On Jan. 12, Marshal Yanda sat at home, feeling more frustrated and ticked off than he’d ever been.
It was a day after the Baltimore Ravens’ shocking loss to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the playoffs. The most successful and -- as Yanda views it -- fun season of his 13-year NFL career came to a crashing halt. While many of his teammates took solace in making another championship run with quarterback Lamar Jackson, Yanda knew he likely would never snap on a helmet again.
Yanda’s anger spurred him to pick up the cycling shoes that lay on the floor for four months and climb aboard his wife’s Peloton for the first time. He furiously pedaled and pedaled, moving further away from a bitter end to an All-Pro career and embarking on a path that would transform his 35-year-old body.
A revamped exercise routine, a couple of checked bags of tuna and a fierce willpower led Yanda to lose more than 60 pounds in his first three months of retirement. He went from being a burly 312-pound offensive lineman to resembling a rookie tight end at 245 pounds.
Fans, teammates and friends are astonished at how different a trimmed-down and clean-shaven Yanda looks these days. Yet no one is surprised by how he attacked a healthier way of living.
“There are two words: It’s the ‘want to,’” Yanda said. "If you want to do it, you’ll do it. It’s how bad you want to. People want to talk about it, but at the end of the day, do you really want to? That’s important.”
It’s this level of commitment that made Yanda the best and grittiest interior lineman of his generation. He wasn’t the most athletic or physically imposing blocker. But you’d better stand clear of Yanda on a running play, when he'd shove three defenders out of the way to open a hole. He left the game as one of three guards in NFL history to earn eight Pro Bowl selections and win a Super Bowl, joining Larry Allen and Alan Faneca.
Known as a grinder, Yanda is also a realist. He had been prepared to retire since 2018, after dealing with ankle and shoulder surgeries. Many felt Yanda should play one more season considering the Ravens are strong Super Bowl contenders, but his body told him otherwise after 13 operations.
The Marshal Plan
Yanda understands the toll the game has taken and anticipates arthritis and other medical issues in the years to come. So, his focus immediately shifted from shielding Jackson from pass-rushers to taking the weight off his joints.
One of Yanda’s first calls after the season went to Chris Doyle, the University of Iowa strength coach and his mentor, for a plan to shed the weight.
"That’s exactly the way you would predict Marshal would proceed,” Doyle said. "This is the next step. This is the goal. This the plan. This is how I’m going to methodically knock it out. This is how meticulous and detailed I’m going to do it. That was just the way he approaches everything. The way he approaches a pass set. The way he approaches the run game. The way he approaches game prep. That’s the way he is.”
Here is how Yanda went from eating 6,000 calories a day to 2,200:
Before: Six eggs (hard-fried or scrambled) and a cup of oatmeal with a banana and brown sugar.
Now: Two eggs.
Before: Shake that included spinach, kale and fruit ("You get tired of eating and it’s easier to drink things than eat them,” Yanda said).
Now: Half a cup of fat-free Greek yogurt with a quarter cup of blueberries.
Before: 12 ounces of chicken breast with either rice or quinoa.
Now: 3 to 4 ounces of chicken breast, turkey or tuna.
Before: Granola, mixed nuts and dried mangoes by the handfuls.
Now: A quarter cup of mixed nuts that he pre-measures in sandwich bags.
Before: 12 to 13 ounces of protein (steak or chicken) with baked or sweet potato.
Now: 3 to 4 ounces of lean protein along with cabbage, asparagus, tomatoes and peppers.
Before: Granola around 8 p.m.
Now: Nuts, baby carrots or cheese stick but nothing after 7 p.m.
The largest meal Matt Birk ever ate
Former NFL offensive lineman Matt Birk tells a story of eating a massive calzone while in college.
Doesn’t Yanda get hungry? “Hold up now, when cheat day comes, just get out of my way,” he said with a laugh.
Once a week, Yanda treats himself to a couple of double cheeseburgers or a mini-barbecue feast that includes ribs, brisket, pulled pork, cole slaw, baked beans and, of course, cornbread.
"Now, the problem is, I eat too much and I’m so damn uncomfortable,” Yanda said. “My stomach is all in knots.”
Yanda certainly works it off. His daily regimen is riding 45 minutes on the stationary bike -- he sweats so much that he bought a boot drier for his cycling shoes. He then hops in the sauna to burn off more calories.
He didn't take notes on how many pounds he lost in the first couple of weeks. Progress was measured by what many take for granted. During his playing days, Yanda would go down the stairs by slowing moving down one step at a time. If you had suggested a long walk with the family, he’d laugh at you.
