At the beginning of every NFL season, really at the beginning of every NFL training camp, talk begins of who put on weight, who got leaner, players being in the best shape of their lives. That doesn’t come by chance. It’s the weight room. It’s training. It’s nutrition.
“We’re all part of the performance team,” said Director of Nutrition for the San Francisco 49ers, Jordan Mazur. “I sit underneath health and performance, so it’s us, nutrition, strength and conditioning, sports med, and then our functional performance all working together…[W]e help set body weights, realistic body weights. We do body compositions…So a guy might step on the scale and be 300 pounds, and we have specific goals, but instead of just setting specific weight, well, let’s see how much lean body mass, how much muscle mass is that? How much body fat is that? Is it realistic for them to gain or lose? But if they are gaining or losing, is it maybe they’re gaining weight, but it’s muscle, right? That’s good.”
Mazur has been with the 49ers for six seasons, with this being his second as the Director of Nutrition. Before coming to San Francisco, he was the director of sports nutrition at the University of California at Berkeley and spent a season with the Philadelphia Eagles. He has a BA in nutritional sciences and a masters in exercise science. So, yeah, he’s the guy when it comes to diet and nutrition.
Just with all aspects of a NFL season, diet and meal preparation start long before September.
“When players come back mid-April for OTAs, that’s where you lay the groundwork for the full year,” Mazur said. “That’s a really important time for us, because when you’re looking at body weights, body compositions, when you have new players in, and even when the rookies get drafted during that time, we really start to put a lot of our groundwork in for what the season is going to look like. They’re preparing, not just physically and training, getting their bodies right, too.”
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk understands the relationship between diet and performance for him and for his teammates.
“It’s been a huge determining factor of all of us performing at a high level,” Juszczyk said. “I feel like that was one of the biggest evolutions of my career, is once I started taking nutrition seriously, and realizing what a difference that can make in my play. And it really started with Jordan when I came out here to San Francisco. He and his team just do such a good job of providing everything we can possibly need. They really go above and beyond to make it easy on us.”
For defensive lineman Arik Armstead, the 49ers nutrition staff has played an integral part in his development.
“Jordan and his staff have been great, especially in terms of understanding your body more individually instead of just generically,” Armstead said. “I asked them, I want to do some testing, blood work and different stuff that my body needs, so I can take care of myself at the highest level…The resources have just been great. Super helpful. Whatever I ask for Jordan and staff will help with. And even away from here, if I’m looking for other services out of here, like a chef, Jordan will help me find it. They’ve been amazing.”
Working with rookies presents its own set of challenges, because it can often mean undoing years of bad habits. College kids, amirite?
“A lot of the rookies, we’ll meet and set new goals because some of them have really have bad habits,” Mazur said. “They’re coming from college, or they don’t know what it’s like to be in the NFL and the demands of the sport and the schedule and everything like that.
“We’re starting to look ahead, see where they’re evaluating them, what their body weights are at, where their performance can be enhanced. We look at hydration too, so we’ll do a lot of sweat testing. That’s our time to really get all those numbers before we hit the grind of training camp.”
Rookie defensive end Drake Jackson found the transition relatively painless, due to the resources he was given.
“I’ll say it was my first time finally getting the correct people for me in order for my body to go in the direction that it’s going,” Jackson said. “But I’d say coming in, instead of it being hard, they helped me a lot. I had a big stomach issue coming in, and it’s getting better each, and every, day, so really just kind of finding what I like to eat, when I like to eat it, and making sure the plan fits with my body and making sure I’m going in the right direction.”
In terms of the stomach issue, Mazur and the 49ers have worked closely with Jackson to manage the issue, including blood work, getting Jackson into a study and trying out different foods.
“I ain’t going to lie, when I got here, that’s when I really started eating my vegetables, even greens with some of the meals that I wouldn’t regularly eat vegetables with, like breakfast,” Jackson said. “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a salad or broccoli with my breakfast until I got here and started putting it in my eggs and stuff like that. So just figuring out what’s good, or I would say what’s tasty, but also healthy and beneficial for me.”
We all have trouble getting enough greens and vegetables, so Mazur uses smoothies to help the players get the nutrients they need.
“We have a full smoothie bar now, customized smoothies, but I have a Green Machine smoothie that we make all the time,” Mazur said. “That’s an easy way to get in spinach, kale, vegetables hidden with some pineapple, mango-type smoothie. It tastes really good. It’s just a way for them to get some extra greens in, so that’s really one of the most popular ones. I have a chocolate PB Gains shake that I call that I have that for a lot of the weight gain guys. It has almost a thousand calories. Chocolate peanut butter is delicious, right?”
It might just be the best food combination ever, and Armstead said the PB Gains shake is his favorite.
It may surprise fans that a lot of NFL players have trouble keeping weight on, and yes, that applies to lineman too.
“I would say that the majority, believe it or not, actually have trouble maintaining weight, so it’s really getting the calories in,” Mazur said. “So especially with those offensive and defense linemen, it’s trying to figure out how we can get them adequate calories throughout the day, not just for the amount that they’re burning off, but just for their size. They’re pretty lean for how big they are. A lot of times when we look at their body fat percentages, they can be anywhere between 15 and 20% at 300 pounds, which is crazy because they have a ton of muscle mass.”
Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley had a goal of putting on weight this offseason, and he worked closely with Mazur and his team to do so.
“I stayed here this offseason, pretty much put a plan together,” Moseley said. “I told them which weight I wanted to be at, and told them what happened last year, how I was at my weight and came down, so you’ve got to balance that out. I told them this year, I’m not trying to do that, so we talked, not every day, but every other day about things we should be doing. They’ve done a good job of making a new path, making it easier for us. Shout out to them.”
Juszczyk enjoys the whole nutrition process and has come up with his own meal to get everything he needs, including veggies.
“I call it a Buddha bowl,” said Juszczyk. “I don’t know exactly what it is…Every meal I always end up mixing everything. So, my Buddha Bowl, typically is some kind of protein – I usually go with a rib eye steak that’s sliced up – with some sauteed onions, some kind of green, whether that’s kale, Bok choy, or broccoli. I like roasted chickpeas and roasted sweet potatoes. And then I do some kind of sauce and just mix it all together…It’s the absolute best. And always got to include greens from my own personal garden.”
It’s easy to forget that recovery takes on many forms, including what is put into our bodies.
“The goal of nutrition throughout the course of the season and recovery is they’re putting their bodies through a lot of physical stress,” Mazur said. “It’s a physical sport. A big component of it is protein and carbs and calories to help repair. The body’s incredible. The ability to recover and fix itself, you just got to provide it with those nutrients to do so. That’s my goal with a lot of those guys is to just give them every opportunity to be successful.”
With all that said, Mazur wants to see the players enjoy meals and savor meals without always thinking about breakdowns.
“Our chefs do a great job at doing variety, because when you’re eating here all the time, and they eat as much as they do, we got to keep it fresh and keep the quality really good. Barbecue’s always a hit. That’s universal. Then we have Taco Tuesday every Tuesday, so we have versions of that, which is always a big hit for our guys, too.
“Then post-game, I think food is meant to be enjoyed. I think we have to be locked in. I have an 80/20 approach, so 20% of the time I think these guys can eat foods that they enjoy, too. We do Chick-Fil-A from time to time and things that they enjoy, but we always do a variety, so it’s the guys that choose. There are healthier options, and there’s options that might not be so healthy, but there’s always a variety for them.”
When the 49ers kick off their season against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the only thing they’ll be hungry for is victory.