O'Dwyer still doesn't need juice

6-6-02, 7:00 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

One magazine has called him "The Strongest Man in the NFL."

He is certainly a formidable presence in the Bengals weight room, where he has been known to toss up a 275-pound bar 36 times.

And if he wants to put on a show, he can one-time 550 pounds on the bench press. And 350 pounds over his head. And 330 pounds to the side, which he did to Lions All-Rookie tackle Shaun Rogers last year to help spring Corey Dillon to his 96-yard touchdown run in Detroit.

But Matt O'Dwyer, the Bengals' highly-regarded left guard, is also strong enough to look you in the eye and insist, "I've never done any steroids," in building his man-made muscles.

The NFL has banned steroids for the past 15 years or so, but the league's recent decision to outlaw ephedrine and the raging controversy over performance-enhancing drugs in baseball have put the issue in front and center of everyone in pro sports.

O'Dwyer is a 6-foot-5, 310-pound exhibit that you can be inhumanely strong without maiming or killing the human body. He believes that strength comes from diet and food.

"You've got to study how to get strong," said O'Dwyer after his workout Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium. "You can't just show up at the gym and work out and not know what to put in your body in terms of food. It's an every-day mentality. It's not just the day you work out. It's something you always have to think about even when you're not."

O'Dwyer knows what people are saying about him even when they aren't saying it to his face. Big, strong, tough kid with a lot of ink about his strength? They just figure if he's not on the juice now, then he

must have been in college.

O'Dwyer just laughs. Never. It doesn't bother him. And since O'Dwyer isn't a chemist or a man of the cloth, he doesn't want to judge anyone who has used drugs to bulk up. But he says, "If high school kids are dying, it's not good. . . .I would advise, 'No,' because there are other ways you can do it. It takes a lot of time. I do the extra stuff when it comes to working out and diet."

What O'Dwyer advises is not only eating, but eating the right stuff.

"Food is key," O'Dwyer said. "Having a balanced diet. More meat than bread kind of deal. You can mix it up, eat what you want, but when you're working, you're working. You have to know exactly what's going on. To get strong, you have to eat. You can't just eat three meals a day to get strong. It's a thought process. You have to know how much protein you're putting in your body. If you don't put the right things in, it's extra weight. You get a little too bloated and you look like the rookies."

What O'Dwyer has been putting in his body lately is salmon steaks and a lot of fish. He has oatmeal ("One of the best things you can have,") every morning as well as six eggs, "but with just one yolk. You have to be smart about it."

O'Dwyer thinks the media has lumped the terms, "stimulants," and "supplements," together, blurring the meanings. He understands why the NFL is going to begin banning ephedrine July 1 because, "it's an upper. A stimulant. Anytime you take anything that gets your heart rate going, is it good for you? No, it's not good for you. So if they're looking to head it off, that's great.

"A true supplement," O'Dwyer said, "is something you take instead of food."

The purists argue that no supplements are good, but O'Dwyer is talking about things like protein bars.

"Taking those bars during the day, they will help you lose weight," O'Dwyer said. "They curb that appetite before you eat lunch or before you get dinner. You have that snack at 2:30. . . .I guarantee you, you start eating those snacks in between meals, a low-fat and not excessive carbohydrates snack, you will lose weight."

It's clear the NFL is in a crack-down phase. Last season, O'Dwyer was affected by the league's decree that players could no longer endorse companies that made products banned by the NFL. Even though O'Dwyer backed only a protein product made by his friend's company and not one of the banned substances, the league still asked him to end the commercial relationship.

"The supplement business is a big business and I think the NFL wants the money, a piece of the action," O'Dwyer said.

O'Dwyer figures that common sense is a factor here. Too much of anything can't be good.

"If you abuse anything totally, it can hurt you," he said. "It's not good if you drink Coca-Cola all day long. If you make that your final drink, it's going to mess you up inside."

O'Dwyer's big thing is listening to his body. Since he turns 30 the week before the season, it has something to say more often now.

"The first few years in the league, I really didn't take advantage of the fact that I can work out during the season," O'Dwyer said of his lifting. "The idea was to be strong late in the year. Now I work out, not as much, but just enough to keep the right balance of calories and carbohydrates."

Growing up in the late '80s as the NFL debated the steroids issue and a high school kid like himself began to hear the whispers, O'Dwyer never had steroids pushed on him. In suburban Chicago, it really wasn't available.

"I was already a big strong guy who enjoyed working out," O'Dwyer said. "I tried to eat well and get strong on my own. It's not like I needed an extra push."

He certainly doesn't need a push to get ready for his eighth year in the NFL. In the last two seasons, injuries to his legs cost him three games in 2001 with a knee sprain and five games in 2000 with a broken ankle.

"Wrong place, wrong time with both injuries," O'Dwyer said. "I've definitely been concentrating on being quicker and having more flexibility in my legs."

Strength will again be no problem.

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