Pro Insights: What Makes NFL Players Different from the Rest of Us

What really separates the professionals from me? Every athlete asks themselves that question at some point in their lives, so we decided to ask that same question to one of the smartest experts we know—Tim Caron.

Tim is a leading collegiate football strength coach. He was the Head Football Strength and Conditioning Coach at Army West Point, where he helped Army beat Navy for the first time in 15 years—an explosive triumph in one of the oldest football rivalries in sports. Before Army, Tim was an Associate Strength Coach at USC.

He has worked with athletes on everything from strength training to nutrition to injury rehabilitation to preparing players for the NFL Combine.

Today Tim runs Allegiate, a Los Angeles gym and athletic program that brings professional-level training techniques, recovery and expertise to a broader clientele. Here’s what Tim had to say about the nutrition, goal setting and what makes the pros different from the rest of us.

By Tim Caron

What Sets Elite Athletes Apart  

The rate of adaptation is what sets these professional athletes apart from the rest of us. Normal people can have incredible effort and they’ll fight like hell to get better, but what makes an elite athlete remarkably different is how quickly they adapt, whether it's training, nutrition or any variable you want to bring to the party. A big workout stimulus will have a profound impact for a guy like myself, but professional athletes are firing the next day like nothing ever happened. Their level of adaptation is incredibly unique and what makes them really different.

In a more general population setting, you need to look at how to maximize every circumstance. At the top level, you have a lot more leeway because the athletes adapt quickly. But with most people, you have to be a lot more dialed in to garner similar results. Over a longer period of time, the staying power and the built-in habits of great nutrition and great recovery will hopefully create the results that I'm looking for as a personal trainer. The great adapters get a head start, like the hare really out there in front, and the tortoise comes up behind, hopefully making up the lost ground with consistency and effort over a longer period of time.

Buy-In is Everything

Professional football players know how to turn the switch on, but success requires consistent effort targeting towards a really big objective. I think that's always the biggest challenge when working with elite athletes – it is so easy for them. If you say, “I want you to clean this weight,” they get it pretty organically. They can see a movement demonstrated once and can dial in the technique quickly.

The real challenge is finding the things they are not so good at and selling the importance of working on those weaknesses. For instance, we had an elite athlete this past off-season whose goal was to lose weight. As an All-American in college he was really powerful and very strong, but he needed to lose weight because he didn't have the prerequisite mobility or the prerequisite stamina based off of the additional 75 pounds of bodyweight he was carrying around. So as his trainer, when I said, “Let’s work on your body composition, let’s work on developing good lifestyle habits,” his response was, “Hey, get me to the good stuff! I want to clean, I want to squat.” We needed to get a really good, consistent effort, controlling what he was eating, controlling his energy expenditure, and doing it in a very systematic and appropriate way, instead of trying to take shortcuts.

Consistency Trumps All

For a college athlete, or even a high school athlete trying to take their performance to the next level, it is consistency and their entire body of work that makes the difference. I've worked with pros and athletes who are preparing for the combine pretty extensively, and it's always interesting to get their take on what the training is supposed to elicit. NFL scouts and coaches are asking a player's tutor from sophomore year if he showed up on time. They're asking past strength and conditioning coaches if he has a great work ethic. They're not so much asking "How fast can he run?" It's more about what you do routinely each day that makes the difference in the eyes of NFL scouts and coaches.

It is setting the process goals, not week one, not week two, but six months into it or a couple of years into it, that clearly determines how important that goal is for you. That is the stuff that pushes people over that proverbial hump of, “This is getting old, this is getting tiresome.” How important is it that I stay on top of this nutritional aspect, or this regimen that I am on? It would be easy to think, “If I don’t give great effort today, no one will ever know.”

It’s easy to set an outcome goal like, “I want to lose 75 pounds” or “I want to play college football.” Going back to your daily process and being really specific about what your process-oriented goals are, that is where the magic is. 

Nutrition Always Wins

Nutrition is as important, if not more important, than what you do in the weight room. What we really need to do as an industry is create a good filter. There's an incalculable amount of bars and shakes out there that anybody can buy. You go on Amazon and you type in “protein bar,” and a thousand hits will come up, all from different companies. How do you filter that down?

Someone will come into my gym and ask why I choose Momentous. I can tell them that Momentous has really high-quality ingredients, it's third-party tested, and therefore it’s going to produce your desired results if you just stick to the plan. We need to get more people asking "What are these ingredients?" and "What do these ingredients do for my performance?" The bottom line is, if you really want to reach a big goal, you’re going to have to use supplements with high-quality ingredients.

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