NFL chefs on staying fit and players' diets

Plus, what happens when Tom Brady throws the ball to a culinary friend

The Super Bowl isn't just about the athleticism, it's also about the food. One of the largest tailgates of the year happens the night before the big game: Taste of the NFL’s Party With a Purpose(in Houston this year) brings all 32 teams' chefs together to feed roughly 4,000 football fans, benefitting food banks around the country.

“It’s a great organization that raises money for hunger relief,” says John Howie of John Howie Steak in Seattle, who was chosen to represent the Seahawks. And just like game-dayitself, there’s a competitive aspect to the culinary event.

“About five years ago, Taste of the NFL created the Kick Hunger Challenge, urging chefs to do more within their own communities and entreating them to see who could garner the most funds for a charity in their respective cities. "In our case, proceeds go to the Seattle Food Lifeline—a really cool organization that supplies food to over 1,200 food banks daily,” says Howie.

Here, Howie along with event host Richard Blais, and participating chefs Kevin Rathbun (of the Atlanta Falcons) and Steve DeFillipo (of the New England Patriots) share their workout routines, how NFL players tackle nutrition during the season, and more.

How chefs move before the big game:

Richard Blais:"People tend to get carried away on Super Bowl Sunday. Make sure you do what you do every day—I’ll go out for a run or get some kind of exercise. And if I’m on the road, I’ll schedule a block of time for it."

Steve DiFillippo: "I run at least seven miles a day, taking one day off a week. If I don’t run, it affects my mood. I run all over the place and I feel like the king of the world in my neighborhood in Boston. Then I go to NYC and run along the West Side Highway and I feel so out of shape. I love running around cities and exploring—it’s the best way to get to know the city."

John Howie:"I like to get out to golf when I can. As far as my routine, I just try to eat right most of the time, meaning fresh whole foods, lots of vegetables, fruits, and lean protein."

On the nutritional habits of NFL players:

John Howie:"A lot of the guys will come into my steakhouse and eat like anyone else, just at a larger volume. They eat a lot of protein and a bunch of carbs because they need to keep the weight on. The bigger guys, though, have a lower-carb diet. Michael Bennett will stop in before an away game and pick up a bunch of to-go food (steak, grilled chicken, baked potatoes) for the team and bring it on the plane. Russell Wilson really likes the chicken. I mean, it’s high quality chicken, but still ironic at a steak house."

Kevin Rathbun:"All of those guys come in [to my Atlanta restaurant Rathbun's] and eat a lot of meat—I’m talking between 12 and 16 ounces of protein. The volume they consume is amazing. But they’re staying away from the fried lobster. Matt Ryan is a regular. He’s an avid steak eater. He’s not going for the creamed corn, he’ll opt for sautéed spinach and garlic. He stays pretty healthy for the most part. Post-season is when they’ll order the fried lobster and the twice-baked potatoes."

Steve DiFillippo: "I’ve been very fortunate to cook regularly for these guys in Boston at my restaurant Davio's. Tom [Brady] is the healthiest eater I’ve ever seen. I think he would eat healthy on his own, but Gisele really got him eating differently. He’ll eat a steak and his wife is salmon-crazy. Tom loves vegetables—he’ll eat a large serving or a heap of sautéed spinach with his steak. Joe Andruzzi goes for the gnocchi bolognese."

Getting personal with past and present players:

John Howie:"Every year, we host a slew of events to raise money for the Challenge. The NFL players get involved as well. My player, former defensive tackle Craig Terrill, is a musician and friends with a couple of the guys from Pearl Jam. Previously, he created a limited edition Pearl Jam t-shirt to benefit the Lifeline.

And Bennett is a huge fan of my white chocolate-coconut cream pie. One night we brought mini pies to a charity event. I saw Michael walk back and grab a plate full of them—the next thing I see is him auctioning them off! He had [running back] Marshawn Lynch deliver them to the winning tables. So when Michael got injured this year, I sent him some pie on his birthday."

Steve DiFillippo:"There’s this game up here called “Best Buddies” and I get to play in it. Last year, Tom looked at me and said, ‘Okay Steve, this ball’s coming to you!’ I almost s*** myself. Catching a football from a pro is something else. I turned towards him to catch it and it was already in my stomach and it HURT. It’s not a normal situation."

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