Did You Know? NFL Players Could Lose 10-13 Pounds in One Practice!

by | Jul 5, 2018 | Articles, Nutrition, The League, The Team

For those of us who would love to lose weight and improve our fitness, the idea of dropping 6-to-13 pounds sounds like a great thing.  But for NFL players who can lose that amount of weight in single practice, it could be a detriment.  That’s why Scott Sehnert, Dallas Cowboys Director of Sports Performance, designs specific hydration and nutrition plans for each player.

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James D. Smith

“You’ve got groups of players from across the board who could lose 6 pounds up to 13 pounds in fluid during practice, so that’s just water weight,” notes Sehnert.  “Knowing how much you’re losing is important so that you can replace it.  The preparation side is of even greater importance on my end because we know that with 6 pounds on a 200-pound athlete, we’re already at more than 2% dehydration. That’s where you effect the cognitive, the mental decision-making part of the game, that’s so important for a football player.

“Things that are important for football performance go down when you get to certain markers of dehydration.  We need to know how much fluid the players are losing so that we can make sure we are keeping them fully hydrated.

“Practice is a different scenario than games because there are a lot of high reps at practice. The guys go through their individual drills, then move into team drills.  Even if a player is second or third team, he’s still getting more reps than he would on game day.”

The practices at OTAs and Minicamp took place under the broiling Texas sun, so the temperatures on certain days reached 90-plus degrees.  When Training Camp begins in late July, the team will be in milder temperatures in Oxnard, California.  But that doesn’t mean Sehnert has an easier task in keeping players properly hydrated.

“Even though it’s a nice, cooler climate in California, the players are sweating more at Training Camp. At OTAs and Minicamps, it’s just jerseys.  At Training Camp, it’s full pads – the weight of those pads – and not having the breathability of the jersey fabric because of the pads.  It leads players to sweat a lot.

“When Training Camp concludes and we return to The Star for our outdoor practices on Wednesdays in September, it really hits hard then.  Players can consistently lose 10-to-13 pounds, for our bigger linemen. We’ve had players who are around 230 pounds lose up to 8 pounds of fluid.  That’s more than what we want.

“It’s not that a player weighs 200 pounds at the start of practice so we want them to weigh 200 pounds after practice.  We’re just trying to keep that loss smaller so that the 200-pound player would lose only 2-to-3 pounds which is a more appropriate number.  We don’t want the loss of a large amount of fluids to change anything cognitively or physically for that player.  It’s typically when you get beyond the 2% that you see the negative changes.

“That’s why we have individual hydration plans for each player.  There are easy-to-use scales.  You see them in Oxnard at Training Camp.  Maybe you’ve seen the big ol’ board above a scale.  We weigh guys in before practice, then after practice. We’re calculating hydration needs such as the number of squeeze water bottles they need to drink.  Technology has made it easy.  These days we touch a couple of pictures on a tablet and we’re able to calculate those needs quickly.”

Technological advances and the offseason addition of new players through free agency and the draft mean that there is no true “offseason” for Sehnert.

“We did sweat testing in early June,” adds Sehnert.  “We now know the personalized needs of that player.  The sweat testing that’s available at the new Gatorade Sports Science Institute at The Star can give us a much more individualized approach once we’ve done a player’s testing.  I can consult with GSSI to help find a test to help an individual player who has a particular need or situation.  It’s an asset to have GSSI here.  We can collect the information, then communicate it to the player.”

Sehnert says he’s constantly asked about the best way to stay hydrated, whether the queries come from elite NFL athletes…or weekend warriors…or folks around the office who want to stay in better shape.

“Anything that is fluid more-or-less hydrates,” he says.  “Water hydrates.  Milk and juices hydrate.  Sodas, carbonated beverages, can get a little tricky but they still contribute to keeping your body hydrated.  Beverages like Gatorade are designed to help get water absorbed because, when an athlete is in-the-moment losing sweat, you want to replace it as well as possible.

“Milk is useful, whether white or chocolate milk.  It’s a useful rehydration beverage because there are electrolytes, carbohydrates and protein.

“Beverages that have ‘stuff’ in them, like electrolytes and carbohydrates or even protein, can further hydrate.  Gatorade has a specific use and it’s more during the moment on-the-field.  Drinks like Gatorade are designed in a way to best get water absorbed.  In the moment of the game, a drink like Gatorade does the best job because it’s easiest on the stomach and helps with retention of the fluid.  It helps you stay hydrated or rehydrate quicker than water.”

Sehnert, who earned his bachelor’s degree in dietetics from Ball State and two master’s degree from Michigan State, is also responsible for helping select which foods are served to players and staff at The Training Table at The Star.

“My background is in nutrition and I’m a registered dietician but I have education & training in exercise physiology,” says Sehnert.  “There are a lot of nutrients that we’re trying to get in the guys including fruits & vegetable and the nutrients that come from those that help with inflammation and help the recovery process.  Proteins help muscles rebuild.  Carbohydrates are for re-fueling.

“Day-to-day when the guys are eating at The Training Table here at The Star, they’re going to get electrolytes and carbohydrates from the food they eat.  They’re going to salt their soup and they’re going to get fluids and electrolytes from that.  They’re going to eat some rice & pasta and get carbohydrates from that.  In a meal-type setting at The Training Table, water is sufficient for hydration.

“I’ve worked very closely with our Legends Hospitality chefs here at The Star and we’ve gone through a lot of performance nutrition culinary training.  They just went through another two-day training in mid-June. We do that kind of training every year to maximize what we’re doing at our Training Table.

“In my first year with the Cowboys, I learned really quickly the importance of the ‘recovery’ aspect of our program for Cowboys players.  I had spent a decade in the college athletics setting (as sports dietician at Auburn University as well as training at Michigan State and University of Utah).  I was working with 20-year old student athletes.  They recovered well following their training which was a shorter season. They recovered quickly.

“But in my first season here and the physicality of the sport, it’s that much bigger than in the collegiate setting.  And then there’s the length of a pro season on top of it.  So ‘recovery’ became a driving force for me in regards to our players.

“I get a little flack sometimes from our players if we’re not serving certain types of food each day, but that is something they could do on their own at dinner.  The Training Table is there to serve a purpose of helping players prepare for practice, recover from practice, and prepare for a game. We’ve overly-detailed about our recipes and our menus.”

As Sehnert prepares for his third Training Camp with the Dallas Cowboys, he will continue to collaborate with the athletic trainers as well as the strength & conditioning coaches, not to mention the Legends Chefs at The Training Table, to design player-specific plans for hydration & nutrition that help individual players reach peak performance and maximum recovery.