The small, prepackaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without crust — often seen in lunchboxes throughout the country — fly off the shelves at the Ravens’ practice facility.
These sandwiches, with the familiar purple packaging, are the perfect preworkout snack, providing protein and carbohydrates through easily digestible ingredients. With anywhere from 30-60 packs disappearing a day and 7,500 eaten per season, they’re a favorite on the Ravens’ snack wall.
“I’m surprised at how many people eat at least one PB&J a day, and they don’t get tired of them,” Sarah Snyder, the Ravens’ director of sports nutrition, said. “I know the texture is a big part of it, the texture, flavor, taste, all those things contribute to them coming back to them.”
Located in the hallway leading from the field to the locker room, the snack wall is filled with goodies meant to supply energy, replenish carbohydrates and hold players over through practices and meetings. (The Ravens requested that the brand name of snacks not be used to avoid conflicts with marketing partners.)
With practices often occurring at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays or 11:30 a.m. on Fridays, which prevents players from sitting down, eating and digesting lunch, snacks are imperative for keeping the players healthy, strong and focused.
Snyder tries to stock the shelves with snacks that are both healthy and delicious, taking the guesswork away for the players.
“When you see the display out there, a lot of guys walk by and are like, ‘I didn’t know those were healthy options,’” right tackle Morgan Moses said. “So not only do you get to pick and choose what you want, you’re learning as you go these are healthy options you can grab at home.”
Tailored toward the different types of weather, workouts and intensity seen from training camp through the time the players leave the facility for the offseason, the snack wall is always a hub of activity, with players grabbing things off the shelves, from the coolers and even from Snyder’s office. It’s a long, long season: Training camp began in late July and led into a season that included 17 games over 18 weeks. The Ravens hope they’ll be playing until mid-February.
Here’s how snacks have fueled the journey.
Stocking the shelves
Once word gets around there’s a tasty new snack on the wall, the supply disappears quickly, Snyder said.
Although there are a lot of staples on the wall, Snyder likes to keep things “live and fresh.” She’s constantly monitoring what people like and why they like it.
Besides the PB&Js, there are popular salty snacks. Beef jerky’s a hit — it provides protein, and wide receiver Rashod Bateman says it reminds him of growing up in the South. The Ravens go through 6,200 sticks a season. So are sunflower seeds, and they go through 1,800 bags. Moses said they help him focus during meetings. Snyder doesn’t put regular potato chips there often (moderation is key) but, when she does, they go fast.
Chews, which often have carbs and electrolytes, and granola bars are also staples, and Snyder has found the energy bites made by one of her friends to be very popular. They have peanut butter, oats, honey, chocolate chips and whey protein and make a great “throughout-the-day” snack. They go through about 3,600 of the various bars, 2,850 energy chews and 460 energy bites, which come in larger packs.
The goal of eating a prepractice snack is to consume easily digestible energy. For example, a salad wouldn’t be optimal because it requires a lot of blood in the stomach to digest. However, granola bars, like the ones that line the shelves of the grocery store, work well.
For drinks, Snyder provides red beet juice (don’t worry, it tastes like berries), which opens blood vessels and promotes oxygen delivery through the body, and bone broth, which has collagen “when made right.” A green multivitamin juice boosts the immune system. Some players take the juices as shots, and the team takes about 1,200 beet juice shots in addition to what they get out of the juice dispenser.
Because some players don’t eat before practice, Snyder carries snacks with her on the field. During practice, chews are the most popular, although occasionally someone asks for a granola bar if he’s really hungry. She also has pickle juice, which some players prefer to alleviate cramps, and she used to have mustard, which was the preference of one specific player. And, of course, there’s Gatorade, something players are familiar with. Endurance Gatorade, which has extra salt, is big with the Ravens.
Post-practice snacks are all about replenishment and getting the players ready to focus for meetings. Snyder wants to provide healthy fats to help get the team through the rest of the day. That’s where the trail mixes, protein bars and jerky come in.
Most popular in the warmer months, smoothies with personalized amounts of protein await the players in wagons, with an assortment of flavors from chocolate peanut butter to pineapple mango to strawberry banana. When it’s cold, the recovery hot chocolate, which contains protein, is popular, and they occasionally bring out locally produced cider.
“I’m a fan of doing anything local that we can,” Snyder said. “Nutrition is our first and foremost goal. Local is something that I’m really passionate about.”
