Keith Sims played offensive guard for the Miami Dolphins from 1990 to 1997 and for the Washington Redskins for three more years. Like many NFL linemen, this three-time All Pro suffered through leg and other injuries and, after retiring, he lacked the workout goal of preparing for Sunday games. So he gained fat, hitting 380 pounds, while losing muscle. But when friends and ex-teammates started dying of obesity, he decided to regain control of his body. He's now lost more than 100 pounds, with much of it coming off after lap-band surgery in August.
Why do you keep fit?
It's about staying healthy, and it's a lifelong journey now. I want to have the best quality of life for me, my wife and the children. I want to be here another 40 or 50 years. I want to be able to walk my daughter down the aisle.
What happened? How did you get to that weight?
After football, I got out of shape. I had a lot of football injuries, retired because of my Achilles, which still bothers me. I've had six knee operations, arthritis in elbows and knees. And all that extra weight made it worse.
But in August, I had weight-loss surgery and made getting in shape a mission for the rest of my life because I saw too many teammates dropping dead from obesity. One in July hit me hard: Harry Galbreath. He struggled to be 285 when he played guard for the Dolphins.
At the time, I was taking high blood pressure and cholesterol medications and getting ready to have my fourth child. When Harry passed away, I said to my wife that I needed to get control of my weight. I was 352 pounds and obviously not healthy, 380 when I met her two years ago. I was embarrassed. And my weight was holding me back from enjoying time with my young kids. Getting on the floor and playing with a toddler was a challenge.
Recently, the NFL has been concerned with players getting concussions, including the long-term effects. Will the NFL ever address obesity?
They need to. Concussions, great. I'm big on that. But you're now seeing linemen up to 360 pounds. I played around 320 so the weight problems will get worse. When we play, there's a belief that you need to be as big as can be. But with retirement, most of us don't see the weight coming on. Suddenly you think, 'Wow, how did I gain this 30 or 40 pounds?' Now you're diabetic, have high blood pressure. Jamie Dukes of the NFL Network has been a champion of helping guys who gained weight by giving advice on weight-loss operations and diets. But more needs to be done. (Dukes, who grew up in Orlando, was an NFL lineman for 10 years.)
With your serious career injuries and post-career health challenges, was it worth it to play in the NFL?
Absolutely worth it, even knowing the pain I went through. You make major sacrifices to play a game you love. But I would be smarter and not play the same way with pain. My final season in the NFL, I didn't practice yet I played 12 weeks. They would completely numb up [my Achilles] so I wouldn't feel it.
How did you start your exercise renaissance after the long pause?
I started walking. At first, I couldn't walk half a mile, but then I did a mile, then 2 miles. Now 5 miles, an hour and 20 minutes.
What's your exercise routine?
If I don't get five days per week, I don't feel good. I take the kids to school then three days a week go to a local park where I walk 3 to 4 miles roundtrip ... If the weather is cold, I use a treadmill, elliptical trainer and bike at home. That's 45 minutes with the stereo on. I recently worked a Dolphins game doing pre-game, came home and walked 3 miles on the treadmill. It's low impact.
A couple of times a week, I lift with kettlebells, do a full set of legs with machines, free weights, a lot of band weights because my joints ache. Instead of doing 300 pounds on the bench press (to maximize strength and size), I use bands to tone.
I've tried CrossFit but that was a little tough.
Do you count calories?
I wear a pedometer 24/7 with the goal of 10,000 steps a day, which I always exceed. I can hook it up and see on a computer how many calories I'm burning. I'm averaging 3,800 calories a day; I've gone up to 4,500. And I'm consuming probably 1,800 in a day, maybe 2,000. I was probably eating 5,000 before.
How has your diet changed since August?
I'm watching what I eat since the weight-loss surgery. I limit portions like a smaller steak when I go out.
I now try to eat five to six small meals per day — a lot of protein, lean meats, limited carbohydrates, some vegetables. I cut a lot of unnecessary sugar out. I'm not eating potato chips and gummy bears on a regular basis.
What's your typical daily diet?
I start with a protein shake with skim milk — 190 calories — at 7 a.m. then I work out, walking or going to the gym. When I come home, I have a protein bar with 90 to 150 calories, or a scrambled egg. That's around 10 a.m. Then a lunch of 200 to 250 calories and a snack in the afternoon. Dinner might be ground turkey baked ziti. I switched a lot from ground beef to ground turkey. A snack at 9 o'clock and then I'm done.
The only thing I drink is water or Crystal Light. I drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. I used to drink a lot of Sprite.
My wife was pregnant the last two years so she made us eat Breyers ice cream every single night of her pregnancy. We'd buy seven or nine tubs of it at a time. We'd put our kids to bed, then in our bed eat ice cream. She had the excuse that she was pregnant.
Do you take vitamins or supplements?
A daily multi-vitamin and Omega XL, which is a fish oil, something that's really good. I have taken glucosamine/chondroitin but not so much now. I need to refill my bottle.
How do you feel today?
I feel incredible. I dance around the house, I bounce around. I still have pain in my Achilles, but it's gotten better because there's not so much weight. I'm off cholesterol and high blood pressure meds. My cholesterol was 262 when I got on medication, and now it's 101 off medication.
Through the course of this season, I've seen a lot of teammates I hadn't seen since last year, and some guys will walk by and not recognize me. My pants size went from 48 for jeans to 38, and instead of a 4X shirt, I wear an extra-large now. My entire closet I've given away because my clothes were so big. I've shopped in big and tall shops since sophomore in high school, but now I go to Men's Wearhouse or Macy's.
I will never be over 300 pounds again. Not even 290.