Gain, maintain, lose: the football team’s offseason nutrition

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

The Daily Illini File Photo
Illinois’ Mike Dudek runs the ball during the game against Iowa on Nov. 15, 2014. Dudek avoids fatty, sugary foods to maintain his body fat percentages.

Most people are aware of the kind of training that goes with being a Division I football player. Morning lifts, lots of time on the practice field, conditioning work, all to be in the best possible shape to play on Saturday.

But in a sport with many vastly different, highly specialized positions, the best possible shape looks a lot different depending on who your position coach is.

“I came in and I had never played offensive line,” said Illinois right tackle Chris DiLauro. “I was 250 pounds. When I first arrived on campus, I was up to 280 going in to that next fall.”

For an offensive lineman like DiLauro, that means getting up to playing weight and making sure to eat enough calories each day to do so.

“They want you to be around that 300, 290 mark to be a Big Ten offensive lineman,” DiLauro said. “And then after you get to that point they can start messing around, seeing the right weight where you can actually move. I remember there would be nights where I’d eat two or three Chipotle burritos a night just to make sure I was getting to my weight.”

Everyone on the Illinois football team goes through various physical tests to determine their current weight, body fat percentage and other physical attributes, and with the help of the coaching staff the players settle on a direction they want those numbers to move in. From there, they get turned over to the team nutritionist, Brittany Francis, to decide what types of foods the players should and should not be eating.

Francis took over as director of sports nutrition for the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics this past January, and according to the players on the team she had an immediate impact in terms of the scrutiny put into players’ diets throughout the offseason.

“I don’t think we took (nutrition) very seriously the past few years,” said sophomore tackle Gabe Megginson. “And then this year Brittany came in, and she killed it. She took us through and told us what to eat on weekends, snacks — that was the big thing that killed us. We would eat OK during the week and then throw it all away on the weekends.”

Francis, who came to Illinois from Big Ten rivals Minnesota, has managed to have a profound impact on the team in a short time as nutritionist by keeping the team on a steady diet both in terms of the food they eat and their knowledge of what proper nutrition can do for them. She tries to teach the team about nutrition until she can level with them about the calories and nutrients they need to reach their ideal body compositions.

In the meantime, she keeps a watchful eye on team meals.

“I’m at all of the meals with football,” Francis said. “So whatever goals or meal plans we’ve made I’m there to help them whether it’s what foods they should have or portion sizes or anything.”

Francis and the football staff divide players into three main categories: players that need to gain weight, lose weight or maintain their weight.

Austin Yattoni
Illinois offensive lineman Gabe Megginson warms up before the game against North Carolina at Memorial Stadium on Spt. 10. Megginson eats an extra peanut butter sandwich and protein shake before bed to maintain his goal weight.

Megginson, for example, is a player who needs to maintain his weight, which is listed at 305 pounds. To do this, he keeps a high-carb diet of oatmeal, bananas and eggs at breakfast, two sandwiches and more bananas at lunch and a burrito or other meal that is heavy on rice for dinner. Before calling it a night, he has a peanut butter sandwich and a protein shake.

Not every player on the team gets to eat like Megginson or DiLauro. Most of the team sticks to a more typical athlete’s diet: high in proteins and low in fats, and a lot stricter about how much food they eat in a day.

Linebackers like Dele Harding consume plenty of chicken to help build muscle, and receivers like Malik Turner and Mike Dudek avoid fatty foods and sugary drinks to help keep their body fat percentages low.

“We paid attention to our body fat percentage this offseason,” Harding said. “You don’t want to have any extra weight when you’re running around on the field. It was really strict this year.”

Freshman punter Blake Hayes said that after just a few months of working with Francis, he was able to see a significant change in his body fat percentage. The towering 6-foot-6-inch Australian doesn’t need to gain or lose any weight as a punter, freeing him up to focus more on making sure he is as in-shape as he can be for the season.

Hayes comes from an Australian Rules Football background, and while many Australian Football League players are quite tall, Hayes said he has never seen anyone built like offensive linemen in American football. Nor has he seen anyone who eats the way they eat.

“Seeing the guys here it’s crazy; they’re huge,” Hayes said. “I wish I could eat that stuff. A lot of people are like, ‘Oh come on, you’re a punter, you can eat that stuff,’ but I’m trying to be the best athlete I can be.”

That small twinge of jealousy was echoed by a few of Hayes’ teammates. All have definitely taken notice of the sheer amount of food that the linemen get to eat in a day.

“My roommate Nicky Allegretti, he’s a pretty big dude and he eats a lot,” Dudek, who spoke specifically about having to give up lemonade in favor of water, said. “It’s tough at times. He eats healthy but he eats a lot.”

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