Football Season: Super Bowl Sunday and Weight Gain

Army players walk out of the locker room after halftime during a game against Navy.
U.S. Military Academy football players walk out of the locker room after halftime during the Army-Navy football game Dec. 14, 2013, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. (Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp/U.S. Army photo)

It is no secret that many who enjoy weekends of football during the fall and winter add a few pounds of body weight. A study by Harris Interactive found that 25% of football fans have an average weight gain of 10 pounds during football season, and 16% gained more than 20 pounds.

In fairness, the fall and winter months include our biggest holidays of the year, starting with Halloween (candy in the house), huge meals for Thanksgiving, and Christmas candies and feasts. Top it off with New Year's parties and weekends full of football games, and it is no wonder that the average football fan gains 7-8 pounds more than the average American.

The Problem

Most football-loving Americans have fewer outdoor activities during the fall and winter because of weather issues and the shorter days. And those with nicer weather (the South) are very into their football, both college and professional.

Add in fried cooking, eight or more hours being sedentary watching football and snacking on food and beer, and you can extrapolate why football fans tend to add more weight than average.

The Solution

Are you trying to gain weight? If you are mixing these additional calories with a heavy weightlifting program and working on building strength and size, the football season is perfect for you to put on added muscle mass. There is nothing wrong with a heavy lift cycle during this time of year; it actually works quite well. If you want to be big, you have to eat big (and lift big, too).

I have been doing this type of training for 20 years and purposely adding 10 or more pounds of mass for strength gains. As I age, the weight comes on easier, but it leaves in the spring running season much slower, making sprint running progression very painful.

Move More, Eat Less

Quite simply, the amount of calories coming in during football season is way more than you are burning. You will gain weight when this happens. It depends on your goals. Are you trying to lose weight or not to gain it? If you are trying to lose, you need to exercise more all week and/or reduce your food intake during the football weekend.

If you are not trying to gain weight and you notice you have increased size every year after the Super Bowl and you don't lose it during the "offseason," you may want to alter your eating and exercise habits during the season.

Here Are Some Tips

Add exercise. Exercise during commercials or bring a bike/treadmill into the TV room. Both methods can help you balance out any additional caloric intake if you are not into altering the amount of food you eat.

Typically, 20-22 minutes of commercials are in an hourlong television show. Do push-ups or crunches, walk up and down the stairs to your man cave, or simply stand up and sit down (squat) during the entire commercial break. You actually can  get in a few hours of activity if you just move more during the commercials.

Go no carb or no fried. If you are going to a party and you've noticed that you don't fit into the pants you purchased at the beginning of the season, try not to eat carbohydrates such as chips, cookies, pastries and pasta. Avoid fried food, too, even wings. At least trim the skin off the wings and go light on the sauces. Find healthier carbs, such as fruits and vegetables.

Avoid alcohol. I hate to say it, but a day of football can yield a thousand or more calories of beer and other alcoholic drinks. If you find yourself drinking more than a six-pack of beer, that is too much and not in moderation. It typically will take you at least an hour of walking on a treadmill to burn off two beers. (The average calorie burn per hour from walking is 300 calories.)

Drink water. When in doubt, add water. Ice water with fruit, unsweet tea or other flavorings are fine additions to a game. Drinking more will get you up and moving, too, as you will have to visit the restroom during the day. While you are up, do some additional exercises.

Brush your teeth. Brush your teeth at halftime. For at least a while after brushing your teeth, foods and drinks will not taste as good, and your desire for them will decrease.

Go paleo. This is not my favorite option, but it does work for some. During the football party, try to go all natural. Eat lean meats, fruits, vegetables, berries and nuts, and stay away from the empty calories of alcohol and sugar.

Beer in moderation. You can drink beer, but follow it with an equal amount of water. What is moderation? That depends. In my 20s, moderation was five or six drinks. In my 30s, it was two or three drinks during a game. Now, I may drink two or three drinks a month. But consider this: Five or six beers is about the same amount of calories as a Big Mac, fries and a soda.

Exercise discipline. If you really want to lose weight, it takes discipline and persistence. Make a goal for yourself and limit the amount of food you eat in a day. Eat a big salad with lean meat before going to the game and say no to snacks. When in doubt, talk to yourself; do not listen to yourself. Tell yourself you are breaking the beer and wings habit during football games and replace them with tea and broiled chicken or steak strips.

Set a goal, but pick just one or two. Pick a few of the options above and see whether you can curb your calories coming in. A weight gain of 10 pounds or more is going to kill you early, especially if you continue to add 10 pounds every year. If your goal is to lose weight or just not to gain weight during the football season, you are two habits away from success: You must start one habit and break another. You can do this.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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