- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

It was an effective, if not sensible, diet: The Washington Redskins won three Super Bowls while dining at a training table of double cheeseburgers and fries.

The Redskins team that yesterday began five weeks of limited on-field workouts is better fed, at least, than its more successful, championship-winning predecessors were.

These days, the Redskins, like 20 of their National Football League rivals, employ a nutritionist who not only helps select the food for every meal the team serves, but also arranges for prepared dinners that players can take home, teaches them how to cook nutritious meals and takes them grocery shopping in a quest to make the players healthier and more productive.

“We have absolutely the best nutrition we’ve had in my 35 years here,” said director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer, who joined the Redskins as an assistant trainer in 1971. “We’re in line, if not doing better, than a lot of teams when it comes to eating right.”

That wasn’t always the case.

John Riggins, Darrell Green and Co. would chow down on McDonald’s double cheeseburgers (with fixings bought in bulk down the street at Giant Food) before every practice in the 1980s. These days, Clinton Portis, Shawn Springs and the Redskins are offered more healthy fare.

The players generally are given breakfast and lunch during the season and three meals a day during training camp. The team spends hundreds of thousands of dollars feeding its players every year, Mr. Tyer said.

And that is where Ann Litt comes in.

“It makes sense for teams to put an emphasis on their players’ whole bodies,” said Mrs. Litt, an area nutritionist who has been on retainer with the Redskins for three years. “Once we can give them the right information on improving their diet, they can perform a lot better.”

Mrs. Litt recently took snapper Ethan Albright and his wife, Kathy, on a nutrition tour of the mammoth Wegmans grocery store near Redskin Park in Ashburn, Va.

The 6-foot-5 Albright’s weight has fluctuated over the years. At 35, he’s focusing on eating food healthier than the ham, sausage and eggs he ate growing up on a North Carolina farm.

“Kathy and I are from that ‘Eat what’s on your plate; there are starving children in China’ generation,” Albright said. “Before we got married, Kathy was looking at my checkbook, and there were checks for Domino’s, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut. I said, ‘See, I’m getting variety.’

“I put on a lot of weight when I was bucking to be a lineman, but when they told me to focus on snapping, I had to drop a bunch. My portion sizes are so messed up that I would put a huge amount of food in front of my kids.”

And when they didn’t finish their food, Albright would eat it for them. Mrs. Litt advised the Albrights on the proper ratio of meat, vegetables and carbohydrates to consume, assuring them that even junk food has its place in a balanced diet.

“I look at those 3-ounce vacuum-packed [steaks], and I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” said Albright, who, at 260 pounds is halfway between what he weighed as a high-school senior and what he weighed as a second-year pro. “I want enough to satisfy me.”

Chris Samuels was voted to his third Pro Bowl in 2005 despite playing the second half of the season on a sprained knee that would require surgery. But the offensive tackle wasn’t completely satisfied, either.

“I want to play at the weight I played at in college, between 295 [and] 305, so I can be quicker,” said Samuels, who weighed 321 on April 18 and had dropped 7 pounds just 10 days later. “That’s hard to do when you’re getting older, and you’ve had another knee scope. Ann has definitely helped me out a lot. She has really changed my diet.”

Linebacker Marcus Washington wasn’t as devoted to fried foods as Samuels was, butMrs. Litt has given the 2004 Pro Bowl linebacker a boost, too.

“Ann has really helped me out a bunch with those dinners,” said Washington, a 28-year-old bachelor. “They’re pretty good for a single guy. You pick them up on Tuesday, and you have your dinners for three days.

“Talking to guys on other teams, we really work hard here, and Ann definitely plays her part to help us,” Washington added. “Guys make suggestions like turkey burgers and low-fat mayonnaise, and Ann will listen and add them to the menu. I’ve heard that some teams are still eating cheeseburgers and pizza. I don’t see how you can eat all that stuff and go out there and work the way we do.”

Such devotion to nutrition was rare in the league decades ago. Fast food arguably was a nutritional step up from the fare the Cleveland Browns typically ate when Bill Tessendorf joined their training staff in 1973.

“The players either brought their lunch, or they ate off the sandwich truck, like the construction workers,” said Mr. Tessendorf, now trainer for the Baltimore Ravens. “Breakfast was from Dunkin’ Donuts, and rookies were responsible for providing it. The beverage of choice was coffee or Coke. Nutrition was kind of a backroom type of thing. Some guys knew about this guru who recommended this protein power shake that had some things in it that wouldn’t be approved today.”

Player agent Gary Wichard will never forget attending the New England Patriots’ training camp as a prospective quarterback in 1974.

“Every meal was meat and potatoes,” said Wichard, who became a vegetarian. “Guys would be belching up steak at practice.”

In some ways, players’ eating habits hadn’t changed that much when Albright broke into the NFL in 1994 with the Miami Dolphins.

“The Bills would put healthy food out, but guys would say, ‘I don’t like fish, so I’m going to McDonald’s,’” Albright said. “Miami had a deal with Domino’s, so 50 pizzas would be delivered on Fridays, and guys couldn’t wait to get at them.”

What has changed is that players now are so well-paid they can work on their game and bodies year-round instead of selling cars or real estate in the offseason, as they did 30 years ago.

“Football is no longer a part-time job,” Mr. Tessendorf said. “These guys stay in shape year-round. No one comes to training camp to get in shape the way they used to. Players will pass on going out for beers on a Tuesday night because they have to stay in shape.

“It’s a huge change from when I started in the NFL. I’m not sure if there will be any more quantum leaps, but players are always looking for something better, for that little edge.”

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