If someone asks “exactly how much do football players need to eat,” the answer is “it depends what you’re doing, and where you are.” If the football player is at, say, Kent State? Then it will look more like a normal person trying to bulk up, eat enough calories above and beyond a standard 2,000 calorie maintenance diet. There will be more eggs than anyone would think is reasonable, a lot of stable carbs to fuel muscle, and probably some pizza for the linemen. Okay: More than “some.”
If it’s somewhere like Alabama, they’ll spend ten grand a week on breakfast tacos served from a specialized breakfast taco station, located next to the smoothie station, which is located next to the omelet station. There will be codes and things certain players should or shouldn’t eat, depending on their weight requirements. All of this is monitored, both at intake and at weigh-ins.
Players miss those weight requirements all the time, by the way, even at control factories like Alabama where there are tons of people monitoring players making sure they make weight. If they didn’t miss weight, we’d never have the best imitation of Nick Saban ever.
The odd thing is where football players sit relative to their peers, athletically speaking. Football players, on the whole, move violently and with immense power. They do not, however, move for long distances, and need less aggregate fuel than a lot of other athletes. They need way more than the average ski jumper, sure—but pretty much everyone, including everyday people doing sedentary jobs, needs more fuel than a ski jumper, a sport so dependent on being as light as possible that the rules of the sport had to be changed to cut into a serious culture of disordered eating.
Do not get this part wrong, though: Once the discussion gets to “this athlete eats more than a football player,” the terms are already insane. Via this comparison from the good nerds at Vox, the average snowboarder takes in more than an offensive lineman does for maintenance during competition weight.
So even if an offensive lineman—the biggest people on the field—has a well-documented cheat day with two dozen wings, they still stand at merely what a biathlete puts down to stay competitive.
There might be exceptions to that, particularly at places like Colorado or Stanford known for taking a high school tight end, packing them on a five thousand calorie a day diet, and turning out nimble but newly huge offensive linemen. But generally, football players even at proper categorical size don’t take in the dreary, jaw-cramping amounts their more active peers in Olympic and endurance sports take in just to keep functioning.
TL; DR: On the great ascending curve of calorie consumption, football players sit kind of low on the slopes, even with the large pizza eaten before bed method of packing on weight.
p.s. Don’t even begin to discuss Strongman competitors. They’re a full screen length over from cross-country skiing in terms of calorie consumption, because weighing 400 pounds and being able to move at all requires a level of intake that defies belief and strains even the strongest plumbing.
p.p.s. Story time! There is a magical, possibly mythical story from the time giant Mississippi defensive tackle Jerrell Powe was trying to slim down at Ole Miss. He told Houston Nutt he was “bad” on a weekend of eating. Nutt allegedly asked him what “bad” meant. “Bad” meant something like 72 chicken wings in a single sitting—or around 9,000 calories in a single sitting. We both want this to be true and kind of hope it’s not true at the same time.
p.p.p.s. The most impressive feat of college football eating we have ever seen is still FSU running back Greg Jones taking down two huge subs in a single sitting every day after practice.
WITH A SIX PACK.