The #1 Recovery Food, According to Two Professional Football Players

We spoke with quarterback Justin Herbert and running back Derrick Henry about what life is like in the NFL’s longest season to date.

Justin Herbert and Derrick Henry on a designed background
Photo: Getty Images / Frazer Harrison / Mike Stobe

We are in the thick of football season, as any sports lover will know. Even if you aren't a die-hard football fan, we all can admit that having tailgate foods back on the menu is a win. Since several sporting events were canceled or held without fans last year, this return of football has felt extra special. In fact, the National Football League expanded their season to 17 games for each team, one more than in any previous year. Not only does this mean more entertainment for fans, but it also means the athletes have to stay ready for an additional week of games.

To learn more about a day in the life of a professional football player, we talked to two of the most highly regarded players in the league: Justin Herbert, 2020 Rookie of the Year and quarterback for the San Diego Chargers, and Derrick Henry, 2015 Heisman Trophy Winner, 2020 Offensive Player of the Year and running back for the Tennessee Titans. (After our interview, Henry suffered a foot injury and we wish him a speedy recovery back to full health.) Recently both athletes joined Team Milk through a partnership with Got Milk?. We spoke with them about their routines, how they stay fueled and recovered, their favorite celebratory meals and more.

Can you tell me a bit about your morning routine? What's a typical morning like for you?

Herbert: I wake up early. I actually get to the facility and have breakfast there. I'll have a quick snack before we lift. We'll have about an hour to hour-and-a-half lift, have a protein shake right after and then get to meetings. It's kind of a quick turnaround but it's important to get in fuel before my lift in the morning.

Henry: I'll get up, brush my teeth and shower, then I'll head to the facility. I usually bring a lot of water with me; I try to drink at least a gallon of water a day. Once I'm at the facility, I'll eat breakfast that usually has some fruit, avocado, spinach and lemon in it. We also have cherry juice and cayenne pepper-ginger shots, and that's probably about it for breakfast in the morning.

We think Henry would love our superfood shot recipes for a nutrition boost.

Beyond breakfast, talk us through a typical eating day for you.

Herbert: [I have] mainly three meals a day and snacks between each meal, especially after lifts and practices. Our nutritionist does a great job of providing protein shakes and snacks to build up recovery. They've done an incredible job with that. It's really important to continue eating throughout the day because of all of the calories we are burning, so they've done a great job providing for us.

Henry: When it comes to snacks, I like fruit and will drink milk. I've been drinking milk for so long and it's definitely helped my performance and with recovery. I also like to snack on fruit and sometimes trail mix. After a long day, I'll have some protein like chicken or shrimp with vegetables like potatoes and asparagus.

It sounds like our high-protein sheet-pan dinners would be a perfect fit for both athletes.

Let's talk about a typical training day for you. What's your schedule like?

Herbert: Mainly it's meeting and talking through film. Outside of that I always do some stretching and take care of my body. Because of how physical football is, my body needs to be at its best. That might mean doing yoga or stretching, or using the hot or cold tubs at our facility. They've done a great job of providing those for us. We can talk with the athletic trainers about injury prevention and doing all of the right things so that when we step on the field, we have a good chance of winning.

Henry: In the season, it's a bit different because we have meetings and practice. After doing a workout, we focus on things that can help with recovery like massages and anything that we can do to help get our bodies ready for the next week. In the offseason, I'll wake up and have breakfast with some milk. Then I'll head to my workout probably around 8:30 or 9 a.m. When I get home I'll have some time to relax and play with my daughter. I'll usually eat lunch and head back for a second workout. After that, I come home, eat dinner and go to sleep and do it all over again.

What's the #1 food (or drink) you always have before a game, if there is one?

Herbert: Milk has actually been that drink for me. It's kind of funny to mention that, but ever since I grew up, milk was the beverage to go to. Whether that was pre-workout or post-workout, milk has always been around. I feel like I'm at my best when I drink it. It's something that I trust and know I can go to, so it's helped me a ton so far.

Henry: I always have water and bananas for the potassium so that I don't cramp. That's usually the only thing I have before a game, I try not to eat too much before.

What are some ways you make sure you're fueled and recovered from training and competing?

Henry: I try to do anything that helps get rid of inflammation before a game and get the soreness out of my body. I drink a lot of cherry juice and cayenne pepper-ginger shots. I try to eat a lot of antioxidants like blackberries and blueberries. We have hot tubs and cold tubs that I use, and I try to drink a lot of water daily too. I do all of these things repetitively to help keep my body feeling good and so that I can play at a high level on Sundays.

On a more fun note, what's your favorite food and/or drink to celebrate a win with?

Herbert: That's a tough question. Something along the lines of pasta. There are a lot of great Italian places in Southern California. Whether that's a chicken Parmesan or seafood pasta, that's a meal I really enjoy post-game.

Henry: That's a hard question, because there are so many good restaurants in my area. Usually after the game, I don't think too much about food. If anything, I'll probably have a glass of milk and chill with my family and relax. I also like steak and chicken, probably the normal things a football player eats.

What's one food that is always in your fridge (besides milk)?

Herbert: A lot of steak, whether it's a filet or a New York strip. I barbecue a lot, so I have a lot of red meat as well. That's another food I really enjoy eating. It can be kind of hard to cook at times, but I've learned a lot about it as I go.

Henry: One thing that is always in my pantry or my kitchen are some bananas or some fruit. I love eating fruit; love oranges, bananas, grapes, blueberries, you name it. When I need a snack or something to hold me over until my next meal, I'll have some fruit.

What's one food that is never in your fridge?

Herbert: I would say probably fish. I'm not a very good cook yet, so that's something I haven't tackled yet. If it's done well at a restaurant I won't mind it, but it's probably not going to be in my fridge.

It's OK, Justin! Lucky for you, we have a slew of beginner-friendly dinner recipes for whenever you're interested in upping your kitchen game.

Henry: I do not like onions. I'm not a fan of onions or peppers. My girl likes them but I don't.

Last but not least, what does eating well mean to you?

Herbert: I think it's knowing your body and knowing what works for you. With whatever you do, it's really important to take care of your body because that's your business. For me being in the NFL playing quarterback, I need to be at my best every Sunday. That means knowing what foods are best for me to eat and what to stay away from, especially what works for me prior to the game and post-game. It's a science, and I think they've done a great job at the Chargers of providing us a platform and nutrition standpoint for each week. Whatever works for you and keeps you at your best, keep doing that but also experiment a little bit. So much goes into nutrition and it's really important.

Henry: [To me, eating well means] eating whatever makes your body feel good and healthy. [It means] eating whatever gives you energy and fuels your body so you can do whatever you want to do and feel good doing it. It's very important to eat the right things and take care of your body to make you the healthiest person you can be. And if you have kids, show them that eating well is important. Or if you're an athlete and have kids looking up to you, show them that as well. I think it's very important that you eat well and put the right things into your body.

We couldn't have said it better ourselves. Whether or not you'll be suiting up for an NFL game every week, nutrition is important in helping you be your best in whatever you pursue. We will be cheering on both players for whatever the rest of their season holds.

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