All You Can Eat: Being an Offensive Lineman

Sam Wenk@srwenk22Senior Analyst IAugust 13, 2008

When kids are in elementary school and their teacher asks them what they want to be when they grow up, a lot of the boys say professional football players.  “I want to be like Peyton Manning!”  “My favorite player is Adrian Peterson, and I want to be a running back.”  “I want to catch passes and run fast like Larry Fitzgerald.” 

How often do you hear a kid say they want to weigh three hundred pounds and pass protect like Orlando Pace?  Not too often I bet, unless their idols might include hotdog eating champion Joey Chestnut and Rosie O’Donnell. 

Obviously, the life of an offensive lineman is not a life desired by many.  Yet, the best lineman are paid top dollar.  The 6-7, 325lb Pace himself is a seven-time Pro Bowler and the number one overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft.  Pace was so dominating during his college career at Ohio State that the NCAA created the “pancake block” statistic to help measure how many times he completely knocked down his opponent.  Pace signed the richest rookie contract ever at the time, agreeing to a seven-year, $25.6 million contract.  Some kids may want to rethink about what position they want to play after seeing how successful the best linemen can be.

On the other hand, being an offensive lineman isn’t easy.  Most of their days revolve around eating and working out, doing anything and everything to maintain their huge frames in the hopes of one day signing that huge contract. 

I recently sat down with three of the top lineman in the Big Ten, Penn State’s A.Q. Shipley, Illinois’ Ryan McDonald, and Wisconsin’s Andy Kemp, to try and understand what they have to go through on a daily basis to resemble the physical specimens that they are.

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“It’s tough to maintain a weight, to be honest,” said Shipley, who weighs in at hulking 297lbs.  “As much as we’re running and working out, you got to eat 5,000 calories a day just to maintain.  It’s almost gross at times.”   Shipley understands that linemen need to not only keep their weight at a significantly high level, but their stamina and strength as well.  “Being a lineman, you got to have that physical mentality and suck it up when it hurts and when you’re tired.”

“I have trouble keeping weight on,” explained the 296lb McDonald.  “Some people have to try to lose weight, but I guess I have a high metabolism, and I’m thankful for that.  I don’t want to blow up when I’m done.” 

Blow up?  After a typical day of eating like Shipley does, the idea doesn’t sound so farfetched.  “Breakfast is six eggs, 8 ounces of red meat, a bowl of apple sauce, [and] a bowl of oatmeal,” said Shipley.  “Lunch [is] 8-10 ounces of meat, two servings of rice, some fruits, some vegetables.  Dinner [is] 16-20 ounces of meat, two servings of rice, two servings of vegetables, and snacks in between.  It’s a lot of eating.”

Andy Kemp, the heaviest of the three at a scale-busting 316lbs, knows eating often and sticking to a routine is the key to keeping the pounds on.  “We always get a sheet from our nutritionist,” Kemp said.   “They talk to us about the good things to eat on days we worked out or days we don’t.” 

What does Kemp eat on an average day?  “Breakfast is the most important meal,” he said.  “I just try to get something in [my stomach], a granola bar or a couple pieces of toast.  We have a workout and [I’ll] get a protein shake in.  Then I’ll go home and make a sandwich and get something in my system or stop at a Subway or something like that.  You try to snack in between.”  And for Dinner?  “You get to dinner, and you go out to eat or you make something and stay as healthy as you can.  And then usually before you go to bed you have some kind of snack.”

The word “healthy” isn’t commonly used when describing an offensive lineman.  However, eating generous amounts of healthy food, as opposed to three Burger King Whoppers, has its benefits.

“We try to get in 4-6 smaller meals, you know, nothing too big, nothing to unhealthy,” says Kemp.

“Lately I’ve been trying to eat healthier,” explains McDonald.  “Every now and then [I’ll eat] a salad, maybe a carrot.” 

How does McDonald try to incorporate health into his daily eating schedule?  “I use to try to eat cereal and some fruit for breakfast,” he says.  “Lunch, [I] try to go to something like a Subway or something healthy, but that can easily turn into Wendy’s…I haven’t really had to be too careful about what I’ve eaten so far.  It’s been kind of nice.”

Hours spent in the weight room, followed by hot practices and lengthy meetings can drain a lot of a lineman’s energy.  Replenishing that energy is essential for them to keep their bulky frames.

“After a workout, the biggest thing I do is I take a protein shake, a Met-RX weight gainer that’s about 500 calories, [combine it with] another shake that’s about 450 calories, put that in [a blender] with some ice, banana [and] ice cream, blend it together and it’s about a 1,300-calorie shake.  [I’ve] got to take that right after I workout to try and get energy and stuff back into my body.”  After eating so many calories, how can one possibly be hungry for dinner later that night?  “Sometimes I’m not hungry after that shake, dinner can be anything.”

Being expected to keep their weight at a certain level is often tiresome for the big boys.  With planning, time management, and basic discipline, the linemen have learned anything can be done.

“Pack your lunch, pack little snacks,” Shipley said of how he stays massive.  “You’ll be in class eating peanut butter sandwiches, eating turkey sandwiches, things like that.”

Not only are the linemen required to plan out their day of eating, they have to pay for most of the food too. 

“It definitely gets costly and [you] go to the grocery store quite a bit,” Kemp said.

“Anytime we’re in school,” says McDonald, “like in the fall semester, we get five meals a week provided for us at dinner.  [The meal money provided by the school] helps out a lot.  In the summer everything is on your own, so it can be a little tough.   When I’m feeling the [financial] consequences, I’ve had to ask my parents for a little money sometimes.”

So next time you see a lineman up close and find yourself disgusted at their enormous size, wondering how someone so gigantic can be playing a sport, remember how hard it is for them to be that big.  When they are opening holes in the defense for the Adrian Peterson’s of the world to run through or blocking defenders to allow players like Peyton Manning that extra second to throw, you’ll be thanking them for weighing twice as much as you.

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