We're constantly told that obesity is a danger to our health (and it is!), but many of these football players are giants of men who are often over 300 pounds. Are these men obese? Since they're athletes, are they healthy? What are the health impacts of living large? Would these men naturally be this large? What about life after football? Although the job requires some football players to be enormous, what are the potential chronic health effects of gaining all this weight?
These questions and many more are covered in a fascinating series of articles by Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. I highly recommend the entire series of articles. Here's just a snippet to whet your appetite:
"Everybody talks about that: You've got to lose weight," said the player who started as a linebacker in college. "It's a must."
There is anecdotal evidence, but no consensus, that if the weight that is added is lean muscle, it's not a risk to organs such as the heart. But every player interviewed in this story who was more than 250 pounds felt he needed to lose weight after his playing days end.
"Is that too much weight? I mean, sure," said [Joe] Donnelly, who has run his own obesity clinic since 1986. "It's maybe tolerable while they're playing, but it's too much weight. From an evolutionary perspective we weren't made to be that big, so there's additional challenges to the heart, cardiovascular system, challenges to the organs, the joints. It's a lot of body to be hauling around."
[Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Ryan] Pickett came to training camp this year at his ideal weight; usually the coaches want him to drop 10 pounds.
He's gotten to 300-plus pounds just eating - but now, caring about his health, with a wife who buys only organic and wants to keep him around to watch their kids grow up, he's watching it.
Pickett doesn't eat a lot of junk food. He takes fish oil for his heart, and instead of red meat, he eats elk, buffalo or ground turkey.
A normal breakfast is eggs, oatmeal, sausage. His downfall is sugar.
"I probably drink too much Gatorade. That's a good way to keep weight on," he said. "It's hard to eat dinner with water. I drink sodas, too, sometimes.
"I don't eat bad; if I ate cheddar fries I'd be 400 pounds. And when you eat bad, if you go to practice, your body feels it. So you want to pump your body with the right kind of stuff."
Offensive lineman Josh Sitton plans to drop 100 pounds when he's done playing.
"I'll worry about that when I'm done with this game, when I get everything sucked off me," he said. "I'll be 190 pounds. That's the plan. I'm being dead serious. I'll lose some weight naturally and I'll get lypo. I'm being serious.
"I want to look like Jerry Fontenot."
Fontenot, the running backs coach, looks nothing like Fontenot, the former center for the Chicago Bears. He's fit and trim.
Sitton, 26, scoffs at the idea that it will be hard to lose weight because he's already eating "clean" as he puts it. He followed an off-season nutrition program and even went below 300 pounds over the summer - really low in the world of NFL linemen - before he scooted back up to 315 for training camp.
He said the Packers test his body composition every year; he also gets his own tests with his trainer in Florida.
"This year was the best I've ever been," Sitton said. "I'm back to about 315 now. I just ate clean - fish and chicken. Working out at API, the nutritionist had me on a plan. It was really easy to control the weight."
For other players, it isn't that simple. Not nearly.
"You see this all the time in the NFL," said [Brad] Arnett, the [Green Bay Packers team] trainer. "He was 350 pounds and he retired and he's (now) 400 pounds. Joints hurt, back hurts, can't walk up and down stairs."
One former Packer, who requested anonymity, said it isn't as easy as it might seem to lose weight after age 30 or 35.
"I'd love to lose 100 pounds," he said. "There's no reason to be a 340-pound person if you're not playing football, and it's part of the job requirement."
He said he is trying to lose weight.
"You don't train like you used to, so that kind of hurts a little bit," he said, "You try to eat better. That's the biggest thing is trying to control your diet. It's kind of on you to take care of your own health."
Even still, the Packers are setting a major example with drastic changes this year. Strength and conditioning coach Mark Lovat - nicknamed 'Blow' - cleaned out the fridge.
"We used to have candy, Snickers and cupcakes and all that stuff on the plane. And in there (trainer's room)," receiver James Jones said. "He took it all out. It's beef jerky. It's protein bars. No ice cream, no candy, no nothing on the plane."
That stuff was around for the 2010 Super Bowl champions, but not anymore.
"'Blow' says it's for life after football," Jones said.