When you look at NFL superstar Tony Gonzalez, you don't think: He eats oatmeal for breakfast.
But the tight end, who just joined the Atlanta Falcons, does eat oatmeal for breakfast. Plus a fruit smoothie. For lunch, it's often beans and brown rice. For dinner, is it a steak? No, it's fish, whole-wheat pasta, and veggies. Dessert would be fruit sorbet.
And he's not a small guy — 6-feet-5-inches, 251 pounds — and Gonzalez certainly gets enough exercise. He's had a blazing football career, smashing records and establishing himself as the go-to man if you need a touchdown.
But a few years ago, he didn't feel so hot. He had a health scare and then got Bell's palsy, a rare illness that can paralyze one side of a person's face. He recovered, but started learning about healthy ways of eating. He read about how people in other countries may be healthier because they eat more vegetables and grains and less fat and sugar.
Gonzalez decided to change his usual menu, which included a lot of hamburgers, steaks, French fries, and milkshakes.
"His diet was full of lots of fat. He changed his entire approach to eating," his nutritionist, Mitzi Dulan, said.
Dulan was the nutritionist assigned to help Kansas City Chiefs players eat right. When Gonzalez was with the Chiefs, he went to her for ideas. She helped him through a 2-year process to overhaul what he was eating. It worked out so well that the two wrote a book together, "The All-Pro Diet."
Just being healthier is great, but that wasn't the only reason Gonzalez kept eating this new way. For him, eating better meant better performance. Gonzalez says he's faster and has more energy now.
"What he's seeing on the field is improvement in both recovery and energy levels," Dulan said. And that's despite his age (33) in a sport where many top players are in their twenties. Gonzalez is going strong.
Want to see his numbers? Gonzalez caught 96 passes for 1,058 yards in 2008, the same year he scored 10 touchdowns. And in his position — tight end — he's smashed records. He has 916 receptions, which means he caught the ball 916 times. Not far from 1,000!
Let's talk a little more about what's on his plate. You probably know all food has calories — units of energy that your body uses to keep going. But you might wonder why it makes a difference where your calories come from. How does your body know if you're eating 600 calories of soda and candy or 600 calories in a Gonzalez special (a dinner of fish, whole grains, and veggies)?
Your body knows, Dulan says. A sugary feast gives you a temporary boost in energy but no staying power. Contrast that with a meal of fish, brown rice, and veggies that gives you protein, fiber, and nutrients. Those calories give you longer-lasting energy. Or as Dulan puts it, "You'll be quicker on your feet."
"It's like a NASCAR driver — you wouldn't put just any fuel in your car," she said. Healthy food "is longer-lasting fuel."
If you're curious if this would work for you, Dulan says try it for a week. Eat more whole grains (brown rice, popcorn, oatmeal), more veggies, and more lean sources of protein like fish and chicken.
Plan a Post-Workout Snack
And right after a workout, give yourself a healthy boost with a liquid snack that includes both protein and carbohydrates. Chocolate milk is perfect, she said. Your muscles need protein and milk has it. Drink it within 20 minutes of finishing your workout. Healthy eating and the right snack after working out are two keys to Gonzalez's plan.
Want to hear it straight from a future Hall of Famer? Here's what Tony Gonzalez had to say about his healthy diet:
Food Q&A With Tony Gonzalez
What's your favorite healthy food? Fruit smoothie.
What's your favorite pre-game meal or snack? Whole-wheat pasta with tomato sauce, vegetables, fruit, half a chicken breast, and half a cookie.
What's your favorite post-game meal or snack? Fish, vegetables, whole-wheat pasta with tomato sauce, sweet potatoes.
What's your favorite junk food and do you limit how much of it you eat? I don't really eat junk food, but I do have a weakness for fresh-baked cookies — chocolate chip and oatmeal are my favorites.
Have your eating habits changed since you were a kid or teen athlete? My eating habits have changed dramatically! I completely avoid packaged foods and eat a lot of healthy stuff that I never ate as a kid. Now, I eat lots of fruits and vegetables every single day.
Any food advice for kids and teens who are practicing and playing hard? Yes, get plenty of fruits and vegetables for good energy. Avoid fast food, packaged foods, and foods loaded with added sugar.
How do you help your own kids eat right? I prepare meals for them and make sure they get fruits and vegetables at every meal. I follow my own advice — I don't give them anything from a package.
If you want to eat like Gonzalez, consider trying this fish taco recipe. It's a great way to get more fish in your diet. Eat a variety of fish for maximum nutrition — Tony Gonzalez does!
This recipe involves using the stove and chopping stuff up, so ask a grownup to make it with you.
Makes 5 servings (2 tacos per serving)
What you need
1 tsp. olive oil
1 leek, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
¾ cup chicken broth
2 large tomatoes, diced
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1½ pounds halibut fillets (or other firm fish)
1 fresh lime
10 corn tortillas
Equipment and supplies
measuring spoons and cups
skillet for cooking the fish
knives for cutting and chopping
What to do
Heat oil in a large skillet. Saute leek and garlic until soft. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add chicken broth, tomatoes, and cumin to skillet. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low. Add halibut to skillet and sprinkle with lime juice. Cook halibut about 15-20 minutes. Serve inside warm corn tortillas.
*For a great sauce, mix some of the leftover cooking liquid with light sour cream and drizzle over tacos.