Fitness lessons from NFL players

4 young athletes on what they’ve learned since going pro

College teams are full of talented athletes, but even the best players experience some level of shock when they’re exposed to the intensity of going professional. If they can’t adapt, their careers likely won’t last.

Here, four players talk about the adjustments they made in their first few years with the NFL that helped them keep up. The lessons they learned can help you handle increased volume in your own fitness routine, too.

Prioritize your health, even in the off-season.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned being in the NFL is the importance of listening to and knowing my own body, knowing when something’s wrong, then doing things to make sure the problem doesn’t happen again. I’ve learned to always work hard and keep my body right. That’s my job now, so I have to stay on top of it no matter if I’m playing or it’s the off-season.” -Nick Kwiatkoski, Chicago Bears linebacker

Diet becomes more important as you age.
“At my age [21], I’ve been able to eat anything and still stay in good shape. But being in the league now, I’m trying to get into the company of elite athletes and learning from nutritionists how to keep a healthy diet. I’ve added more grains and protein, especially meat, to my diet.” -Saquon Barkley, New York Giants running back

To make it from start to finish, you need endurance.
“The college season is shorter, so I had to learn how to get my body ready to play all 16 games and make sure I’m conditioned to last and have energy in the fourth quarter. The workouts I’ve used to adjust to the longer season are squats, jumps, and explosive movements. Those keep my legs strong, and if my legs are strong, it helps my body last longer.” -Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys quarterback

Understand that progress can be slow.
“Working on my patience is one thing that helped me adjust to the league. It calms my nerves and helps me realize that mastering the fundamentals will help me succeed.” -Adoree’ Jackson, Tennessee Titans cornerback