The Real-Life Diet of 49ers Tight End George Kittle, Who Has a Complicated Relationship with Meat

The Real-Life Diet of 49ers Tight End George Kittle, Who Has a Complicated Relationship with Meat

GQ talked to Kittle about about veganism, stem cells, and the humble PB and J.

The RealLife Diet of 49ers Tight End George Kittle Who Has a Complicated Relationship with Meat

Tight End University commenced, the 29-year-old was bouncing between the lobby of the Thompson Hotel in Nashville to greet each of the 75-odd NFL TEs in attendance—before racing up to promote his debut apparel collection from Chubbies. Spare minutes, like yards after contact, are a fight. But that’s typical for Kittle: Overshadowed at the University of Iowa and picked well back in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the cream always rises, and over a remarkable career, he’s emerged at the top of the league, playing for a surefire Super Bowl contender.

Kittle, in a vintage Kodiak smokeless tobacco shirt, sat in an oversized hotel chair as his barber faded his sides into a pinned-up mop of shoulder-length blonde hair. His diet has changed dramatically from his “string bean” youth, he says, influenced by his family, his team’s support staff, and listening to his own body. The resulting four Pro Bowl appearances are significant accomplishments. But Kittle’s not slowing down.

For Real-Life Diet, GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and other high performers about their diet, exercise routines, and pursuit of wellness. Keep in mind that what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.

GQ: Your dad, Bruce, was college football player and, later, a coach. What did he teach you about nutrition growing up?

George Kittle: It’s evolved a lot since I was a kid. My dad was big into getting calories and protein in you. I was small and undersized, especially for a tight end, so at that point, it was all calories are good calories. He was always focused on, Hey, take an extra peanut butter and jelly and a glass of milk before you go to bed — stuff like that to help me put some weight on.

My dad ate meat but my mom was a vegetarian, so we got a balance of those two things. I’d eat steak or burgers, and I’d do pasta and veggies another night. I preferred meat, but I enjoyed my mom’s cooking as well. Now, everyone in my family is vegetarian—dad, sister, and my mom. They don’t push, but they always offer different vegan options. Now, my dad’s big on “Red meat is not the right way to eat.” I used to have it every meal. Now I do not.

What meat do you eat if you do eat meat?

Chicken and steak, as clean as it gets. I’m not big into much else. It’s gone from “eat whatever you want” to “let’s be smart about it” and “how can we prolong your career and make you feel as good as you possibly can be.” It’s definitely dialed in more than when I was a rookie.

Olympian Carl Lewis set his best sprint and jump marks in ’91, a year following his transition to a vegan diet. So do you notice difference when you’re eating vegetarian or vegan? Do you have an signs from your body when it’s time to eat meat?

I’ve done three vegan meals for three days in a row—I’m not a fan of it. I enjoy meat. I get that it’s not always the greatest thing for me, but I don’t go to Walmart and just buy the five-dollar beef. Nothing against people who do, but I try to go for higher-quality meat. Every chef I’ve had goes to a farm or farmer’s market.

What do you think you’ll tell your future kids about diet?

Enjoy what you eat, but be smart about it. Don’t eat fried chicken 24/7. You want to have a cheat meal once in a while, go for it.

You were born in Wisconsin and raised in Iowa and Oklahoma—a real Midwest potluck. So what Midwest foods do you especially like—

—Sweet corn. Love sweet corn. My mom’s dad owned a farm with sweet corn and soy beans, and you’d go out to the stalk, pull it off, and eat it right there.

Not boiled?

You don’t even need to. Iowa sweet corn is just the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. I love everything about it. I’d have four with every meal.

I’ve heard Nebraska’s is pretty good.

Don’t get me started on Nebraska sweet corn. It’s fine. It’s not Iowa.

What’s your least-favorite Midwestern food?

I was never a big pot roast guy growing up. There’s a lot hitting your tastebuds all at once. I was, like, “You know what, I like individual foods.”

Your wife, Claire Kittle (nee Till), is a former collegiate basketball player. How has she helped and hurt you with your nutrition?

She does a really good job calling me on my bullshit. She’s, like, hey, do you need dessert three nights in a row? Nah, I don’t, you’re right. Just reminds me, like, hey, these are your goals, and you don’t need to eat like that consistently.

What can you blame on Claire?

Eating really good food wherever we go. She loves pasta and wine.

You want to call out any wines you like?

I’m a cab guy. I love cabernets.

The steak of wines.

It’s so good. I like pinots, too. We’re releasing our own wine soon through a vineyard called Alban Vineyards. They had a hill of pinot grapes and Mr. Alban didn’t want to do another pinot label, so Riley [Till, Claire’s brother, a sommelier] is, like, what if we bought them from you and bottled them here. It’s called petit frère, which means “little brother” in French. I have an older sister and [Claire] has a younger brother. On the backside, where they put the information about the family, she wrote a letter to her little brother and my sister wrote a letter to me about what’s cool about being an older sister. So it’s a whole family thing.

