They Have Food Issues
Metabolic rate drops with age, which means that even pro athletes burn fewer calories as they get older. Poor eating habits, meanwhile, can lead to increased inflammation, greater susceptibility to illness, and lower energy levels — all nonstarters for well-paid pros with big salaries on borrowed time.
"Younger guys can get away with bad nutrition," says Danny Arnold, Woodson's longtime trainer at Plex. "But as they start aging there has to be a change. Their bodies get to be like a car you've taken around the track over and over — except with a car you see the tires wearing out and you know the oil needs changing. It's harder to see with the human body."
That's why older pros can be as neurotic as soccer moms about what they eat. Woodson recounts a conversation he had years ago with Jerry Rice, the legendary 49ers wide receiver, who had a 20-year pro career: "Jerry told me that once he got past 10 years in the league, he tried to come into training camp every year one pound under whatever he came in at the year before. So I just started doing that myself."
Others take it further. In 2011, David Ortiz, the 40-year-old nine-time All-Star of the Boston Red Sox, spent a rumored $17,000 on bioelectrical impedance body-fat testing and a series of antigen leukocyte antibody tests, or ALCAT — highly controversial blood exams that screen for sensitivity to 200 different foods, food additives, and molds. The tests gauge that sensitivity by measuring the speed at which the body mobilizes white blood cells in response to a given substance, producing a highly detailed list of every imaginable food you might want to stop eating forever. The idea is to reduce bloating, fatigue, body fat, poor sleep, and just about every other known ailment. The test seems to have helped Ortiz lose 20 pounds en route to Most Valuable Player in the 2013 World Series. Dirk Nowitzky, the 37-year-old power forward and all-time leading scorer for the Dallas Mavericks, is apparently a fan, as is Steve Nash, who, starting in 2009 at 35, squeezed out at least five NBA seasons — his current salary: $9.3 million a year — with a little help from an ALCAT-recommended elimination of bread, sugar, tomatoes, and onions, and a big increase in nuts and lean proteins.
Medical societies on multiple continents call the ALCAT unreliable junk science. But for athletes looking to maintain their edge, it appears to do the trick.