- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- After Taylor Lewan made the decision to return to Michigan instead of leaving for the NFL, the left tackle called a team meeting. Not, however, with the team you might think.
The men he brought together in January didn’t play Saturdays. They were the ones who did the preparation for it. He wanted to spend his final year at Michigan treating his strength training and nutrition as if he were in the NFL.
“He kind of initiated it,” Michigan strength coach Aaron Wellman said. “He said, ‘I want to be elite. What do I need to do to become elite from a nutrition standpoint?’ “
Lewan was already considered elite in games. Had he left after last season, he would have been a first-round NFL draft pick. But his training and food discipline needed improvement and he knew it.
The shift started with a trip to a local grocery store. Joel Totoro, the nutritionist Michigan hired in 2012 from the New England Patriots, went with Lewan. They walked down every aisle. Lewan asked about various foods.
Totoro told Lewan it was something he could always, sometimes or never eat, depending on nutritional value. Since Totoro can’t provide Lewan with multiple meals daily due to NCAA rules, Lewan wanted to learn so he could start planning meals, learning how to cook and to create a full nutritional plan.
“It is more than just, ‘Here, here are some healthy foods,’” Totoro said. “You usually end up getting chicken breast and broccoli every day and that gets monotonous and they don’t stick with it. So give him the education and tools to make his own decisions, that’s how I do it.
“That’s real life. It’s there. It’s overwhelming because they’ve never had to do that. But once they get there and they are like, ‘What if I do that,’ you see the learning process start to happen.”
Even though he can’t physically feed them, Totoro’s phone is constantly on. Lewan and other Michigan players have called him from the supermarket. Or they took pictures of menus to receive advice on ordering.
No player latched on more than Lewan. Lewan doesn’t have specific caloric goals as they depend on the day’s activities, but generally he needs to ingest a half-gram to gram of protein per pound. For the 315-pound Lewan, this means between 157 to 315 grams of protein a day. A typical chicken breast might have 30 grams of protein.
Lewan said he consumed 12 hard-boiled eggs a day, chicken, steak and salad. In between meals, he will have two cans of tuna. Carbs come after workouts. With each meal he’ll add olive oil, which adds calories so he can reach his daily allotted amount.
The diet allowed for faster recovery time between workouts, giving him more chances to work out. Then, he could build explosiveness and strength with Wellman.
But the change has been tough for someone who is still a college student.
“It sucks. It’s awful. The diet is rough,” Lewan said. “When you go out with your friends and they order pizzas and wings, I look at that and I’m salivating. I’m looking at it and am excited about it.
“I go to Buffalo Wild Wings and order a salad and five chicken breasts. I swear that’s what I do. They are like, ‘I don’t think we can do that.’ I’m like, ‘No, if you go to menu, there’s a button that says chicken breast.’ I found that out somehow.”
Lewan said he has lost five percent of his body fat since January. His biggest gains came with Wellman. Lewan asked Wellman in January where his strength could improve.
Wellman replied explosion and power. He already benched more than 400 pounds and squatted over 500 pounds. With his new diet, which emphasized when he ate as much as what he did, his production increased.
He often worked with skill position players on different exercises, aiming for shorter sets -- usually no more than five repetitions -- with full range of motion to increase explosion. The goal wasn’t weight but the speed he in which completed the repetitions. If he dropped below 90 percent of the max set speed on an exercise, he lowered the weight.
In July, Lewan used Keiser exercise equipment -- a pneumatic weight system instead of barbells or weighted plates. Over the summer, Wellman and his staff tracked and charted every rep.
Wellman said Lewan’s biggest gains came in lower body explosion. So this shouldn’t surprise. Wellman wanted Lewan to move the weight he lifted 1.6-to-1.8 meters per second on the Keiser squat machine.
By the end of the summer, he moved 630 pounds of resistance at 1.7 meters per second, which Wellman said created 5,000 watts of power. He did all of this from a dead stop at the bottom of the squat pushing up.
“Those numbers won’t mean anything to most readers,” Wellman said. “But those are elite numbers. Not many guys in the country can do that.”
Not many guys in the country can do a lot of the things Lewan can, from the way he lifts to how he blocks people fall Saturdays. The one thing he hasn’t done is win, which makes this shift in lifestyle not very difficult at all.
“If you keep your goals intact, you know what you’re working for,” Lewan said. “I know what I’m working for. I have individual goals but my why is the Big Ten championship.
“You know that and the temptation is not that hard. My focus is to be the meanest, most aggressive, best technique offensive lineman every single down.”
The discipline he showed during his offseason makeover, and the amount of chicken he has eaten, will only accentuate that.