'Fight On' doesn't happen only on the field

Trojans figuring out how to make this whole food thing work for them . . . it's taking "Fight On" from the football field into the cafeteria.

Becci Twombley is adding a foodie twist to USC's famed "Fight On" mantra.

"Fuel On," USC's sports nutritionist preaches -- and with good reason.

Most people when they think about eating, they like the sound of it. But for athletes like USC football players, Twombley explains it's something else: "Eating is a job," she says.

It's serious work. Certainly for Twombley, with a schedule that has her going from 4:45 a.m. (to have breakfast ready well before the 6 a.m. start of weightlifiting and conditioning) and then for the full-day through until 10 at night. That's a lot of fueling from the meals and snacks and pre- and post-running and lifting and then sending the players off to class, it's pretty much an all-day venture.

Just one example. How much work must it be to get one unidentified Trojan football player to ingest his scheduled 12,000 calories a day -- about eight good-size meals? You read that right. Remember all the attention Olympic superstar Michael Phelps got for his comparatively piddling daily intake of a mere 10,000 calories.

So you get the idea. This is a big, big deal for all sorts of USC football players this offseason. Quinton Powell will get a "GAINER" menu when he checks in each morning. As will Max Tuerk, Toa Lobendahn Lamont Simmons and John Plattenburg. Click here for sample breakfast menus.

"I'll try to get them in here early to eat a lot," Twombley says with 5:15 arrival giving them enough time to fuel themselves up.

Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao, among others, will get the WEIGHT LOSS menu handed to them personally each day by Becci. "Damien and Viane can walk in 15 minutes before the workout," she says, "No extra food time for them.

There's also a daily "MAINTAINER" menu "when all you have to do is replace," Twombley says.

That's what you do with guys like Nelson Agholor and Adoree Jackson, she says. "They're so powerful they lose lots of hydrocarbons . . . their explosiveness uses so much. Their recovery part of this is very important."

And then a fourth, the "WALK ON" that the NCAA mandates to stay separate, but as Becci notes on the menu: "Your fueling needs remain the same, we just have a couple fewer options for replacing your protein needs."

The walkons don't get prepared meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But plenty of fuel.

For some of this, "You're working against genetics" Twombley says of her menus that change every day. "I'm there to coach them through it . . . I help them build their plate. "

One of the new protocols is a mandatory couple of ounces of beet root juice with a citrus chaser after running. "The science tells us it's high in nitrates and dilates the blood vessels," Becci says. But doesn't that stuff taste awful? Yep, "Like grass."

"But they want to win a national championship," she says simply. "They don't care. I tell them it's not about the taste, it's about the function."

But it's also about the taste, too. Check out the 16 breakfast items on the GAINER guys menu: "breakfast burrito, roasted potatoes, muffin, waffle, oatmeal, scrambled eggs (six portions if you'd like), New York steak, omelet (cheese, meat, veggie), chocolate milk, 2 percent milk, yogurt, whole fruit, grapes, kiwi, watermelon and 20 ounces of water or Powerade." Then there's this note penned to the bottom of the menu: Please remember to pick up your snack bag at the fueling station before heading to class.

And right now, with the departure of leaders like Agholor, Randall Telfer, Hayes Pullard and Leonard Williams, Twombley is looking to see who steps up to replace them. "If you had Leonard doing something, everyone else would want to do it to be like Leonard."

Some surprises here so far. "People like Kevon Seymour have stepped up," Twombley says, "that shocked me. There's been a lot of education there and he sees the benefits of it. And Antwaun Woods. We've been up and down with him but when he's in, he's all in."

After a year and a half of not-so-good eating, the 205-pound Powell had better be all in. "It's now or never," Becci says of Quinton, whose goal is 215 and who describes himself as a guy who used to be "a picky eater. It wasn't a priority for me. I ate what I liked. But I didn't like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so now they give me tuna. I like tuna."

That's the key, Twombley says. She can work with all sorts of foods. "I'm more serious about it now," Powell says. "I look for help." And he's downscaled his room costs in order to upgrade his off-campus diet.

"I have more money for food now and I know a lot more about it. I ask what it does and why," Powell says. "Before, I'd go to practice without eating." Not now.

"I was eating but not enough and not the right things," he says. "People like me have to eat. Before workouts, after workouts, after class" and with sandwiches and snacks in between. The high-protein refueling session at 11:30 a.m. has an emphasis on hard-boiled eggs, cheese, beef jerky.

It takes a great deal of cooperation, says Twombley, now in her third year at USC working with trainer Russ Romano and her second with strength and conditioning director Ivan Lewis. "The three of us complete the circle." There's a dedicated chef now and with USC Dining taking over "Little Galen," as the athletes' eating place is called.

"The resources have been phenomenal," Becci says although it takes a 15-hour-a-day workload to get it done right. "You can't just give them food." You have to be there to work with them.

There's even hand-held food to go and no more checking whether a player was eating in or out and how much food he's taking or who it's for. "This is much better,' Becci says.

There's a diet "for anybody who had surgery. Everything we do is science-based," Becci says of the weekly weigh-ins and body composites every three or four weeks. "If somebody loses 30 pounds, we don't want it to be 30 pounds of muscle . . . The old school mentality is out."

So is being out of the national title hunt in recent years.

"We always knew we had the talent," Powell says. He buys in to what Twombey is telling him starting with this simple thought of hers when she says: "We don't listen to excuses."

But they do listen to the athletes. "We want them to feel supported," Twombley says.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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