She also has a healthy “doughnut” made by a woman from Baltimore, and Baltimore barbecue sauce.
In addition to adding her own discoveries, Snyder sometimes has players request snacks, often ones they had while playing on other teams. The latest request? Matcha lattes. Snyder, a coffee person, has not tried one herself, but her curiosity is piqued.
“I wouldn’t say I have a lot of players liking it right now, but I have a couple of players asking for it regularly, so I’m like, ‘OK, maybe we can bring this in,’” Snyder said.
The difference in preferences keeps Snyder’s job interesting.
“We grew up different ways in how we experience food and how our parents cooked food or where we ate our food or where we dined out,” Snyder said. “It’s different across the United States. I think that’s also very fascinating. What people eat in Florida is a little bit different than what people are eating in Michigan.”
From wide receivers to linemen
For Snyder, nutrition is extremely individualized. Some people sleep in later and don’t need breakfast. Some eat pancakes, eggs and bacon. Some are picky. Some are adventurous. Every lifestyle decision affects what a person needs, and Snyder adapts.
That’s what makes her so good at her job, in Moses’ experience.
“She has a unique way of approaching every guy in this locker room and what they need specifically,” Moses said. “Because obviously all of us are different body types. Some sweat more than others; some people need protein versus some guys don’t need protein. So the ability to fixate every little thing for every little body is what I would say is the separation from other places I’ve been.”
Snyder generalizes snacks by position, to a point. She explained how players like Moses — offensive and defensive linemen — need to consume up to 6,000 calories a day. That’s hard to do, which is why snacking is important.
On the field, linemen don’t cover much ground, but they have short bursts of activity that require a lot of strength. That means energy and the amino acid creatine are crucial. Their post-practice smoothies can have up to 50 grams of protein to help them hit their goal, which is at least 300 grams.
“With football, obviously, it’s a game of strength and power,” Snyder said. “We know that a play lasts about six seconds. In six seconds, you’re going to use an energy system known as the creatine phosphate system. And the body naturally has creatine. And you can get creatine from chicken or steak in your daily life. You can also supplement with it. But that’s kind of at the beginning of the energy system, ATP or creatine. And then it moves on to glucose or carbohydrate.”
Running backs, including Justice Hill, don’t need quite as much weight on them, but they still need to hold up to the wear and tear while bursting through the trenches. Hill said he doesn’t naturally eat much, so Snyder has helped him keep his weight up.
“It’s a struggle,” Hill said. “But the big men, I see them, they’ve got a full plate of food. I’m like, you’re making this look easy!”
Meanwhile, skill position players such as wide receivers and defensive backs burn more from running more. They’re still exercising in short bursts compared to many athletes (Snyder noted how differently the body needs to be fueled for, say, a marathon), so they need creatine, but not at the same level. Safety Geno Stone said he’s learned from Snyder that he needs to eat lean (chicken and seafood), and Bateman has learned how much he needs to hydrate, especially in colder weather. Their post-practice smoothies have 30-35 grams of protein.
Diet of an average Joe
Most of the people reading this probably aren’t paid to exercise and don’t need to take in 6,000 calories a day. So what does snacking look like for someone who doesn’t play professional football?
It all depends on your activity level, of course, Snyder said, but we all burn a significant amount of energy simply sitting at a desk. It’s important not to run from words that are often villainized by dieters.
“Just to run our systems, all of our systems, which is a lot, we need energy, and we need nutrients and protein and all of that,” Snyder said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, we all need some type of carbohydrate.”
If you want to tailor your snacking toward helping you focus, Snyder said, it’s important to focus on protein over sugar because sugar can lead to a crash. She recommends jerky, peanut butter (which can be paired with a fruit for fiber because the fat stabilizes the sugars), a glass of milk, a deli wrap with cheese, hard-boiled eggs or sunflower seeds.
Hydration is also key, and often forgotten. Before you choose your snack, Snyder recommends you evaluate what you need.
“Sometimes, if we’re having that afternoon tiredness, hit-the-wall feeling, you want to always make sure, am I hungry? Am I thirsty?” Snyder said.
But the most important advice Snyder has is balance. It’s OK to splurge on a fancy dinner with dessert, to eat fast food, to indulge in comfort food.
“Maybe not every single night, but give yourself that freedom and that balance to do that every so often,” Snyder said. “I think that’s the biggest thing here is I’m trying not to demonize food.”