Once an Athlete, Always an Athlete

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Driving by jam-packed Fisher Stadium at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., on April 26, 2009, you may have thought a college or semi-pro football game was in progress. In reality, it was a bunch of 30-something guys living out their dream in front of more than 10,000 fans as part of a Gatorade program called REPLAY, featured on missionG.com.

Casual fans were unaware of the time and effort these men put into playing a football game—15 years removed from their athletic heyday. The quality of play left spectators wanting more, and the players seemed more like college rivals than everyday working men. Incorporating a no-nonsense training, nutrition and hydration plan, these guys accomplished the unthinkable.

The story behind the game
In 1993, two Pennsylvania high school rivals—the Phillipsburg High School Stateliners and the Easton Area Red Rovers—played to a 7-7 deadlock. The tie game produced uneasy feelings and few bragging rights. Not many teams get to relive "the best years of their lives," but thanks to Gatorade's initiative, these two squads once again had a chance to battle each other—and to settle the issue of bragging rights once and for all.

The REPLAY game
Eli and Peyton Manning served as honorary coaches for the game. Eli's Easton team defeated their foes from Phillipsburg 27-12 in a full contact, four-quarter game that finally answered the nagging 15-year old question.

With help from Mike Cerimele, director of the Velocity Sports Performance center in Allentown, Pa., the REPLAY athletes were put through an intense eight-week training program, accompanied by a solid nutrition and hydration plan. The man responsible for developing the latter component was John Stofan, principal scientist at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. We got a chance to talk with both men to see how they prepared 30-year-old former athletes to play again at an elite level.

Training at Velocity

STACK: What was your philosophy for the REPLAY athletes?
Mike Cerimele:
With the REPLAY athletes, we were dealing with an older group. We had to tread lightly, but at the same time we only had eight weeks to get them prepared to play four quarters of quality football. Slowly we introduced running, agility and multidirectional mechanics. We also incorporated flexibility and strength training.

STACK: Did you focus on one aspect over any other?
The first thing we focused on was safety. We wanted to make sure they were properly warmed up before any workout or movement training session to prevent injury. Second, we needed to get them in shape to play four quarters of football. We would get them to the point of complete fatigue, and then have them recover two to three minutes and then have them perform the same exercise again. Strength training was also a part of it, but I would say dynamic flexibility and conditioning were the two major focuses.

STACK: Can you explain some of the improvements you witnessed?
The number one thing I noticed, from day one to the very last day they trained with us, was their body compositions and their physiques. They dropped weight they didn't really need and really bought into what we were telling them.

STACK: Were there any obstacles you had to overcome during the training?
Other than some old injuries flaring up and some aches and pains, the biggest [obstacle] was keeping all of them on the same page. We were dealing with 45 to 50 grown adults who have families and work full-time jobs. We had to think outside of the box and come up with a plan to attack that, and I think we managed to do that very successfully.

STACK: How were you able to balance training with their busy schedules?
We organized different training sessions to give the athletes opportunities to workout throughout the day. We also emailed programs they could perform on their own if they weren't able to make a session.

STACK: How would you assess their performance on game day?
I think we shocked the majority of people who knew this game was going to happen. There were a lot of doubters out there who thought they wouldn't be able to get ready in eight weeks and play a quality football game. It was really a quality performance out on the football field that day.

STACK: How were the athletes able to get ready in such a short period of time?
I don't think it could have happened without the guys really buying into what we were doing and working hard at it. That's what makes it special and rewarding for us, because we helped get these guys ready in eight weeks to play four quarters of quality football at ages 34 and 35.

Nutrition and Hydration with the Gatorade Sports Science Institute

STACK: What was your nutrition philosophy with the REPLAY athletes?
John Stofan:
The key message provided to the guys was train hard, eat well, re-hydrate and make sure you take time to recover. We wanted to make sure they understood what they should be eating and how they should be eating.

STACK: What types of foods did you recommend?
Complex carbohydrates first and then adding some lean protein. It was important for them to understand that three meals plus some snacking over the course of the day with fruit, yogurt or low fat snacks, would help them sustain their energy.

STACK: Were there any obstacles you had to overcome with their nutrition?
The unique obstacle was moving these guys from family centered behavior to "Now I'm an athlete, and I have to train hard and change my diet." We had to make them understand that they were athletes undergoing eight weeks of extensive football training, and their diet needed to reflect that.

STACK: How did you incorporate a hydration plan?
In terms of a hydration strategy, we weighed each individual in and out during their training sessions. We taught them that that was an indicator of sweat loss, and they knew from that point on how much fluid they would need to replace during their training session.

STACK: Any other hydration tips you offered the athletes?
We made sure they were drinking fluids throughout the day as well as before, during and after training sessions. We taught them how to monitor their urine color [as] an indicator of their hydration status. We told them to look for [a] lemonade [color] as opposed to apple juice.

STACK: What did you recommend hydrating with throughout the day?
They needed to make use of Gatorade when they were on the field and making use of water and other fluids when they're off the field with their meals. It was important to make sure their timing was appropriate around their training program.

STACK: How do you think the nutrition plan helped them perform on the field?
Over the course of eight weeks, it helped them get from where they were to getting into game shape. As they exercised, as they lost weight, as they added lean mass, as they went through their lifting routines, nutrition was there to support their training and their adaptations, which ultimately helped them play at an elite level.

STACK: How did their hydration plan help?
It was really hot the day of the game, and being properly hydrated helped them stay on the field and perform. I think the hydration plan worked really well, because they understood the signs and signals of dehydration; and by learning to watch their urine output, they could monitor themselves a little bit. [Staying] well hydrated over that course of training helped them recover, and it helped move nutrients to the muscles, which helped them get ready for the next day's training.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock