It has been four years since Marcus Stroud has had to hustle on a football field, and the 6-foot-6, 300-plus-pound former defenseman hasn’t gained a single pound. “I try to be healthy,” says Stroud, who played defensive tackle for Jacksonville and Buffalo for 10 seasons before being signed and released by New England in 2011. “That’s why I’ve been able to maintain my weight and not turn into that fat guy.”
A fear of becoming that fat guy has also caused Stroud, 35, to overhaul his diet since leaving the NFL. “My portions are much smaller now and I don’t eat as frequently,” says the three-time Pro Bowler, who made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1996 as one of the year’s most promising high-school players. “I’m getting back into exercise and working out, so now I’ll probably end up losing a lot of weight.”
Some nutritionists might argue that Stroud would need to rid his fridge of a few particular items, including his favorite Golden Oreo ice cream cake, if he really wants to drop weight. But the three-time All-Pro with 29.5 career sacks doesn’t necessarily agree. “I try to put in a little extra time working out for that slice I’m going to have every day,” he says. Here’s what else you’ll find in his fridge.
Spinach and kale: There’s no shortage of fresh vegetables in Stroud’s icebox, many of which he uses to make his signature spinach-and-kale-stuffed turkey meatballs. “I like to cook, so I go online and find different recipes to make all sorts of stuff,” he says. Stroud’s yen for healthy cooking also sets a good example to the hundreds of kids he helps through his eponymous charitable foundation, which hosts anti-obesity and wellness camps in the summer. “These are different than run-of-the-mill football camps,” says Stroud. “We try to educate kids on what to eat and how to be healthy.”
Worms: Imagine opening Stroud’s crisper and finding a big container of these wriggling animals, which he keeps on hand to use for fishing in a pond that borders his Georgia home. “I like the relaxation part of fishing—just being able to chill and get back to nature,” says the University of Georgia alum. “I also like the fight—being able to outsmart the fish and reel them in.” Bass, catfish, and crappie usually end up on the end of Stroud’s line, he says, and sometimes on his dinner plate, too, if they’re big enough to keep.
Optimum Nutrition: Stroud starts each morning by making a protein shake with two scoops of Optimum Nutrition protein powder (his protein of choice as a pro player) and one scoop of a greens-based vegetable supplement. “It’s like seaweed and kelp, and it makes your shake look like vomit, but it’s good if you can get past it,” he says. The defensive lineman then blends in some low-fat yogurt, ground flax seeds, flax seed oil, half a banana, and strawberries. “They look terrible, but they’re just so tasty,” he says of his liquid breakfasts.
Drunken chicken: In Stroud’s opinion, nothing goes better with watching college football than this dish, made by grilling a whole chicken in an open beer can. “It’s the best, moistest chicken you’ll ever eat in your life,” says the Brooks County High School grad. “It’s one of my specialties, along with my beef brisket and Boston butt.” But why does Stroud make this when he’s watching college football and not NFL games? “If you’re barbecuing for the day, college football is better because it starts at noon and runs until midnight, so you have a full 12 hours of football,” he explains.
Golden Oreo ice cream cake: Stroud’s favorite dessert is not entirely awful for you. Although high in sugar and chock full of processed ingredients, the frozen cake is made in part from nonfat milk, and one slice—Stroud’s daily allowance—has 220 calories, which would take the 300-pound former player only 12 minutes to burn on a stationary bike.
Juice pouches: By now, everyone has heard something about the evils of sugar-sweetened beverages, including juice, which piles of research have linked to weight gain. And while Stroud likes juice, he says he controls his daily intake by drinking smaller pouches of Capri Sun, Sunny Delight, and Hawaiian Punch. “I count my calories and all that stuff and the little pouches have about 60 calories, so it’s not like I’m sitting up here drinking Big Gulps of juice,” he says.