Is the 47-year-old, who has subjected his body to hundreds of bone collisions a year, looking forward to getting off the couch on a random Tuesday?
Does he get pleasure from donning form-fitting polyester instead of old combat armor and riding his custom bike with 50 miles of open road in his immediate future?
These questions are off topic. “It’s a addiction“, said Ray Lewis.
A decade after his last snaps for the Ravens, the Hall of Fame linebacker is building his days not around the sport he masters, but around the one he used to replace it. He was a footballer. He is a cyclist.
Lewis’ obsession is just one example of the fitness lifestyles the former Ravens have embraced as they try not to gain weight and stay vital in a world beyond the game.
It’s the season of diet cures, exercise programs and promises to ditch unhealthy habits for a new year. But for NFL players, judgment often comes when helmets and shoulder pads are put aside for good.
These men have spent their adult years living to strict weekly schedules that make them fast, strong and vigorous enough to survive three hours of combat on Sunday afternoons. When this structure disappears, the results are not always good. They’ve all heard sad stories of former teammates and opponents carrying unhealthy weights or struggling to move around the house due to lingering pain. These dangers lurk when they are still young by the standards of the world; the average NFL career lasts less than four years.
“We had conversations all the time in the locker room about former players; I was aware that I didn’t want to retire and let go,” former tight end Dennis Pitta said. “It’s always difficult when you retire from football, because your whole life has been going well. Your career is ending and now you don’t have any of those responsibilities. So it’s entirely on you. … It’s a whole new world for us retirees that a lot of guys probably have a hard time navigating initially.
The NFL Players Association was concerned enough about the issue in 2013 to launch The Trust, an extensive post-career wellness program that includes personalized fitness and diet consultations for union members. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said his goal is to help players “get more out of football than football gets out of it.”
Only a handful of Ravens from the team that won the Super Bowl 10 years ago remain active in the NFL, so most alumni have had to think about how to stay healthy in a world without football. When they gathered for a meeting in October, they didn’t all come in familiar shapes and sizes. The once-stylish wide receivers carried a bit more around the middle, while the older 300-pound linemen were unrecognizable.
Those who have embraced the gospel of post-NFL fitness have taken quite different paths.
Lewis threw himself into cycling with as much fervor as he threw his body at running backs in the NFL.
Pitta had to stop playing in 2017 after a third major surgery on his right hip, so he couldn’t rely on an exercise plan that would subject his leg to repeated beatings. He turned to intermittent fasting, losing more than 30 pounds from his play weight of 245.
Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda feared the strain he would put on his heart if he stayed at 305 pounds. He walked away from the game on his own terms after the 2019 season and quickly replaced weightlifting and running with family walks and bike rides on gravel paths around his Iowa home. . He is around 50 pounds lighter and regularly inspires double takes when former teammates encounter him. “He looks 20 years younger,” marveled his college coach, Kirk Ferentz.
“The fun part of working with them after their career is that when they play their sport, you have to be very precise. But once they retire, it’s a great opportunity to work on literally everything, to sort out all those bad habits they needed to excel in their sport,” said Rebecca Schumer, MedStar Health physical therapy program specialist who has worked with Ravens players. “They can move so much better. It’s the most important thing when you retire, it’s mobility. They are so tight in certain areas when they play.
She’s seen football players who can bench press 500 pounds but can’t balance on a basic exercise ball. Thus, activities such as cycling, which require unusual movements but which do not strain the joints, are well suited to these young retirees.
Yanda, 38, loves jokes from former teammates, who love to say they could push him around in his current state, but his motivation to lose weight was extremely serious. He built his career on good habits, pushing himself to lift more weight each offseason, striving to train perfectly even when he didn’t feel like it. So he applied the same discipline to retirement life.
“Once you’re wired that way — it drives my wife crazy, because I get a little intense — that’s how you shape your life,” he explained. “Either you do something to be proactive, or you’re probably going to gain weight, and I won’t be here that long for my family. If I weigh 300 pounds for the rest of my life, one of the biggest killers is heart disease, so I shorten my life because my heart won’t be able to handle it.
Before leaving Baltimore in May 2020, he developed a routine of riding an exercise bike in the morning and then taking walks with his family in the evening. No running, no weightlifting; his joints have taken enough beating in 13 NFL seasons. Yanda adopted a diet given to him by one of his former strength trainers, and when he returned to Iowa, he began exploring the isolated roads of his home country on his bicycle. He lost 60 pounds and felt 10 years younger.
“I’m human. I went all the way back to 255, because I was helping my dad harvest and not training that much,” he said. “But it’s like, man, I feel so good, and I know what the recipe is, so that’s also what reinforces the habit of staying at that weight.”
After Pitta, 37, completed rehabilitation after his third hip surgery, he became a major student of nutrition, something he rarely thought about as a young athlete burning thousands of calories a week during training. workouts and workouts. He listened to podcasts, read books and articles, and concluded that simply not eating in the morning or within three or four hours of bed would be his best bet.
The Orange County, Calif., resident still lifts weights a few times a week, plays golf and hops into the occasional basketball game, but he relies more on diet than exercise. “For me, the most sustainable thing was intermittent fasting,” he said. “I just tighten the window when I eat during the day. That and just kind of know what to avoid. There are so many processed foods and things that, growing up, you didn’t know were so bad for you.
His game weight, while he still worried about blocking defensive ends at 280 pounds, fluctuated between 245 and 250. After his career, he dropped as low as 212 at the height of his intermittent fasting, a way to manage weight and prevent certain forms of disease, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Now he is content with 225 pounds.
“You just want to be able to feel good, after all the injuries you’ve had and the impact football has had on your body,” Pitta said.
Lewis, the Ravens’ oldest player of 2012, didn’t worry about falling out of shape. He always hated seeing retired athletes with flabby bellies, chiding them, “Are you going to let it be?
“For me, that has never changed,” he recently said from his Florida home. “My goal is to stay on top of my performance. I live by a saying, “If you stay prepared, you don’t have to prepare.”
But he needed to find a new channel for his famous work ethic. He had tried wrestling, kickboxing, yoga. He had largely given up red meat in favor of fish. He first hopped on a bike at the suggestion of a friend after injuring his toe in the 2011 season. He was fascinated by the difficulty of unfamiliar moves.
Lewis met cyclist Zack Morris, who gave him exercises and training cycles that are central to his daily existence. “I get up and do all my things in the morning,” he said. “At night, and my family knows it, I train, so don’t mess with me.”
Lewis is so addicted that he hides bikes with friends and business partners in the towns he visits most often. When he’s in Maryland, for example, he loves riding the hilly roads near his home in Hunt Valley. His next frontier is Colorado – all those mountains to conquer. If he can’t get out, he’s in his Platoon. Five days a week, 40 or more miles a day, and he’s hovering just around his old game weight of 240 pounds.
“Oh my God, it’s night and day,” he said, comparing how good he feels now with how he felt when he was playing. “If the Lord blesses me and says I’m turning 100, I’ll probably ride a bike when I’m 100.”