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Inside Camp: Feeding a football team


Bill Baptist

One-hundred-and-fifty pounds of meat per day. Four-hundred cartons of milk per day. Fifty pounds of potatoes per meal.

It's enough food to feed an army—or an NFL team during training camp.

Each August, the start of Houston Texans Training Camp brings a set of challenges independent from trying to make the final roster. For Texans team dietitian Roberta Anding, planning four healthy and wholesome meals per day for more than 100 Texans players and staffers is her mission during training camp.

"When I talk to the players, they have their outside gear—their helmets and their pads—and food is their inside gear," Anding said. "You wouldn't go out on the football field without helmets and pads, and you certainly don't go out without having adequate amounts of food. The challenge is with 100 different players, there's 100 different likes and dislikes, so we really try to accommodate as many people as we can."

Anding's main duty is to ensure that the nutritional and caloric needs of the team are met through the four meals - breakfast, lunch, dinner and an evening snack - that are offered daily at the Texans' cafeteria inside Reliant Stadium. However, those dietary needs far exceed what an average fan might eat.

{QUOTE}Whereas the recommended daily caloric intake for a 6-0, 165-pound, 30-year old male would be around 2,400 calories, most Texans players will consume anywhere from 3,500 to 5,000 calories in a given practice day. And that's just for offensive linemen. For skill position players, filling up their dinner plate is an absolute must in order to maintain weight during the hot days of training camp.

"It's actually the speed positions, wide receivers and defensive backs, (who eat the most) because they're outside running route after route after route," Anding said. "We've got a couple of guys on this team who eat in excess of 6,000 calories a day."

In order to offer adequate options to meet these tremendous caloric needs, the Texans' training table features a pair of buffet lines—the "lean line," which features lean meats, chicken, fish and healthy vegetables, as well as a second buffet line which the players jokingly call the "fat line," featuring higher-calorie foods.

For athletes that are vying to be in peak playing condition during training camp, a "fat line" may seem out of place, but Anding explains that such a line is crucial for players burning thousands of calories daily in the hot Texas heat.

"If you're trying to hang onto weight, you can't eat low fat food," Anding said. "So often times, when you come in, it looks like the identical thing on one side of the line versus the other, but we've actually added more olive oil to the things on the other side. So if you get rice on one side of the line, it's going to be low fat. If you get rice on the other side of the line, we've actually added a bit more olive oil to make it more calorically dense."

Hydration is also a chief concern of Anding during training camp. Outside of perhaps Miami, the heat and humidity in Houston ranks as the most inhospitable of any NFL city, meaning that players must find ways to take in water beyond simply drinking it.

"In our cafeteria, we always have boatloads of fruits and vegetables, probably more than the average fan would think, because fruits and vegetables are 90 percent water," Anding said. "So fruits and vegetables are the water that they chew."

Once Anding has planned out the meals, the burden falls on the Aramark staff led by chefs Mark Cornish and Jared Hunter to execute, cook and serve the meals. Hunter, who was executive chef of downtown Houston's Zulu before coming to Reliant Stadium and has trained at the Culinary Institute of America, notes that the sheer scale of preparing the team's meals during training camp is staggering compared to the output of his old kitchen at Zulu.

"The amount of food that I order one day here for the Texans just during training camp would probably be enough food to feed 500 to 600 plated meals out of a restaurant like that," Hunter said. "It's amazing just in this building alone, with taking care of this and everything for the suites and what have you, how much different the food and drops and everything else are."

With separate meal services for each meal, Aramark employs a prep crew that is responsible for working a day ahead each meal service to marinate meats, chop and dice vegetables and cook the dish. It then falls on Hunter and his staff to keep in constant communication with the cafeteria staff to ensure that there are ample portions.

"Like with shrimp creole today, I know for a fact that I think I have 80 pounds of shrimp creole in here today, and I think we're feeding 100 people, that's a little less than a half a pound of shrimp per person, and we'll run out," Hunter said "If you don't stay ahead of it and build a plan, you're going to fall behind. So that's what we try to do, especially during training camp, because there are so many meal periods."

Part of Hunter's job is also procuring dish ingredients that you wouldn't necessarily find on your local grocery store shelves. Steel cut oatmeal and different organic foods are just some of the unique items on Texans players' plates during training camp. But perhaps the most popular off-the-wall food item Hunter brings in is also one of the team's favorites - Greek yogurt. Because it can contain up to 20 grams of protein per serving, players commonly add it to food as a supplement. On average, the team will consume three cases of Greek yogurt daily.

But whether it's Greek yogurt or meat and potatoes, preparing the large amounts of quality food necessary to feed an NFL team takes the exact same thing needed to be successful on the field - excellent teamwork.

"When it's all said and done, what makes the food aspect of this work for training camp is [our] great working relationship and teamwork," Hunter said. "Just like any other team, having enough trust that the other side is doing their part is key."

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