When Yanda was over 300 pounds, any extended time on his feet would’ve resulted in his ankles and lower back killing him. Now, five days a week, he’s putting in 4 miles in an hour alongside his wife, Shannon, and children Graham, Logan and Libby, all of whom are under the age of 10.
Yanda bought a smartwatch to keep track of the walks, although he really doesn’t need it. If he slows down, his wife will nudge him and say, “Let’s pick up the pace. You’re slacking."
Inspired by Birk
For inspiration to lose weight, Yanda didn’t have to look far. In fact, he only had to turn to his left.
Former Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, who lined up next to Yanda in the Super Bowl seven years ago, lost 75 pounds and 10 inches from his waist line in 2013, his first year away from the game. Other linemen such as Faneca, Joe Thomas, Jordan Gross and Nick Hardwick have all dropped at least 50 pounds.
"When you retire, all of a sudden you have nothing to do and you have this competitiveness,” Birk said. "You like to have goals and focus on things. It’s like, well, football took up so much of that before and I don’t have that anymore. I might as well put some of that energy into dropping a few pounds.”
For Yanda, he combined a couple of passions with his free time, using his first big fishing trip in retirement to help him with his weight loss. He went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and left with one of his primary sources of lean protein.
Yanda caught his biggest fish ever -- a 270-pound yellowfin tuna -- which he proudly made his first (and currently only) post on Instagram. It’s quite an achievement considering he had never brought in a fish larger than 100 pounds.
And, like many of the major accomplishments for Yanda, this was a battle. It was a 90-minute tug-of-war before he finally reeled it in.
To get it back home, Yanda first froze the tuna and then checked it into two 49-pound bags on his return flight. For 2½ months, he has been grilling it up for one of his favorite meals.
“Living his best life,” Ravens center Matt Skura wrote on Yanda’s Instagram story.
Yanda is a creature of habit, although there is a purpose that comes with it.
Coaches at Iowa could set their watches by Yanda’s 2007 Chevy pickup, which is affectionately known as “Old Blue," pulling into the parking lot for his offseason workout. They watched him head to the locker room, where he put on the same pair of Nikes that he’d worn for the past nine years. He received the red-and-silver shoes as part of a gift package from his first Pro Bowl in 2011.
"To him, it was a reminder to remain humble,” Doyle said. "It was a reminder of what it took to get to the level of playing in a Pro Bowl and what it would require to continue to play at Pro Bowl level.”
That’s why it’s been even more startling for some to see such drastic changes with someone who had been so set in his ways. Yanda is under 250 pounds for the first time since his sophomore year of high school. All of his dress clothes and jeans fall off him. He used to wear pants as big as size-44 waist. These days, the size-38 ones are feeling loose on him.
Yanda doesn’t plan to lose more weight. He has settled in at 245 pounds for the past two to three weeks, and he doesn’t foresee himself dipping below that.
It’s not just the pounds that are missing. Yanda shaved the bushy beard that he had for most of nearly 15 years. The last time he removed it was after the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2013, and he hated how round his face was. He grew it back for “camouflage.”
After he dropped 30 pounds, Yanda was excited to see how he looked without the beard. He has been so pleased that he bought an electric razor and shaves every other day.
“I actually have a chin line,” Yanda said. “I like to feel the wind on my chin and my face. It’s nice to have a change."
Looking toward the future
Yanda found out how many former teammates saw his appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show" last week by the number of playful jabs that flooded in.
One text from Birk read: “At 248 pounds, I bet you’re weak as a kitten.”
Yanda’s response: "It’s not the size of the dog. It’s the size of the fight in the dog. So back off.”
Yanda never backed down from anyone on the field, and he was known to put players in their place, especially when a young player engaged in trash talk.
Listen, young buck, you just got on this field. You haven’t done nothing. Shut the f--- up.
Birk believes going from Superman to Clark Kent is the toughest part in the weight loss.
“You’ve been wired to be like the big, strong guy,” Birk said. "When you’re an NFL player, any room you walk into, you’re the biggest, strongest guy there. Now, you might not be.”
When football season begins, Yanda knows it’s going to feel weird. The competitor inside him will want him to play. But one or two more seasons weren’t going to quiet his love of the game.
Yanda doesn’t know exactly what his future holds. He might build on the 94 acres he owns in Iowa. He might get involved with football. All that is certain is he’ll help his father on the family farm and take family vacations.
So, it’s easy to fixate on how different Yanda looks in all the recent pictures. Others see his smile and a certain look in his eye.
"To me, it’s just a look of contentment in that this is just one more instance where Marshal Yanda set a goal, made a plan, developed strategies and achieved it,” Doyle said. "Marshal lost 60 pounds. Marshal made some life changes. Marshal is committed to it. Marshal executed his plan. Like no kidding. That’s exactly what Marshal does."