TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's been a busy first few days on the road. Not the kind of busy that makes for compelling narrative, though. Much of what we've been dealing with since we left our Indianapolis headquarters
are things like bad web hosting, long e-mails, old business, and a dry, scratchy, hacking cough that requires one bottle of DayQuil per day to keep lubricated.
Most of what the first week of any season is about is adjustments -- the sudden awakening to constant 24/7 travel over five months, and the realization that whomever packed the bags was far too comfortable and soft to do a good job. The first week is about forgotten supplies like toothpaste, socks and individual packets of laundry detergent. The first week is about freshman mistakes.
At the end of last year, I began a five-part series about how you could build your very own Mid-Majority, and live out on the road watching college basketball like I do. I was only able to post three of them
before the season ended. Perhaps now you can see why I started the series in the first place; I was convinced that Season 5 was the final one,
and that I was finished as an accidental sportswriter. I was leaving my blueprints behind for the next generation.
But we're still around. And in the absence of actual storytelling, this is a time to settle up on some old promises.
The road is out to get you. And by that I mean, our great system of American highway culture is specifically designed to kill you.
When you are far away from your own kitchen and your personal stove, the road will feed you garbage that will make you chubby, miserable and contrite. The food sold on the sides of Interstates is full of grease, fat and calories, specifically formulated to make you die.
This may not seem like it has anything to do with basketball, but this is what scouts and assistant coaches have to live with every day during the season. There are people out there driving more miles than I do in the name of college hoops, recruiting and cross-checking from coast to coast. Their choices on the road are usually Big Macs or Whoppers, and they pay the price in fatigue, fat and heart attacks. I know there are a lot of you highwaymen out there in the audience, and I dedicate this entry to you.
I never quite understood why there's no correlation between the price of food and the number of calories in it. It's a rate of exchange that's loopier than the post-gold standard dollar. You can buy a bag of Doritos for $3, about the same amount as a gallon of gas. You can eat the whole bag, and that's all the kCals you need for the day (not all of the actual nutrition, though). Is that weird, or is it just me?
As far as weirdness goes, probably the latter. I may have mentioned in this space that I'm a vegetarian. I mean, I'm all for animal rights and stuff, but I also really like my leather coat -- I don't eat meat because of any moral pose. I'm a vegetarian because I like running long distances, and I also spend a lot of time sitting down and typing (which is what I'm doing right now). I know exactly what happens when I consume more calories than I burn. I only took one basic nutrition class in college, and I took it because I had to, and I got a C in it. So I learned what I know the hard way.
Not eating meat isn't a foolproof way to keep weight off, though. During Season 2, I ate Burger King fish sandwiches and Snickers bars every day, and gained 35 pounds between November and March. I learned a lot from that 2006-07 campaign, and have made a lot of adjustments to the way I eat on the road.
My key is to orient everything towards one large full meal per day, usually around 3 p.m. Taco Bell has the "Fourthmeal" concept to sell you on building your coronary legacy one 2 a.m. burrito at a time, but I call mine "Basketmeal." It's too late for lunch, not quite dinner, and is close enough to game time that I won't be hungry for the Papa John's pizza in the media room. Add coffee and a small thing for breakfast, another bite after the game, and I stay around 2,000 calories per day.
The trick is to come out of the season at the same weight you came in at -- that's a full and total victory. I was able to match my November and March weigh-ins during Season 4 and Season 5; the only problem was that I hadn't lost the basketball in my shirt from Season 2, and I was around 210 for those. Going into Season 6 at 185 lbs., using the same Basketmeal strategy, will help me get through it.
I probably couldn't have done any of this 10 years ago, especially in the South region of Hoops Nation. That was before Subway became popular all over the country, and it's really the only chain restaurant where vegetarians can get a fair shake. They've got the Veggie Delite, which is basically a salad on a roll; at 600 calories, it's also the cheapest sandwich on the menu. It's not really that popular down here, however -- there's a story I usually tell about the time I went to a Subway in Dallas two years ago, ordered one, and the Sandwich Artists didn't know how to make it. Afterward, one of them called me a "pussy."
And then there's McDonald's. The Filet O Fish is 350 calories, about a third of Burger King's, and the Fruit and Walnut Salad is pretty solid. All American vegetarians know that you can always buy an Egg McMuffin in the morning and throw away the ham slice. I find myself justifying McDonald's in spite of itself, because over the past two years they've offered WiFi through Wayport (which is also accessible through Boingo at $9.99 a month), and Lord knows I need my WiFi on the road. I'm actually posting this from a McDonald's parking lot.
Down here in Hoops Nation's red states, they have a lot of Waffle Houses, which a.) rule
and b.) test the Basketmeal concept to its outermost limits. I've seen the label of that "Golden Nugget" goop that they put on the grill, the stuff that makes the food taste so good, and I can tell you that it's not compressed single-digit-calorie flaxseed oil. But there's nothing like a full order of eggs, raisin toast, and hashbrowns scattered, smothered, diced and peppered. That's probably all the calories the USRDA allows, right there.
But the most important thing about maintaining proper weight and health is to pack food yourself. When I get off a plane, grab a rental car and head out on the highway for another week of hot mid-major action, my first stop is usually a Wal-Mart or a Target. I have a food checklist that I go through. Target has good these good Archer Farms fruit bars and heavy-duty boxes of granola that are great for breakfast. If it's a full grocery, I can get peanut butter, carrots and celery. Lately, I've been getting into those Quaker Quakes, those low-calorie flavored rice cake things.
I know what you're thinking, and yes, that's exactly the point. If there are going to be snacks in the car, they'd better suck
. It's important to protect the self from the self. I'm only human, and if there's a full bag of Doritos in the car with me, only one of us is getting out of there alive.
Eating well is important when you're a basketball guy on the go, and it's one of those things that we don't really think about until we're out here traveling. And not thinking about it leads to bad choices, which can lead to constant use of sweatpants, high insurance premiums, and serious croakage. One cup of forethought, a teaspoon of preparation, and a dash of common sense can keep you fit and alive on your road to great health.
Get In The Good Grub Game, Hoops Nation! [thumbs up/bicep flex]