln Town Car. After arriving at the hotel and checking in, we were welcomed by a bag of Nike shoes, shirts, and shorts on our bed.
Not a bad start.
We’re in Portland because Nike hired Precision Nutrition to coordinate and design all the meals for their Nike NFL Pro Training Camp. They asked us to come in for a few days to mentor their athletes and answer nutrition questions.
Back in the dining room, I look around the table at each of the guys. Every one is a high-powered, well-paid machine. In the gym and on the field, they all know how to take care of business.
But they don’t really understand how to fuel their bodies. Not yet anyway.
To be clear, they certainly don’t need better nutrition to play in the NFL. Because, well, they’re already here. They’re doing good enough on whatever they’ve been eating all these years, and they have the paychecks and ESPN highlights to prove it.
Still, there are a few things about food they don’t know, things that can help them when the cameras are off, when they aren’t surrounded by thousands of screaming fans.
They don’t yet know how food can help them sleep better or recover from injury faster. They don’t know how to manipulate their nutrition to gain muscle in the off season, drop fat before they suit up for their first practice, or maintain their weight in season.
Those are the questions they don’t even know to ask. And we’re here to answer them.
But there’s time for that kind of talk later. For now, JB and Greg are talking about babies — Greg and his wife just had their third, and JB’s daughter is just over a year old.
They’re swapping stories about how to get the little tykes to sleep through the night. (And JB surprises Greg with some tricks that the old pro hadn’t yet heard about.)
It’s weird. We’ve been here for a few hours — among some of the world’s best football players — and we haven’t yet talked about football. Not once.
Another hour passes. We finish our dinner and say our good nights. Tomorrow’s our first day on the Nike campus and we need our rest.
But before I head to bed, I have to check on something. Since I’m not a huge football fan, I’m not really sure who most of these guys are. To me, they’re just regular guys who happen to play football.
I open my laptop, type “Greg Jennings” into Google. I watch the first video that pops up.
I see a huge stadium. Thousands of screaming people. And there’s Greg, number 85 of the Green Bay Packers, the dude we were just having dinner with 20 minutes ago, catching a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.
On the Nike bus, the first morning.
It’s 8AM and JB and I are in an elevator with a couple of the NFL guys and a few people who definitely do not play in the NFL. An older gentleman and his wife slink to the back of the elevator. A lady with high heels and big hair cradles a little yapping dog in her arms.
Outside, there’s a huge black tour bus idling in front of the main lobby doors. A guy in a nice suit stands military-straight next to the stairs leading into the bus. We pile in and look around: hardwood floors, leather couches that wrap around both sides, two satellite TVs and a mini-fridge full of water and Gatorade.
It’s a 20-minute drive from downtown Portland to the Nike campus in neighboring Beaverton. Some guys pull the hoods of their sweatshirts over their eyes and lean back to nap. Others play with their iPads or fiddle with the TV.
But Steven Jackson sees an opportunity.
Steven, a 6’2” 240-pound running back from the St Louis Rams, sits next to JB and takes out a folded white sheet of paper from his front pocket. The dude is massive.
“Hey Doc,” he says. “Can you go over my diet with me?”
JB takes the piece of paper and looks at it.
“How closely are you following this?” asks JB after a minute.
“Uh, it’s hit or miss,” says Steven. “Some of it’s hard to do.”
JB hands me the paper. Whoever designed it — Steven never said who helped him — is recommending he take 50 BCAA pills during his workout and two pounds of buffalo meat post-workout. Among other things.
“This is pretty complicated,” says JB. “When I give my talk later this week, I’ll break it down into very simple and easy-to-follow suggestions you can use. For now, don’t worry about it. Just sit back and enjoy the food we’ve got for you guys.”
Satisfied, Steven sits back and closes his eyes. “Man, that’s good news,” he says. “I don’t even know where to get buffalo.”
The Nike campus and the custom locker room.
The Nike Campus is like a small, thriving city. 17 buildings make up more than 2 million square feet — roughly 35 football fields. The landscaping is gorgeous. The practice fields are immaculate. Banners of famous athletes gently wave in the breeze. There’s even a 6-acre lake right smack in the middle of everything.
JB and I stroll along the sidewalk and get lost trying to find our way around. Everywhere we go, there are green and black skulls staring at us. This is the new Nike NFL Pro logo and it’s plastered on every glass door.
After a quick tour of the Nike kitchen and a conversation with the head chef – who did an amazing job of putting together a week’s worth of PN-approved meals – we find the Michael Jordan building. A gigantic skull meets us, a huge decal spanning the double-door entrance.
We walk inside and are met by a line of all black mannequins equipped in the latest high-tech football uniforms, prototypes of the uniforms Nike is designing for the 2012 NFL season.
To our left is a series of rooms that have been curtained off for privacy. Inside, world-renowned coaches like Alwyn Cosgrove and former Ukranian decathlete Val Nasedkin take the NFL guys through a series of movement screens and central-nervous-system readiness tests.
In the back there’s a 52-inch interactive TV screen that tracks vision acuity, reaction time, and peripheral vision.
