Pro football players often have to pile on the calories to stay energized for practices and games. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports Images

The Dallas Cowboys Diet

What America's Team eats to stay in game shape.

I have a hard time keeping myself on diet plans. (Will one brownie really make that big of a difference? Quick! Before anyone notices…) Amy Goodson has to keep the entire Dallas Cowboys roster on track.

The dietitian to the Cowboys, Texas Rangers and TCU athletics, Goodson has her plate full — full of vegetables, protein, and complex carbohydrates, that is. It’s safe to say that from pre-game to post-game whatever these players are eating is individually planned by Amy. What’s the best thing to eat before a game? What about after? Who is the hardest player to keep on their diet plan? I asked. She answered.  

D Magazine: How long have you been working for the Cowboys?
Amy Goodson: I have been with Ben Hogan [sports medicine clinic] eight years. I’ve been with TCU athletics for all eight years, six years with the Rangers, and three years with the Cowboys.

Be honest, do you prefer baseball or football?
Oh, I’m going to be real honest. I have always been a football girl. I was on drill team in high school, and I decided that I wasn’t going to not know what was going on. So I had my dad teach me all the rules of football. I have learned to love baseball as soon as I started working with the Rangers, and I work closely with TCU baseball too. At heart I’m a football girl. I could watch it for hours.

How do diet plans differ from in-season to off-season?
In the off-season you focus more time on reaching weight goals. In my world I spend more time putting weight on guys than I do taking it off. In the off-season, a lot of the times, they’re just working out. This gives us more time to focus on nutrition and make individual meal plans for them and really try to help them reach their goal. The strength coaches and the position coaches determine what needs to happen weight wise, and my job is to make that happen. During the season, I know this is going to sound funny, but you’re trying to survive. You’re trying to help guys have enough energy and often times, in-season, guys start losing too much weight. They are tired and worn out from traveling so much, so a lot of times we are trying to do what we can to keep weight on guys and keep them hydrated. In-season we are trying to manage week by week. I go to lunch right after practice, and that’s when I learn, “Hey, I didn’t have any energy,” “Hey, I threw up,” or “Hey, I’m cramping.” The goal in-season is to win, so you are trying to do whatever you can just to help that player have enough energy and to be able to recover as quickly as possible.  

What is the best thing for players to eat before games or before practice?
Typically, and especially before a game or really before practice, the idea is to eat about 2-4 hours before, so you have time to eat a decent size meal and allow it to digest so you can use it for energy. Pregame or pre-workout, you really want complex carbohydrates. That could be a bagel, oatmeal, rice, pasta, something more complex in nature that is going to have some fiber in it to stick around with you a little longer, and you also want to pair that with a protein. If you get the carb and protein combination, it really levels out your blood sugar.  We have chicken, but we also have lean beef. Oh, and vegetables and fruit too. Pregame is a pretty basic meal I would say. Nothing fancy because before a game is never a good time to try something new. Most of them know what works.

What about after games or practice?
It’s different for all. Ideally you want a snack within like 30-45 minutes after a workout or after a game. We have a whole smoothie/shake station set up for them in the off-season. The idea is that you are cooling them off, but it also has the protein and simple carbohydrates that is going to really help them start the recovery process. And then ideally, you’re following that up with a meal. During their off-season workout, they usually work out in the morning, so they’ll come in and have a shake, and then it’s lunch. Post-game, the same principle kind of applies; you still want carbohydrates, lean protein, and obviously some veggies and fruit. Carbohydrates replenish what you burned off energy-wise, protein starts the rebuilding process of whatever damage was done to lean muscle. After a game, if they’re in town they leave, and they go home. I’ve educated them so they know what to eat. If we are traveling, we give them some kind of snack as they are leaving the stadium because we are going to go get on buses and go to a plane. So usually we will give them grilled chicken sandwiches or lean burgers individually wrapped with a Gatorade. Then we feed them a full meal when we get them on the plane. I plan and organize everything, so I do everything with the hotels, the plane, the snack bag, everything. If they consume a morsel of food, I probably planned that.

Do the nutrition plans vary for different positions or different players?
Football is a contact sport. So there is a certain weight range per position that they need to stay in. If you let somebody get too light or too heavy, they will become ineffective in that position. The plan really varies on what that goal is for that player. You might have a player in a certain position that struggles staying down at a weight, and you might have a player in that exact same position that has trouble keeping the weight on just because of the difference in metabolisms. It’s kind of crazy from that standpoint. It really just becomes individualized. I have a weight for every single player. I know exactly what each player is supposed to weigh.

Do you discipline the players if they go off their diet plan?
No, I don’t. You know, if they are not weighing what they are supposed to, they get it from their strength coaches and their position coaches. See, in football we weigh them in every week, and there are fines for being overweight. So I don’t need to discipline them — they have to pay money for being overweight. They pay by pound, but only during the season. When I do get that weigh in, I’m on them like “OK, dude, what’s going on? Like, what are we going to do because we can’t have this happen again because coach isn’t happy.” They get disciplined from coaches. I’m the person that can come in and help fix the problem, so that we can correct it so it doesn’t happen again the next week.

How do you keep track of what they are eating on the weekends and evenings?
Yeah, I really have zero control. My world is a little different. I work with guys that work out for a living. Most of these guys can eat so many calories it’s somewhat ridiculous, just because of the nature of their fast metabolism. I give them meal plans that show them what they can eat at specific restaurants, and they can always text me if they have a question. I get texts too, not all the time, but I will get a random text from a supplement store or from a restaurant asking my advice. I really don’t have a way to track what they eat on the weekends, but again, for these guys, it’s their job, and they’re penalized for not being the weight they’re supposed to be. I always tell them to live by the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the time, do what I’m telling you to do, 20 percent of the time you got to live a little, and typically you should be able to splurge a little and still be able to meet your goals.

What player or position is hardest to keep on the diet plan?
You know what I think one of the biggest challenges are the guys that are genetically gifted athletes. I’ll use an example because he doesn’t play for us anymore, Josh Hamilton. He would live on Fruit Loops and Hamburger Helper, if you’d let him. And he would probably play baseball the same way. There are few that are genetically like that, so I feel like they’re probably the hardest to keep on the plan because they are naturally so good at what they do. They’re going to be good either way, but I’m going to argue that if we give them good nutrition, they’re probably going to feel better, and they’ll actually have more energy at practice, and they’ll recover easier — hopefully helping them feel better throughout a long season.