Health & nutrition insights.

Nutrition in the NFL: Interview with Dylan Cole

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a professional athlete? Well, AYB’s Practical Nutrition podcast caught up with current NFL linebacker, Dylan Cole to pick his brain about the ins and outs about what it takes to perform as a professional athlete. Dylan is a local athlete who played for Logan-Rogersville High School, Missouri State University, the Houston Texans, and now the Tennessee Titans. As Dylan would say, being an athlete in general requires knowing your body and the fuel that needs to go into it to perform at your best. Sports nutrition truly lays the foundation for athletic success. Sports dietitians can help with a well-designed nutrition plan that allows active individuals to perform at their best. There is not a one-size fits all approach to nutrition, but there are some general things that each athlete has in common. 


Listen to the podcast here: 


They need a plan that supplies them:

  • The right type of food in the correct amounts 
  • Pre-workout performance fuel
  • Promotes post workout recovery 
  • Intra-workout ideas for fueling 
  • An understanding of their hydration needs 
  • Ideas and examples of what their day should look like 
  • How their plan will eb and flow based on training intensity and duration
  • Meets their macro and micronutrient needs 


When speaking with Dylan, he mentions having quite the journey in finding what works best for him to provide his best performance. He had a big transformation from his high school career to his current NFL career. When asked about his previous nutrition he states “My nutrition is very different now than it was when I was in high school. I would have multiple bags of candy and Gatorade before every high school game.” Dylan’s nutrition has since evolved from then and he mentions having a better understanding of what his body needs. For example, his breakfast now is 1 egg, 6 egg whites, hashbrowns and a smoothie Acai bowl with granola and coconut to start his day well fueled. Eating enough, but enough quality items is imperative for performance and recovery. 


Typically, athletes want to be eating every 2-3 hours and focusing on pre and post workout fueling for performance and recovery. Dylan has mastered this style of eating for his own performance and knows what works well for him. Not only has he noticed in his performance the effect of nutrition, but he also mentions noticing the benefit in his recovery. He states “In high school, my body didn’t really respond to anything (referring to injuries). Now being older and more mature in the sport, I can start feeling the inflammation and the toll those injuries have on your body. Being in tune and having a better game plan has helped me to recover from injuries more quickly”. 


If you didn’t know, you can’t out train a poor diet. Now, let’s break this down. If you were to train as hard as you can, no matter the level of athletics, you won’t ever be as good as you could be unless your nutrition is dialed in. To understand your nutrition a little more, athletes need to focus on three main macronutrients: carbs, protein and fat.


Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are our main source of fuel for activity, therefore getting the right amounts, and types, is key to optimizing your performance.

  • Complex Carbs to eat 3 – 4 hours before:
    • Oatmeal, cold whole grain cereal (high fiber, low sugar)
    • Whole wheat pasta or bread
    • Brown or wild rice
  • Easily Digestible Carbs to eat 1 – 2 hours before:
    • Most fruits, applesauce 
    • Pretzels
    • Low-fiber hot and cold cereals (i.e. Grits, Cheerios, etc)
    • White bread or pasta or White rice


Protein: While protein is essential for recovery, it takes longer to digest – so you don’t want to eat too much before a practice, workout, or game. Consume between 20 – 30 grams (about a palm sized piece of chicken) when eating 3 – 4 hours before an event, but limit this macronutrient to no more than about 10-20 grams when eating 1 – 2 hours before an event. Protein is also essential for muscle recovery.

  • Lean Protein Choices:
    • Chicken or turkey breast, without skin
    • Lean cuts of steak or ground beef
    • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products (Greek yogurt, cheese, milk)


Fats:  Fats are an essential part of an athlete’s eating plan. Fats are important in cognitive function and hormone balance. Choose healthy unsaturated fats when possible. Aim for 1 – 2 servings of fat in a meal eaten 3 – 4 hours before a baseball game, but limit this nutrient right before, as it takes longer to digest.

  • Healthy Unsaturated Fat Choices:
    • Nuts and nut butters, olive oil, avocado, seeds


It can be hard to know how this looks in a day. Below is an example of putting it all together in a well fueled athlete’s day:

  • Breakfast: 2 pieces of whole wheat toast with butter, 2 eggs, 1 cup berries and a glass of milk 
    • Mid-morning snack: ¼ cup trail mix with dried fruit and 1/2 cup dry cereal 
  • Lunch: Chicken Caesar wrap with carrots and pretzels dipped in hummus, 1 banana, large granola bar and a sports drink 
  • Mid-afternoon snack: Peanut butter crackers and an apple 
  • Pre-practice snack: Applesauce and granola bar 
  • During practice: Sports drink 
  • After practice: Chocolate milk 
  • Dinner: Pesto pasta with chicken, garlic bread and spinach salad
  • Evening snack: 2 oatmeal banana chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk


Every athlete is different, therefore it’s important to figure out what works best for you. As Dylan said “we have to be in tune with our body and decide what works well”. If it isn’t evident by now, sports nutrition can make all the difference.