How to Eat Like a Dallas Cowboy, According to the Team Dietitian
First up: prioritize whole foods
Poke around the internet or scroll through Instagram, and you’ll find countless diet tricks, workout tips, sleep hacks and every other health-related opinion under the sun. Some are good, many are worthless and occasionally you’ll find something that’s downright dangerous. So when it comes to your health, it’s best to enlist actual experts — like someone charged with the wellbeing of elite NFL athletes.
Scott Senhert is the director of sports performance and sports dietitian for the Dallas Cowboys. He’s entering his eighth season with the team, and while his role can cover everything from sleep education to metabolic testing, his primary job is to oversee player nutrition. That includes working with the team chef to provide breakfast and lunch during off-season training and three meals per day during the season. Senhert tells InsideHook that, in many ways, pro athletes are just like the rest of us: they’re subject to bad eating habits, they stay up too late, don’t drink enough water and are influenced by the latest fads. So it’s his job, along with the rest of the team staff, to ensure the players are eating a diet that allows them to reach their full athletic potential.
That starts with choosing whole foods. Think steel cut oats instead of instant oatmeal, whole fruits rather than juices, whole grains like farro instead of processed breads and lean protein sources that are prepared healthfully. Calorie counts and macro breakdowns vary per player. Offensive lineman have different nutrition needs than wide receivers, but because each individual expends so much energy during workouts, practices and games, they need a lot of fuel. Senhert’s ideal plate is filled about one-third to one-half with starchy carbs, including potatoes, oatmeal, rice or pasta. One-quarter is protein, often chicken, fish or beef, and one-quarter is colorful produce. The fat tends to take care of itself via meat, nuts and cooking oils.
Senhert suggests that the average person who wants to be healthy but has a sedentary job can dial back the carbs and fill their plate with more protein and plants. The key is to choose nutritionally-dense foods that will keep you full and leave you feeling good. He likes the 80/20 rule for most people — eat healthy 80% of the time, and eat what you want the other 20% — but prefers that his players hit closer to a 90/10 ratio. That provides some room for cheat meals, or “morale meals,” as Senhert likes to call them. At the Cowboys’ facility, that might include a barbecue spread or other favorite comfort foods one day. “You have to enjoy food. It brings pleasure,” he says.
But whether you’re a pro athlete or simply do the occasional workout, you’ve got more dietary flexibility when you’re training hard. As work volume decreases, mindful eating should increase. Intense workouts allow for a little more caloric leeway.
It’s no surprise that we can get away with more when we’re young, but the consequences come for all of us eventually. That’s because our bodies are quite adaptable during short durations. Keep it up, and Senhert says that bad habits will impact everyone, even NFL stars.
“Lots of guys are here despite their behaviors,” he says. “They can still perform great today, but that level of performance isn’t as long as it could be. It might work for one or two seasons, but not over the course of a career. Especially at this level, nutrition is one way to give yourself an edge over the competition.”
Apply that sentiment to your own life, and think about extending your career — not necessarily your job, but the years that you’re healthy, mobile and active. The magic trick to make it happen doesn’t feel so much like magic — it’s pretty much what you’ve known all along. Eat right and exercise consistently.
“The boring old advice dietitians give isn’t always exciting, but the core tenets hold up,” Senhert says. “Eat whole foods, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and eat in moderation. That will always win out over extreme diets and trends.”
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