*This article first appeared on STACK in November 2017*
When Antonio Brown began posting photos of his meals on Instagram several months ago, I took notice. We’ve covered AB’s nutrition in the past, but this food looked different. Not only were the meals vibrantly fresh, but they were also packed with ingredients known to boost athletic performance:
Every photo was accompanied by the same tag: @Ed_Choppo. After interviewing the man behind these magnificent meals, I now know @Ed_Choppo is Eddie Omari-Rivers, a New York City-based health consultant who began working with Brown last offseason.
The two met through mutual friend Corey Pane, an artist who frequently does work for NFL stars (he painted the murals in Brown’s home gym). When Brown found himself in NYC in need of a late-night workout last spring, Pane hit up Ed. The two instantly clicked, and soon enough, he found himself serving as Brown’s personal chef and trainer.
No two things are more vital to an athlete’s performance than how they eat and how they train, and Brown’s play this season has been an endorsement of Omari-Rivers’ work. “You see even more burst (from Brown this season), you see even better play speed,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley recently told Steelers.com. Brown currently leads the NFL in receiving yards by a significant margin, and Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the No. 1 receiver in football.
How does one come to find themselves entrusted with fueling football’s brightest star? Omari-Rivers is not a classically trained chef, but his life has always revolved around food. He spent much of his childhood with his grandmother, who owned a west African restaurant in Harlem. She taught him basic culinary skills and encouraged him to “eat from the ground as much as possible.”
“She kept me very involved in everything, even as a youth,” Omari-Rivers told STACK. He further bolstered that knowledge with nutrition courses at the University of Vermont, where he was also a two-sport athlete (soccer and basketball). Omari-Rivers often had trouble finding quality fuel in college, so he began cooking for himself.
While AB has one of the most rigorous training routines on the planet, Omari-Rivers knows it would go to waste if his nutrition wasn’t up to snuff. “I believe it’s 70% diet, 30% training,” Omari-Rivers says. “You can spend your whole life in the gym, but if you’re eating like a truck driver, you’re going to look more like a truck driver than an athlete.” Talking to Omari-Rivers, it’s clear that every ingredient in his cooking serves a purpose.
Sweet potatoes are a staple in Brown’s meal plan, as they’re a fantastic source of fiber and complex carbohydrates. “The sweet potatoes give him sustained energy throughout the day. I want to fuel the body with sustained energy, that’s what I’m all about,” Omari-Rivers says. One of Brown’s favorite breakfasts is a sweet potato protein pancake topped with Ghee butter. Popular in Indian cuisine, Ghee butter has a higher concentration of butyric acid than traditional butter, which helps reduce inflammation in the digestive tract.
“It’s one of the best anti-inflammatories you can find in the world,” Omari-Rivers says. “I try to keep the digestive tract as healthy and as active as possible.”
Avocado fruit and avocado oil are also frequent additions. A 2005 study found that adding avocado or avocado oil to a salad drastically increased the amount of antioxidants the body was able to absorb from the dish. Avocado oil has also been found to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, particularly in the hip and knee joints. So powerful, in fact, that avocado oil extract is considered a prescription drug in France.
Much of Omari-Rivers’ cooking draws from his African roots, as his mother’s from Ghana and his father’s from Ethiopia. He counts a cookbook of African recipes he received from his late grandmother as one of his most prized possessions. Omari-Rivers often makes use of hot chillies in his cooking, as capsaicin, the compound which gives them their heat, has well-researched health benefits. He’s also a big fan of ginger, which has a positive impact on digestion and helps reduce soreness. A 2010 study found that daily supplementation with two grams of ginger resulted in “moderate-to-large” reductions in exercise-related muscle pain. “I’m from the west coast of Africa, we love ginger,” Omari-Rivers says. “(My grandma used to have me) chew raw ginger every morning, I hated it as a youth. Now I know what it did for me, I love it.”
The chef also tweaks his game plan for the elements. Cold and flu season is upon us, and Brown competes in the frigid AFC North. Freezing temperatures weaken our first line of immune defenses, making us more susceptible to infection. In response, Omari-Rivers has begun increasing the amount of red cabbage Brown consumes. “Towards the winter months, I load him up with red cabbage. Super high in antioxidants and it helps fight off colds,” Omari-Rivers says. Red cabbage is positively packed with vitamin C, as 100 grams contains 95% the recommended daily value. While vitamin C has been found to have little effect on illness risk in the general population, it does seem to have an effect on those who regularly undergo intense exercise. A 2013 review found that “extremely active people” cut their risk of cold in half by taking at least 200 mg of vitamin C a day.
Brown supplements his meals with two daily shakes prepared by Omari-Rivers—an energy shake in the morning, and a recovery shake at night. The “Green Gas” shake, for example, contains avocado, kale, coconut milk, dates and ginger. “(That) gets him charged up for the rest of the day,” Omari-Rivers says. Aside from the aforementioned foods, Brown’s diet includes lots of lean meats, eggs, veggies, fruits and whole grains. Organic ingredients are used as much as possible.
While it’s Omari-Rivers’ job to go out and buy ingredients, Brown will occasionally accompany him. “I was going to the Whole Foods and the farmer’s market out in Pittsburgh to grab produce. He asks me if he can come with me, I say sure,” Omari-Rivers says. “He pushed the cart as I’m shopping. I’ll never forget it. I’m (buying stuff) for the quinoa salad, he’s asking me what it does to the body, I’m explaining it to him. The guy pushed the cart throughout the whole Whole Foods market. (He did this) in Pittsburgh, where—for lack of a better word—he’s a big deal. People were shocked. For me, it’s not enough that I care about the fuel and the good eats I’m putting in your body—I want you to care.”
Even when Brown eats the occasional meal out, he’s vigilant about its contents. When he joined some teammates for a trip to Waffle House last season, he quizzed the waitstaff on the origin of their chicken. “He’s asking, ‘Where did it come from? Is it organic?,” Darrius Heyward-Bey told ESPN. “The people at Waffle House were calling people, calling their bosses to find out where the chicken came from. He ate the chicken, so it must have been good enough for him. He wasn’t going to eat it until they gave him an answer, though.”
So far, the diet seems to be working wonders for Brown. He’ll turn 30 this summer, but any concerns about his longevity seem unwarranted. “Some guys are concerned with the clothes they wear or the cars they drive, but none of that stuff is as important as what you put into your body,” Brown says. “You’ve got to keep your body clean.”
Photo Credit: Diamond Images/Getty Images, @AB on Instagram