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NFL grub: Nutrition tips from Rashad Jennings

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When you're an elite athlete, you have to be ready to make the big play when they call your name. A big part of that is making sure you're fueled by the right diet. New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings knows all about changing his lifestyle. After making a conscious effort to leave junk food behind, Jennings now fuels himself with a diet that is both gluten and casein-free.

Jennings chatted with NFL Up! about his nutrition, including how it helps him come game time and how he plans to indulge over Thanksgiving.

(Check out Rashad Jennings' NFL Up! workout here.)

What are your daily diet habits? Do you count calories?

RJ: You know, I used to count calories, but I stopped a while ago. The reason why is I felt myself more concerned about a number rather than (being) fuel efficient. So I cut counting calories and just made sure that whatever I'm eating is fuel efficient.

Thanksgiving is coming up, so that's a good example. You know with Thanksgiving, everybody's stuffed and they're all bloated at the table and they say, "Oh, I'm so tired." Some people say that's tryptophan that's making them really sleepy, from too much turkey. But truly, it's really not. What really happens is you use energy to break down food. And because you just finished overloading yourself, all the energy you have is starting to transition and break down food instead of using energy.

Eating fuel efficient kind of works the same in that if you're not eating things that actually have fuel, then you're taking away energy you could be using for activity. Instead, you're taking that away to break down food that really has no nutritional value. So I'm more focused on eating fuel efficient rather than counting the amount of calories.

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On a typical day, how many meals do you eat?

RJ: About three to four full course meals. I have a big breakfast shake every morning. Then I have a full lunch. What I mean by "full" is it's a salad. A house salad with probably chopped up chicken, or it might be tuna, whatever the salad may be, but some type of protein in it. And then I have a lunch, which is some type of protein, carb and vegetable with some type of fruit or snack with it. Then a full course dinner the same way. And if I'm feeling lucky, I might have some type of dessert with it.

Does your diet change at all in the offseason?

RJ: No. As soon as the season is over, I do a lot more experimenting in the kitchen, cooking and everything because I don't have to be on my game. I dabble and try different restaurants or try different recipes in the house. And then that way, heading into the next season, I might have a couple more meals in my toolbox to pull out that I have really enjoyed.

You mentioned snacks earlier. What kinds of snacks do you typically go for?

RJ: My snack is a whole fruit. Or rather than eating like pretzels or some chips, my snack might be turkey meatballs. One of my favorite little snacks is hummus spread on gluten-free toast with chopped avocados and turkey bacon. It's a great little sandwich.

So you're going for heftier snacks rather than almonds or anything like that?

RJ: Yeah, I'm a whole food eater. I'm not going to waste my time on a couple little chips. I'm going to go eat an entire meal again almost.

What's a pre-game meal look like for you?

RJ: Depends on the day, what I feel like and what happened throughout the rest of the week. If we have day games, I don't eat before the game because I have my breakfast shake. I might take some egg whites and some oatmeal with me. Maybe some turkey bacon, depending on how I feel that day; but most of the time, most of our games are during the day so I don't eat a whole course meal. The last night game we had, or late game, it was bison meat. I had a bison burger with sweet potatoes and mixed vegetables.

Do you have a favorite healthy meal that is just kind of your "go to"?

RJ: I go through it all because it's so good. It's hard to pick one out. I mean, obviously, chicken is always a win. So many things you can do with chicken.

You know what? One of my favorites is a turkey meatloaf with pesto pasta and sautéed vegetables. It's a combination with sweet yogurt. It's so good. I love that combination because everything flows with each other.

What about something you won't eat? Is there something healthy that you just can't stomach?

RJ: Nah, I'm pretty good with everything besides liver. I won't eat that. I love sushi, but I won't eat sea urchin. It doesn't fit my taste buds at all. But yeah, for the most part, I'm easy going.

Do you have a specific meal or snack to eat for recovery?

RJ: I get a lot of nutrition through my shakes. I make sure whatever the meal is, it's high in antioxidants. I probably throw in some avocado, might throw in turmeric, some ginger, things of that nature.

What advice would you give to someone that's looking to change their diet to be better fueled?

RJ: I would probably challenge them to cut out empty sugars and empty carbs. They should probably stick to complex meals and complex courses, like you eat whole foods instead of snacking because most kids will be kids, so that, that's something that I'll start off with. It's try to eat whole foods instead of snacking on bars.

(Julio Cortez/Associated Press)
New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings helps unload turkeys Nov. 18 at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.

With Thanksgiving coming up, what do you typically go for?

RJ: Yeah, so, actually, my second mom, the whole entire meal is gluten and casein-free and is organic, and it's the best Thanksgiving meal you will ever in your life have. So whenever I invite friends over, because they know how I eat, they're like, "I don't know if I want to eat Thanksgiving with you."

Everybody whose ever eaten with me has never ever gone anywhere else because the food is that good. And you don't feel like crap afterwards. That's what's amazing about it. You can eat as much as you want. So, man, I forgot the question, though.

So yeah, I get some dark turkey. I like the dark meat starting off with some cranberry and get some mashed potatoes in there, some green beans, a little bit of stuffing. We go with some...oh, man, she makes this baked onion, which is delicious. She makes too much. So, that's what I'm grabbing in the first round.

So there's multiple rounds?

RJ: Oh yeah, there's about three. But the combination of the cranberry with the dark turkey and the mashed potatoes, like the whole everything, they're so good together.

Rashad Jennings is a six-year veteran NFL running back currently playing for the New York Giants. He established the Rashad Jennings Foundation, which provides mentorship for individual success while promoting health and fitness worldwide.

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