The most important member of Clemson's football team is tougher than she looks. Lisa Chan was a high school wrestler.
"I needed a winter sport," said Chan, 29. "I wasn't a good swimmer and I wasn't good at basketball, so that was the only other sport I could really think of."
So don't get between Clemson's official Sports Nutritionist and a greasy pile of junk food. She blocks with the best of the Tigers, and has a playbook Tajh Boyd would admire.
Chan is a registered dietician with a bachelor's degree in Dietetics from Texas and a master's degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition from Florida. She is in her second season as Clemson's resident meal-planner. Though available to all of the school's athletes, Chan spends most of her time trying to make healthy eating a lifetime habit among football players.
The gig is part food critic, part big sister. It also involves road trips. Chan is part of No. 12 Clemson's Orange Bowl traveling party that just arrived in Miami for a Jan. 3 game against No. 7 Ohio State.
"I do sometimes feel like the mom saying 'Did you eat your vegetables?'" said Chan, a graduate of Arvada (Colo.) High School.
There's more to it than that. Armed with individual nutrition data for each player, Chan plans the daily "training table" meal allowed by the NCAA, and presides over the mass consumption. She emphasizes lean meats, vegetables, salads (without all that ranch dressing) and truckloads of fruit.
"When the guys are in there making food choices, I am available to teach them," Chan said. "It's kind of like the point of sale. It's important for them to learn why they're making these decisions. And then, hopefully, they make the same good decisions when I'm not there watching them."
Other major athletic departments have a sports nutritionist or dietician on staff (South Carolina is looking to replace recently departed Jenny Boynton). With so much emphasis placed on physical productivity in college sports - and pizza such a campus staple - you have to wonder what took so long.
Fresh fruit, and the Bod Pod
Even Chan's halftime routine is carefully scripted.
Goal: Give players lots of energy to do things like score touchdowns and sack people in the second half.
Strategy: "My big thing is variety," Chan said. "If guys don't like it, they won't eat it. But if you give them enough options, hopefully they'll find something they like. So we do different fruits, fruit cups, Gatorade bars, Nutrigrain bars, Rice Krispy bars."
Little victories are worth celebrating.
"I had one player tell me he'd never eaten a fruit," Chan said. "I'm like, 'Well, do you like juice?' He said yes, so I said, 'If I give you an orange, will you eat it? Because it tastes just like orange juice, I promise.' He was really nervous about it for a week and then I finally got him to eat a piece of orange, and now he eats oranges all the time. Maybe we can start working on grapes next."
Sophomore tight end Stanton Seckinger is a successful product of Clemson's Bod Pod, an egg-shaped chamber that measures calorie composition, among other things.
"We can monitor changes depending on the training cycles," Chan said. "We might want them to lose weight, but the right kind of weight - body fat and not muscle."
Typical dorm cafeterias offer as many menu options as Chan gives Clemson football players, but those other students don't get Chan.
"A lot of the guys, if they know they have a good-looking plate, they'll come and show me," Chan said. "Most of them have really embraced it and they're thinking about it a lot more. Some of the seniors, it took a while for them to get the buy-in. But with some of those guys, maybe they start to think, 'This might be good for me if I want to go to the NFL.'"
Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins have come around.
"Tajh has a good head on his shoulders and thinks about everything that goes into becoming a good football player," Chan said. "Sammy was really quiet at first, but he's really opened up the last few months. He asks more questions."
The Orange Bowl presents a great opportunity and a large hurdle, to Clemson players and to Chan. She likes having more meal-time interaction on the road, but knows South Florida offers lots of off-menu treats.
"For the most part, they're college kids," Chan said. "It can be difficult."
Which is why Lisa Chan is there to recommend the big salad.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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