NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The 2021 season saw Tennessee Titans defensive back Kevin Byard re-establish himself as one of the NFL's best safeties. Byard was a Pro Bowl selection and landed an All-Pro nomination after posting five interceptions, 13 passes defended and 80 tackles.
Among the various reasons for Byard's redemption season was finding ways to improve his diet.
"Playing at a high-level last year, I kind of felt that difference," Byard said. "If I have a great week on my diet, I’m eating right, I feel great during the game. I feel light, I feel fast. And that’s how I want to feel 24/7."
Over the past three years, Byard worked with personal chef Cleveland Shearls, owner of The Lost Spoon, a Nashville-based meal-prep service. Shearls also prepared meals for former Titans players Jayon Brown and A.J. Brown.
Going into last season, Shearls had Byard on a diet that consisted of high proteins, high grains and complex carbs. Once the 2021 season ended, Byard, 29, decided to further tweak his diet so he could develop a more lean physique and be even lighter on his feet.
"He felt that he was heavy and not as mobile as he wanted to be," Shearls said.
Added Byard, "As I'm getting older, I understand that being lighter and faster is the name of the game."
Shearls began to put together a diet that cut back on red meat and focused more on fish, chicken and vegetables. The focus was on high-alkaline vegetables like kale and spinach.
They also shifted to lean proteins, high grains such as brown rice, bulgur and quinoa in addition to as much plant-based food as possible. Shearls mixed in some white flaky fish, such as sea bass and halibut for proteins and salmon for high omega-3s, while minimizing red meat.
Byard loves steaks, so it was a little tough to cut that out of the diet altogether. He still went out for a steak with his wife, Clarke, occasionally during the offseason. But for the most part, the only red meat that Byard eats consistently is lamb chops, which is his favorite part of the diet.
The meals are for the whole family, including Clarke and their two children, Eliana Rose and Kevin IV. His son's love for lamb chops as well is one of the main reasons that Byard had to ask Shearls to double up on the amount.
That said, once they decided on what foods the diet would consist of, the next task was putting together a meal plan for when he would eat throughout the day.
"We structured it for him to be able to eat grains more so in the morning time and closer to lunchtime to keep the carbs more so before 12 o'clock," Shearls said. "In the evening time, we transitioned to protein and veggies."
Shearls makes regular visits to Byard's home early in the week to cook the meal components. Having shown Byard how to make a "proper plate," Shearls leaves it up to him to put each of the meals together from the labeled components.
One of the biggest challenges will be no cheat days for the next three weeks, which means Byard has to give up one of his favorite things: Cookies and ice cream at night.
The diet also includes some intermittent fasting that consists of an eight-hour window. Byard said his last meal of the day is at 7 p.m. He feels that fasting helps his body recover more at night.
Byard's first meal would typically be at 11 a.m. during the offseason. But he'll start his day off earlier with freshly squeezed key lime juice and water since training camp practice starts at 9:30 a.m.
Titans' safeties coach, Scott Booker, appreciates the dedication that Byard has shown to stick to his diet.
"We all tend to run to comfort," Booker said. "Him being in his seventh year, he could be comfortable and not really worry about his diet because he hasn't had to do that before. He's running from comfort and embracing being uncomfortable. That starts with his diet."
So far Byard says the diet has paid dividends.
The Titans listed Byard at 215 pounds during his rookie season in 2016. Byard looked back at an old picture of himself in 2017 and told himself it looked like he had a gut.
Now Byard says his body looks so much different, thanks to cleaner eating, and his weight is around 210 pounds and appears noticeably slimmer these days.
"I feel great," Byard said. "My energy levels are great. I feel fast. I'm just trying to stay healthy. It's all about being available. With my diet, I feel really fresh, real good."