Most NFL rookies need at least a year or two to adjust to the professional game, which is understandable—the playbook is thicker, the pressure is greater and every opponent is bigger, stronger and faster than those they faced in college. But once in a while, a talented player jumps from college to the NFL and doesn't miss a beat. Such was the case with A. J. Green.
After being selected by the Cincinnati Bengals with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Green exploded onto the scene with 3,833 receiving yards and 29 touchdowns over his first three seasons, making the Pro Bowl each year. But what made his immediate impact even more amazing is how he treated his body off the field. Though he was destroying defenses on game day, Green's diet was downright deplorable. Looking back now on the way he ate then, the fifth-year receiver can't help but be embarrassed.
"It's kind of embarrassing. My first two years in Cincinnati, I wasn't married yet and I was living in an apartment by myself. I didn't have a chef so I was living like I was still in college," says Green, whose day-to-day diet consisted of stadium fare and massive portions of fast food. "I'd eat at the stadium and grab a burger. Then I'd take a nap and wake up at 10 pm and go to Popeyes and get fried chicken or to Burger King and get two double Whoppers. Then for lunch the next day I'd have a fish sandwich from McDonald's and a Coke."
Green also frequently indulged in sweets and skipped breakfast. Though he continued to produce on the field, he was constantly exhausted between practices. "I was like 'man, why do I feel so sluggish during the daytime?'" Green says. One big reason his diet was so deficient is the convenience factor—Green couldn't cook, so he often came home having no idea what he was going to eat. The easiest answer was usually a trip to the drive-thru.
But after the 2013 season, Green was ready to make a change. He wanted to add some lean muscle to his frame and he was sick of constantly venturing out to find his meals. He hired a personal chef and drastically altered his diet. He dropped the fried foods in favor of more plant-based options like kale salad. "It's easier because I don't have to come and find something to eat or go out and get something to eat," Green told Cincinnati.com that off-season. "I know that my meal is there when I come home."
But the sudden switch to a healthy diet wasn't exactly easy—especially once the injuries began piling up. Though he eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving for the fourth straight year, 2014 was a tough season for Green. He suffered toe and biceps injuries and got dinged with a concussion in December. The litany of issues caused him to miss four games, including the Bengals' first-round playoff matchup with the Colts. It was a difficult time for Green, and focus on his diet weakened. "I didn't really watch my diet like I wanted to last season," Green says.
Fast forward to 2015 and Green appears to be fully committed to fueling up right. He married his long-time girlfriend Miranda Brooke this past off-season, and her commitment to healthy living has helped him stay on track. "My wife is here, and she's all about no sweets or soda. We're into juicing now, so we make sure we have all our juice for the week, little things like that. She definitely keeps me grounded," Green says.
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Green's personal chef still whips up lunch and dinner, and he recently partnered with Rockin' Refuel, a protein milk beverage that contains 30 grams of high-quality protein. Since Green was never a big breakfast eater, he usually grabs a Rockin' Refuel on his way out the door. "I'm not a big morning eating person, so I usually grab a Rockin' Refuel," Green says. "And I always have one before I work out."
The changes have paid dividends—Green feels better than ever and he's lost the sluggishness that used to plague him. This season, he's on pace for nearly 1,400 receiving yards, and he hasn't missed a single game due to injury.
"I feel much better. I don't have to take naps all the time and I have more energy. I just feel more alive," Green says. "And I haven't been hurt at all this year so I think it's going great."
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