CINCINNATI — A.J. Green isn’t really a morning person. That can make things tough with the whole breakfast is the most important meal of the day thing. Especially when you’re talking about an NFL wide receiver who is entering his fourth season and the prime years of what he hopes is a very long career.
"I don’t like to eat breakfast in the morning but for me that’s the biggest thing. I’ve got to get a meal in before I go work out," said Green. "I usually just grab a (protein) shake but I feel much better when I eat."
So Green, who has caught 260 passes for more than 3,800 yards in his first three seasons for the Bengals, went out and hired a personal chef this offseason. The chef prepares three meals a day for Green when Green is home in Atlanta. Green has been back-and-forth between Atlanta and Cincinnati since the Bengals began their offseason workout program in April, building up to the three-day mandatory minicamp that began Tuesday.
Despite the successes of his first three seasons, Green knows he can improve. He added some upper body weight in the offseason, not quite 10 pounds, with the help of his improved dietary habits. He said he’s dropped about four pounds of that weight since the team’s offseason program began but he wants to get it back.
What the Bengals have learned these last three seasons is that they are a pretty good team. What they have also learned is that they have to be better if they want to be more than pretty good. So you look for edges where you can, such as in your diet. Green saw a few teammates, including defensive end Carlos Dunlap, were using personal chefs and thought he’d give it a try. He found his guy in Atlanta through his barber — yes, his barber.
"I just felt like when I first got him I felt like a server, I told him what I liked and he knows now after trying a lot of his foods but sometimes he likes to throw in some stuff that he knows that I don’t like just to try it out," said Green. "A lot of greens and vegetables and stuff like that that I don’t like to eat."
It may all seem a little whimsical to be talking about food but when it comes to what athletes put into their bodies the subject is quite serious. Green will be 26 years old next month. Dunlap has been in the NFL a year longer than Green but is just 25. He’s had a personal chef for the majority of his career. Part of it is convenience but there is a very practical part as well that he said he learned from guys like Terrell Owens, Leon Hall and Morgan Trent.
"I saw some of the vets and they talked about how just having home-cooked meals and how eating healthy instead of eating fast food gave them more energy and helped prolong their careers," said Dunlap. "I’ve tried to eliminate the fried foods. The majority of the food I eat is all organic or gluten-free. I try to cook what I want but in as healthy of a way as possible. I use coconut oil instead of vegetable oil because it’s less fat. It’s in the minor little details. I’ve noticed that I’ve leaned up each year and I’m playing with more energy."
Dunlap has recommended his chef, whom he referred to as Chef Kimberly, to Green, Vontaze Burfict and Devon Still. Not everyone on the team has hired a personal chef – it’s a personal choice. Right guard Kevin Zeitler handles his meal-making himself.
"I try to," said Zeitler. "Last year I got heavy on top of being injured and it kind of re-invigorated that. I definitely don’t have chef. I take care of everything myself in terms of prepping all of my food. On the weekends I’ll cook anywhere from 10-15 pounds of chicken, a whole bunch of steak, vegetables cut and prepped ready to go so whenever I need I can throw it in a pan and cook it up and eat it."
Chad Johnson used to celebrate his runs to McDonald’s for cheeseburgers. If anyone on the Bengals has hired Chef Ronald, they hide it pretty well.
"I’ve never been able to figure out how Chad was able to do it," said Dunlap. "He was very bad. But I think he works out twice as hard when he knows he eats bad. I don’t know how he does it. I’ve cut out all fast foods."