By Teresa Varley
It's not often that you go to your local grocery store and see around 20 football players walking up and down the aisles, picking up fresh fruit and produce and a few goodies as well, but that was the case recently as a part of the Steelers orientation for their rookie class.
Adjusting to life in the NFL isn't just about learning the playbook and getting accustomed to the speed of the game, it's also about adjusting to being in a new atmosphere, away from the college setting, where you are on your own and need to make right decisions – including what to eat each day.
So on an off day during the team's OTA's the rookies got a helpful lesson in healthy eating, from cooking food to what to buy when they go to the store as part of a program set up by strength and conditioning coordinator Garrett Giemont.
"We are forging a relationship," said Giemont. "We want to get them up to speed. It's a great opportunity. We are going through an orientation of what is going to be going on. Plus we can teach them some simple things that can help them out. They are in a new city, apartment style living and now have to take care of themselves."
With the help of Steelers executive chef Corey Hayes the players got a few cooking lessons, including learning how to make a quick, easy and healthy meal that requires little to no cleanup when finished. On the menu for the day was chicken or salmon, along with red potatoes and vegetables. All of the food was cooked in an aluminum foil pouch, taking only about 20 minutes and producing a result the players enjoyed.
"It tasted very good," said running back Frank Summers, who admitted he didn't cook much before the lesson but will now. "It's interesting how simple it was to cook. The way he showed us was very easy and tasted good as well.
"It was very valuable. They gave us some great cooking pointers and how to take care of our body, which is a big deal in this league."
Proper nutrition was a big part of the orientation, with the players getting an eye opener on what is good for you, what isn't, how much sugars are in certain products versus others and other similar lessons.
"One of the things about focusing on nutrition is the stakes are changing," said nutritionist Leslie Bonci. "The stakes are so much higher. They have to bring their 'A' game every Sunday. It's not just about what they do on the practice field and in the weight room; it's about what they put in their body. We have to think about the time, amount and what is on that plate. If they do that it's going to translate to the best performance they can have on the field. "
First-round draft pick Ziggy Hood had his share of fast-food in high school while working at Sonic, but has changed his eating habits and appreciated another reminder of the dos and don'ts.
"Back in high school I didn't have the best of eating habits," said Hood. "I worked at a fast food restaurant so my snack food, lunch and dinner was Sonic pretty much. Through college I picked up good eating habits and eating right. It's not the best still, but now I can afford to stay on top of it because football is what I only have to worry about.
"It's good to hear more about .it, and hear it again. You might pick up something new. This recipe we did here worked out pretty good and I might try it."
That is just what Giemont was hoping for.
"We want to give them an opportunity to understand that what you put into your system is what you are going to get out on the field," said Giemont. "They are great athletes; that is why they are here. To get better faster you need to clean up your diet. This is reality. It's well known science. The kids know it. They want to do the best they can to achieve all of their dreams and goals."
Photos by Mike Fabus.