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Eating Right Contagious Among Dolphins

Posted Oct 10, 2013

Defensive end Cameron Wake is gaining nutrition followers.

Tailgating before a professional football game is about as far from how the actual players have to eat as can be. That’s not to say they don’t enjoy a juicy steak every now and then.

In the case of two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake, his typical plate looks nothing like the one you might find in the Sun Life Stadium parking lot before a home game or at your local sports bar. He has mastered the art of healthy eating and proper nutrition to the point where his teammates joke that trying find any sort of junk food in his locker is as futile as Geraldo Rivera looking for Al Capone’s safe.

“Cam is just ridiculous half the time,” said second-year defensive end Derrick Shelby, who has adopted Wake’s food plan this season. “How do you go through life without cheese? Now I’m getting better with my diet and that’s one thing I knew was lacking, especially in college because in college you just try and get by. Last year at the beginning of the year I was kind of still going with that college mentality just eating whatever I wanted and I felt sluggish a lot. So now I’m just really trying to focus on eating better and I feel better when I play. Even when you’ve got to wake up early you still feel like you can move around pretty good, so I think the diet thing has really helped me out along with the extra stuff I did in the offseason.”

Shelby has seen tangible results through five games already with 12 tackles (nine solo) two sacks and two forced fumbles, more than his 16-game total as a rookie last year. He has been pressed into more playing time the last two weeks because of Wake’s knee injury and responded.

Olivier Vernon, another second-year defensive end, also has taken a page from Wake’s nutrition playbook and turned that into a starting job and even Pro Bowl defensive tackle Paul Soliai is onboard. Of course, each player’s body is different as are their weight expectations as defined by the coaching staff and the training staff, so they all can’t eat exactly like Wake.

“I wouldn’t want Paul eating everything I eat because I need him to take on those double teams, too,” Wake said. “But some of the D-line guys see me and I guess they kind of see it working so to speak. I’ve been healthy since I’ve been here, I think I recover pretty well and have had success on the field. It’s a habit now. I don’t eat chocolate or fried food. It just turned into a habit a long time ago and now it’s not even a desire. I have no desire for it. Some people eat beef jerky or nachos and cheese for a snack. I have grapes. That’s my snack. I don’t eat sunflower seeds and that’s just my thing.”

Words like that are music to the ears of Darren Krein, Miami’s head strength and conditioning coach. He works closely with all 53 players on the active roster and the eight guys on the practice squad, marrying a weight training and cardio program with a nutrition program. So to have a model example like Wake and on the offensive side of the ball, wide receiver Brian Hartline, to point to only makes his job easier.

Krein was a defensive end in college at the University of Miami and was a unanimous first-team All-Big East selection as a senior, finishing his career with the Hurricanes with 190 tackles and 17.5 sacks. So his credibility goes further since he played the game, and especially since he played the same position as Wake, he can respect what he’s done.

“I think the thing with Cam is that Cam is always trying to find that next edge and the next thing that’s going to make him better,” said Krein, who is in his 14th NFL season and third in his current capacity with the Dolphins. “Along the line he came to nutrition being an important side of it and I think that as guys get older they tend to focus more on that. When they’re younger they don’t focus on it as much and I think that as they get older they tend to kind of want to gravitate towards something to help them be better. I think once they’ve mastered it they kind of move onto the next thing so it becomes easy for him and Cam’s been doing it for quite a while now so actually it’s become relatively easy for him to be able to what he does.”

For Wake, he remembers in college embellishing in some of the foods he steers clear from now, like chicken wings, burgers and heavier foods and he recalls seeing how that impacted his play. Going undrafted back in 2005 out of Penn State and then getting released before training camp was a wake-up call for him.

The entire 2005 and 2006 seasons were a wash for Wake and he was out of football working as a mortgage broker in 2006, but he never lost sight of his goal to play professional football. That’s when he got serious about eating right and working out in order to get in peak shape for whenever the phone rang inviting him for a workout. It paid off in 2007 when he signed with the Canadian Football League’s B.C. Lions, winning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards and catching the eye of the Dolphins and a slew of other NFL teams.

Wake’s story since signing with Miami as a free agent in January of 2009 has been told numerous times now, with two seasons of double digit sacks (14 in 2010 as an outside linebacker and 15 last year as a defensive end) landing him two Pro Bowl starting spots and the label of one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the league. He gives most of the credit to his diet and food plan.

“You really think that there’s no negative effect at all to a diet?” Wake said. “Even if it’s just an inch or a split second or a step or whatever it may be, it’s something. It’s hard to measure but there is some difference between if I had a bunch of crap all week and went out and play versus when I slept well and I ate right. It might just be that one inch, but that one inch in football is the difference between a first down, a sack, a completion, a batted ball or an interception. I feel like it’s worth it. Two cheeseburgers versus two salads for that inch on Sunday to me, it's worth it. Some guys, maybe they can get by but that inch to me, I will give up cheeseburgers. I can eat cheeseburgers for the next 50 years of my life if I want to, but for now I’m going to take that inch.

Nothing but salads, fruits, grilled chicken, turkey, almonds and water might not be desirable to everyone, and that’s why the players are given lots of options in their dining room. They can get their fill of chicken wings with ranch dressing, cheese and ice cream on one buffet line or they can stay by the salad and fruit bar and never leave, which is where you will find Wake. Krein and his staff monitor it all and they are there to answer any questions.

Outside of the facility and on the road, the players on their own and some stay disciplined while others allow themselves to be rewarded a little bit. But more and more, as Wake continues to show off his body builder physique and display the boundless energy at practice and in games that he has become known for, the converts to his side of the dining room will only grow.

“To me it’s a delayed gratification things and like I told Shelby, if you eat that chicken wing or that cheeseburger or whatever, you’ve got 10 minutes of pleasure and you’ve got 24 hours of crap,” Wake said. “Or you can eat the salad and you’ve got 10 minutes of maybe not pleasure but guess what, it’s going to serve you for the next 24 hours in some form or fashion, and to me that seems like a no-brainer at all, for 10 minutes to 24 hours. I’ll take that trade every day of the week.”
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