jack Youngblood, a defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams, stands before an immense mirror in the team's exercise room in Long Beach huffing through a set of forearm curls. A 27-year-old All-Pro with craggy good looks, Youngblood has just finished a three-hour scrimmage in 90� September heat. He must now go through the stations of the weight room before calling it a day. The veins in his arms and neck bulge, and he is thinking about food.
Panting, Youngblood says, "The body is a test tube. You have to put in exactly the right ingredients to get the best reaction out of it. Nutrition is an essential element for any athlete."
The problem is that what comprises proper nutrition for athletes is a matter of considerable debate. Men and women whose professional success depends mainly on their physical capabilities must—at least to some extent—regard their bodies as test tubes. Dr. Timothy T. Craig, head of the American Medical Association's division of sports medicine, says, "Athletes' concern with diet is naturally from a performance point of view; they look for an elixir to give them a slight advantage over their opponents." Accordingly, it might be expected that athletes' diets would reflect a greater than normal concern for proper nutrition. However, within these human test tubes, there are as many Big Macs and Snickers bars as there are steaks and spinach salads, as much grits as Granola, as many servings of lasagna as liver, as much bourbon as brown rice. Indeed, athletes' diets span the same range from good to bad that those of more sedentary folks do. Most athletes simply consider food to be fuel and, like the majority of the rest of us, they do little more than try to follow a regimen of three well-balanced meals a day, just as your family physician suggests.
But there are other athletes—and their numbers are increasing—who set great store by magic potions. And at the other extreme there are even a few jocks who, if their diets are reliable evidence, seem to believe that it matters not what an athlete consumes.
Among those seeking an extra edge when they eat are vegetarians, megavitamin gulpers, high-carbohydrate dieters, glycogen loaders and even some who think stoking up on bee pollen will improve their performances. Many of these unconventional eaters are also serious students of the problems of overweight, underweight, weight maintenance, stamina building and strengthening.
What, for instance, does Youngblood eat? Here's a young man in the prime of life, in the best of shape, who has just used up a couple of thousand calories in a three-hour workout—equal to the number sedentary folks burn in a whole day. Certainly he's going to devour—as his name suggests—hot, red beef along with a few dozen potatoes soaked in sour cream and butter. Of course, this man who makes his living by throwing people to the ground is going to attack dinner the way he'd clobber a running back. Sure he is.
Says the 6'4", 255-pound Young-blood, "My favorite dinner is steamed broccoli, a piece of broiled halibut and one of my wife's great Italian salads. I can't eat beef. It's too rich, too acidic. Broiled or boiled chicken is good for me, and lots of fish. The normal American diet of steak, potatoes, ice cream and white bread is a killer. That's heart-attack and stroke country. The trick is to find out how little your body can do with, then stay there."
The rest of Youngblood's diet is as-bland as his dinner menu. For breakfast he has fresh juice and one boiled egg, for lunch a big tuna salad.
That greatest of gustatory authors, Brillat-Savarin, once bragged, "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." On the evidence of diet, Brillat-Savarin would spot Youngblood as a particularly cautious cardiologist.
It wasn't always this way. We used to expect he-man feats when our heroes sat down to dine. And we got them. There were Jack Nicklaus' bouts with mounds of oysters and, before that, Babe Ruth's binges of whiskey and steak, hot dogs and beer. Eleven years ago Ernie Ladd, then a 310-pound tackle with the San Diego Chargers, defeated a similarly built Italian fisherman in something billed as The Eating Championship of the World. Ladd downed 10 steaks, several portions of prime rib, two fried chickens, a pound of butter, three quarts of pop, a coconut cream pie and miscellaneous side dishes. And even when Archie Moore went on his aboriginal diet or Billy Casper began eating buffalo meat, they did it for concrete reasons, the former to make the light heavyweight limit, the latter to forestall allergies.