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Tyler Larsen watched his strength coach amble over to the Top Ramen and macaroni and cheese in the grocery store, and he started to hope for some good news.
The senior Utah State lineman grew up eating instant noodles, and he almost could taste them as Dave Scholz picked them up off the shelf. Maybe he would get a break. Maybe this was something he could eat.
"Stay away from this stuff," Scholz said, putting it back in its place.
Larsen's heart sank into his gut.
"It killed me seeing that," he said. "I didn't want to give that stuff up. But after two or three weeks eating right, we understand why we're doing it."
It was a few months ago when Larsen started cutting carbs from his diet and paying closer attention to what he ate. But like the rest of the Aggies, he's now bought into the offseason program with his strength and his stomach, and he's seeing results.
"You feel sore after workouts, but your body doesn't feel like it's about to collapse, and I think that has a lot to do with our nutrition," he said. "It's like clockwork now."
Scholz, a former power lifter, is in his second tenure as a strength coach with the Aggies, but this is his first year as the guy in charge. In between stints at Utah State, he spent two years with the San Francisco 49ers, most recently in charge of quarterbacks, kickers and nutrition planning for the entire team.
After rejoining the program, Scholz saw there was no problem getting his players to lift weights and run. He has instituted a few tweaks in how the Aggies work out, but he felt getting them to eat like champs could make the biggest change.
"Everybody's lifting weights, but if you look at training holistically, not everyone is pushing nutrition," he said. " I can't take a 300-pound lineman down to 250 pounds, but I can make those 300 pounds look a bit different."
The key lesson for the team is that food is like information: Eating right can tell the body to burn fat and build muscle. Most of the team has a weight-based intake of protein, and the biggest players can't take in any carbs.
Scholz has control over one meal a day for the team, and he's showed players groceries they can buy and meals they can cook. But in the end, the players' diets are in their hands a dangerous thing when it comes to college students.
"I can't eat burgers, chips, fried chicken, bread, potatoes I can't even have salad dressing," wide receiver Travis Reynolds said. "I'm used to eating anything I want. But I see why, because when I'm out there working, I don't get winded. I have a lot of energy."
Players have accepted Scholz's changes for the most part. They text him questions or even pictures of their meals. Eating berries or nuts every few hours has become a staple, and fast-food runs are less frequent.
Reynolds said he constantly bugs Scholz, wondering what's OK to eat up to five or six times a day. Scholz said he doesn't mind anyone who has a question, as long as they listen to his advice.
"To see the changes kids are making is awesome," he said. "We really feel like this can help us create an edge on the field. For the coaches, it's about fostering and creating the environment, and the kids are just running with it."
Larsen still gets pizza cravings, but with each successful lifting session or conditioning run, he feels less desire to hit the drive-thru. Instead, he fills up with green beans and steak, a meal he's become adept at making himself.
"I'm 305 right now, and I feel 15 pounds lighter," he said. "I feel just like I did when I was a freshman with a lot of energy. I'm in my prime."
"Good" and "bad" foods for Utah State football
The Aggies have been on a high-protein, low-carb diet managed by new strength and conditioning coach Dave Scholz. Some examples of what the Aggies say they can and can't eat:
Don't eat this • Fried foods (any kind), bread, white pasta and noodles, white rice, potatoes, hamburgers, salad dressing
Eat this • Baked chicken, steak, all greens, salads with olive oil, nuts, berries, brown rice