To our right, the locker room opens up. There are four big-screen TVs equipped with Playstations and leather couches. Lined against the wall are wood grain lockers, the last names of the athletes painted above each one.
Ndamukong Suh, a defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, lounges on the circular leather couch in the middle of the room.
This will serve as our home base for the next couple days.
JB and I make ourselves comfortable, and spend the day following the athletes from the field to the gym to the yoga studio, answering nutrition questions, swapping stories with the guys, and eating delicious PN-designed gourmet meals in between.
Practicing what we preach, and post-workout snacks.
Day 2 at Nike. While the athletes are out on the field working on sprint drills and running routes, JB and I take the opportunity to train. (We may be here to help out elite athletes, but we’re part of a company that practices what we preach.)
The Bo Jackson weight room, we learned, had recently transformed to accommodate this camp in particular. Just last week they removed the old equipment and replaced it with custom-made power racks, deadlift platforms, dumbbells, and TRX’s.
The weight room is now officially badass.
JB and I make up a quick, on-the-fly upper body circuit consisting of weighted chin-ups, dumbbell bench presses, TRX rows, military presses, and a hard ab circuit.
During our rest periods, we watch the guys run sprints on the field below.
After our workout, we head outside just as the guys are finishing their drills. On cue, a couple Nike employees come out carrying large trays of ice. There, in perfectly straight rows, are big cups of PN-inspired Super Shakes.
“What do the colors mean?” asks Aaron Curry, a linebacker from the Seattle Seahawks. He’s referring to the blue and red flags in front of the rows of protein shakes.
JB explains that the shakes with blue flags are lower in carbohydrates and are for the guys who need to lose a little fat. The red shakes, he says, contain more carbs and are for the guys who need to gain more muscle.
Nice and easy, just as it should be. No two pounds of buffalo meat here.
The athletes grab their shakes and lounge around on the grass. “Damn, these are tasty!” someone says.
JB and I sip ours and take in the early afternoon sunshine.
The nutrition talk no one expected.
It’s Day 3 and lunch time in the locker room. JB is standing in front of a table that’s loaded with high-quality food and watching as the athletes make their plates, some choosing from “blue” selections and some choosing from the “red.”
When everyone is settled, he begins.
“I have to apologize for the rest of my field,” he says. “Nutritionists always like to say, ‘Oh, you think you’re good now. Imagine how much better you’d be if you started eating healthy all the time.’
“Honestly, I don’t agree with them at all.”
This gets everyone’s attention.
“You guys are at the top of your game,” he says. “And you don’t need anyone to tell you what or how to eat. You’re grown men.”
“Still, I have some tips that can help you feel better.”
From there, JB talks about specific supplement cocktails that increase the speed of recovery from an injury. He talks about nutrition strategies to get more restful sleep, a common problem for athletes when they’re on the road. He talks about how to use nutrition to minimize concussive damage, common in NFL athletes. And he warns of the dangers associated with unregulated supplements.
“You never really know what’s in there. With multimillion dollar contracts on the line, you guys can’t afford to test positive for any banned substances that may be in your protein or recovery supplements.”
Finally, JB takes the notion of counting calories and throws it out the window. He goes over the difference between “blue” types and “red” types and how to measure protein, carbs, and veggies by looking at the palm of your hands.
After the talk, we pass around copies of the Gourmet Nutrition cookbook and spend the next few hours answering questions.
That night in the hotel dining room, we notice that every athlete spends a little more time looking over his plate of food. We’re proud.
VooDoo doughnuts and the Portland streets.
It’s our last night at Nike, and after an intense sprint workout and hearty dinner, JB and I are craving carbs.
And what better place to get them then from the world-famous Voodoo Doughnuts?
We walk through the streets of Portland until we find the shop, a little hole in the wall with a long line of people snaking around the brick building. Once inside, we make our selections.
JB gets a banana fritter the size of his head and a Bavarian cream-filled doughnut. I get The Ol’ Dirty Bastard — made with Oreos and peanut butter — and a glazed doughnut topped with Captain Crunch cereal.
We walk back to the hotel, avoiding bums and weird street magicians who hammer nails into their nostrils. (Seriously.)
Nothing will ruin our appetite for delicious doughnuts.
Back at the hotel, we grab some hot tea from the bar, and get a waitress to bring us some knives and forks. As we dig in to our box of goodies, a couple of the NFL guys walk by.
“Whoa! What are you guys doing?” they ask.
JB and I just smile.
“We’re not always on nutritional police duty,” says JB. “Besides, we earned these carbs today.”
After training camp.
It’s easy to give a talk about nutrition, but challenging to break down complex nutrition theories and put them into easy actionable steps that anyone can follow.
The ability to do that is something we at PN take great pride in.
Still, you never know how much impact you’ll make on someone.
“Will these guys take our advice?” is a question JB and I both had on the plane ride back home from Nike.
A few days later, we got our answer. In our email inbox was a short letter from Greg Jennings.
“Just wanted to say I found a personal chef who’s using the recipes in Gourmet Nutrition to cook for my family. Thanks so much for the help guys.”
Dr. Berardi’s seminar: Behind the scenes.
For a short behind the scenes, check out the following coverage of camp:
More from the NFL Pro Training Camp.
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