Bengals can even taste change

6-16-03, 4 p.m.


This feel good offseason of Marvin Lewis has been a laundry list of change.

The expanded personnel department. The new weight room complete with a 24-7 philosophy. The up-tempo practices. The release from the past (Akili Smith), and the revolving door of free agents and waiver claims that have brought seven potential starters.

But this has also been an eat good offseason. In the continuing quest to wipe out the 17-74 record of the past dozen Septembers and Octobers, Lewis has put almost as much emphasis on calories and tablespoons as he has Xs and Os. He sautéed it home last week during minicamp when he introduced the team to its nutritionist.

Up until this season, the topic of nutrition had been an informal one for the Bengals. But Chip Morton, the new strength coach who worked with Lewis in Baltimore and Washington, saw it get formal pretty quickly with the arrival of national expert Michele Macedonio.

"When you hear Marvin tell them, 'we have a nutritionist. Take advantage of it as a professional,' you know that's going to get their attention," Morton said.

Like it always seems to happen, Morton's search for a nutritionist ended up at his back door. Macedonio is based in the nearby Cincinnati suburb of Loveland, but comes to the Bengals as a consultant with a batch of national credentials. She has worked with professional and elite amateur soccer teams, and is the incoming chairman of the Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists.

"We've got a lot of young guys who need guidance in an area like this," Lewis said. "You figure with the rookies, it's their first job and living on their own. The bottom line is we want to make sure we're doing everything possible to make sure we're in the right condition at all times. What ever it takes and this is just another case where we're using all our resources."

This isn't a fly-by-night-pick-up-a-few-bucks-on-the-side deal. In Macedonio, the Bengals have on retainer a licensed dietician with two master's degrees. But after meeting with about 14 players last week, she came away impressed with their knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject.

"One player actually took nutrition as an undergraduate major and was thrilled to have the resource" said Macedonio, careful not to break any doctor-client privileges. "I was surprised at how many cook and are interested in coming up with some new recipes. We also like to work with the spouses because a lot of times they do at least some of the cooking and that helps to get them involved."

Part of the idea is to tailor diet to the individual, which is why Lewis set aside last week for players to set up appointments with Macedonio. Now, her top priority becomes the big picture in putting together a menu for the training camp that opens July 27 at Georgetown College. The players haven't been shy letting her know how they want it improved.

"They want to see more variety," she said. "They want lighter meals that are easier to digest. They're going through two practices for many of the days, and that doesn't leave much time to digest."

Macedonio says diet is a state of mind, that it doesn't have to be a drastic overhaul, and that it should complement conditioning. She thought of the one player who wants t get leaner by trimming body fat as well as get stronger.

"A of the times," she said, "It just involves tweaking the diet. It's a mindset."

Morton put together the current offseason menu by consulting with dieticians from other NFL teams. Now Macedonio will take over the planning for meals at camp, in-season breakfasts and lunches, and food for the away trips.

Right guard Matt O'Dwyer, known by at least one magazine as the strongest man in the NFL, has been saying for years diet is everything.

"Look at the guy who says he does all these situps and he can't lose that gut," O'Dwyer said. "This is the strongest I've been since I've been here because of the program. Not so much because of the food because that's what you eat only when you're here.

"That's something you have to do every day, every meal," O'Dwyer said. "It's better than it has been, more options."

But O'Dwyer insists it always ends with the individuals.

"The easy way isn't always the best way," O'Dwyer said. "It's harder to take five minutes and make a good salad instead of just slopping on stuff. Same thing with making a natural Smoothie (a fruit shake). You have to put some time into it."

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