You founded Tight End University with Travis Kelce, a colleague and rival—you broke his tight end single-season receiving yards record, and then he broke it right back. What’s the balance between competition and camaraderie of the group?

Travis was a fantastic tight end before I got [to the NFL], and he’s still a fantastic tight end now. Him and Gronk were two guys I always looked at when I was in college, and especially my first year, second year in the league. Competing with Travis Kelce, it’s awesome, but I really don’t see it as competition. “Competition’s the thief of joy.” I heard that once, and I really mess with that. All I ever try to focus on is, What’s the best version of myself I can be today? And that’s all I really care about, because I know that the best version of myself is really good at things I decide to do. People always make it a competition: What tight end do you prefer? Hey, we both do things really, really well. Some things he does better than me, some things I do better than him. And it’s just your preferred taste at that point.

You left Nike to partner with Chubbies. What was the experience like designing with the team?

I’ve been wearing Chubbies since 2013, when I was in college. I bought all the shorts — the Mericas, the Texas shorts, the Colorado shorts. I think I had eight pair of Chubbies in my drawer. When they were, like, “Hey, you want to do a deal?” I was, like, duh, since it’s a product I’ve worn for 10 years. Why would I not want to do something with them?

So who does the cooking between you and Claire?

Our chef. I like to grill—burgers, brats, steaks, chicken. That’s usually what I do in the summer twice a week. But a chef makes it very easy. I’m super busy, and I have to eat a lot of calories, to eat clean, and I don’t want to spend the time to do it myself. And I don’t want my wife to do it, because there are other things she would like to do. Hiring a chef was a no-brainer for us. We’ve had a chef now for two years, and we’ve found someone who’s done a great job. [Bourbon Steak Nashville founder and James Beard Award-Winning Chef] Michael Mina helped us out. You get restaurant-quality meals at your house. I hang out with him, too; he’s a great dude. We’re eating something healthy at our house, and we’re on to our next thing.

What’s your go-to snack?

PB and Js are one of my favorite things. My favorite cheat meal is Eggo Waffles, put some nice blackberry or blueberry jelly in there, some crunchy peanut butter, and throw it in the toaster, with a glass of oat milk. That’s tasty stuff.

Are you a supplement guy?

The 49ers have a nutritionist who helps you. I think we hired him in 2019? So my third year in the league. If you’ve got a certain injury, whether it’s muscle, tendon, bone, whatever it is, he has supplements or packages. Not every team does that, because I know guys on other teams. The fact that the Niners do it is pretty awesome.

Sometimes just feeling like you’re doing something to address a problem can help fix the problem. The placebo effect.

I’m big on the placebo effect. If you believe that it’s going to work, its likelihood of working is much higher.

You had an injury-plagued 2020 season. What helped you stay motivated while dealing with that?

I hurt my knee the first game of the season, a helmet to the kneecap: hyperextended it, strained a bunch of stuff. I was, like, OK, it’s two weeks, I’ll be back. That’s easy. Breaking my foot, definitely not what I saw coming. But I gave myself three days to do whatever I wanted to do — lock myself in my room and play video games for 12 hours. And after three days, I was, like, all right. They told me it was a six- to eight-week recovery — I got back in five. I was pretty proud of that.

What do you attribute that to?

Stem cells. I’m not going to say that’s the number one thing, but I’m big into stem cells.

Have you used stem cells for other injury mitigation?

Yeah. I go to a place down in Panama, the Stem Cell Institute. I’ve been down there for three years now. Teammates got me on it, and I’ve gone down there with a bunch of players. I’m not going to say it can fix anything, but if I’m getting stem cells, it’s helping me somehow. There’s no way it’s not doing anything.

So you do it as a pre-hab, rather than rehab.

I’m big into pre-hab. If you follow me around for a day, I work out from 8 to 9:30, run from 10 to 11:30, and I do pre-hab for like two hours, whether that’s conditioning, blood-flow restriction, ice, sauna. I look for as many ways as I can legally make my body feel as good as it possibly can.

How are you figuring all this stuff out?

Our [former] owner [and current co-chairman John York] is forward-thinking on a lot of stuff. The resources we have in the stadium and the people we can talk to, they help us find things that work for us. I take a shotgun approach. Red light, ice tub, sauna, or should I do sauna, red light, hot tub? I probably try more than most people.

We’ve also talked so some NFL guys who eat McDonald’s before games.

No, I can’t do that. It would give me anxiety. My dad taught me early on, don’t worry about things you can’t control. So I’m very hands-on with the things I can control. Putting stuff in my body, that’s on me. I’ve learned that my body’s my business, so why not find the best way for my body to run?


Kerri Waldron

My name is Kerri Waldron and I am an avid healthy lifestyle participant who lives by proper nutrition and keeping active. One of the things I love best is to get to where I am going by walking every chance I get. If you want to feel great with renewed energy, you have to practice good nutrition and stay active.

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