When you consider the wide range of athletic abilities and body types on the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, it comes as no surprise that favorite meals for the team include customizable offerings like grain bowls, ramen bowls, and taco bowls.

“The bowls are a great way to include grains, proteins and vegetables in a convenient and easily customizable meal,” says the team’s sports dietitian, Matt Darnell, PhD, RD, CSSD, SCCC. “We always make sure to have lots of options and toppings including cheese, sour cream, and yogurt sauces.”

“There are not many sports where you have a 6’5” 325-pound athlete and a 5’10” 189-pound athlete on the same team,” explains Darnell. “Something else most people don’t realize about professional football is the wide variety of food cultures and backgrounds represented on the team.”

“Dairy plays an important role for many of our athletes throughout the season,” he says. “It is a great source of protein, calcium, and probiotics. Whey protein powder is also a common ingredient in our smoothies and recovery shakes.”

Darnell says that he works to accommodate all diet preferences and food tolerances on the team. One way they do this is by making sure customizable meals are frequent options and that there are plenty of snacks to choose from.

“We have a variety of snacks available at the facility – fresh fruit, nuts, trail mix, granola bars, beef jerky, and yogurt cups are some of the most popular items. We also make our own adult ‘Lunchables’ – or protein packs – that contain sliced cheese, almonds, fruit, and cubed turkey breast or ham,” says Darnell.

Ultimately, Darnell’s favorite part of working for the Steelers is the people. “Working with the Steelers is truly an honor. The organization is like family and is rooted in a deep tradition of respect, integrity, and success,” he says.

“I love when I am working with a player and we reach that moment when everything seems to click for them,” Darnell says. “They understand, see and feel the impact that proper nutrition and fueling has on their body and recovery.”

Darnell’s advice for recreational athletes and student athletes is simple – don’t get caught up in the hype!

“Consistency and simplicity are key. Do not overthink things or get caught up in the whirlwind of sports fuels and supplements. Consume a diet rich in dairy, fruits, vegetable, whole grains, and lean proteins, and consume enough to meet the needs of your training.”