Williams said he has lost 5 percent of his body fat and added muscle by 7 percent, which will not necessarily decrease his weight because muscle is heavier than fat. The operative term is “lean mass,” which is the weight of muscle, plus bone density, water, even blood.
“It used to be just about players making weight,” said Jane Jakubczak, the Redskins’ team nutritionist. “But we’ve seen an evolution with players that they understand it needs to be the right kind of weight. … We want to see the body fat come down, but we don’t want to see the lean mass coming down. We want to be able to maintain muscle while reducing body fat. That’s a hard thing to do.”
Jakubczak, a dietitian at the University of Maryland, met with Williams a few times before he left for Arizona, mainly going over his eating habits and making sure he’s on the right track.
“He just looks amazing,” she said.
As football players have continued to get bigger, with many lineman now resembling sumo wrestlers, the issue of weight and its effects has assumed a greater prominence. The NFL, concerned with obesity and its related ailments (cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes) and alarmed by the deaths of offensive lineman Thomas Herrion, former lineman Joe Drake and Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White, has studied its players’ shorter-than-usual life expectancies, notably among offensive and defensive linemen. The league also has been taking action.
“We’re doing a better job of educating the players, not only while they’re in the league, but also as they exit the league, we have more programs in place,” said Baltimore Ravens’ team doctor Andrew Tucker, who heads the NFL Physicians Society.
Tucker led the most recent study, during which more than 500 active players were interviewed, tested and measured. Surprisingly, the results showed even the stout lineman had cholesterol levels similar to that of the general population and were no more less prone to diabetes. The most surprising revelation was that all players, not just the big fellows, showed a generally higher incidence of prehypertension - elevated blood pressure below the level of hypertension.
Tucker is trying to figure that one out. Meanwhile, another study he is preparing will address “the fat question” specifically, as opposed to simply body weight.
“I think this has gotten the attention of the players and the larger players, specifically,” said Tucker, noting the widespread cooperation. “They’re interested. The players association was supremely helpful.”
Players have been interested for some time.
“I was always worried about my weight,” said former nose tackle Tony Siragusa, who played at about 340 pounds. “I didn’t want it to get too out of control.”
Like Williams, Siragusa ballooned when he left the game. He said his weight reached 440 before he took drastic action - lap-band surgery. Now he’s back to the 340- to 350-pound range.
“I’ve still got to worry about high blood pressure and all the other things,” he said. “When I played, I would eat all the time. Now I’m 42, and my metabolism’s slowed down. All that stuff about keeping your carbs up goes out the window.”
Williams said his comeback attempt was not the main reason he wanted to get healthier.
“Football is my life; it’s where I want to be, but it doesn’t last that long, and eventually you have to get out, which I’ve already done,” he said. “I obviously couldn’t live like the way I was living, and I’m gonna take it upon myself because I’ve got a lot more living ahead. If I want to see that, I have to change the way I eat.”