MADISON – You’re going to notice – if you haven’t already – that Nate Reuvers gained some good weight since last basketball season. In fact, the Wisconsin Badgers sophomore jumped from 215 to 240 pounds over the summer.
But that’s not the story. That’s just the result.
In order for a 6-foot-11 guy to put on the kind of weight that is going to help him hold his line through the paint of the Big Ten, it was going to take major changes. Like a resistance to the “blue light” at night. A concentration on training the tall thoracic spine. A willingness to talk about – are you ready for this? – mood.
While Reuvers became a weight room warrior, champion grocery shopper and the kind of chef who thinks too many people overcook meat, he also decided to open his mind to all aspects of training.
“Big Ten games last year, getting my ass kicked by guys in the paint. … It’s not fun. Some nights would be better than others but, ultimately I knew I had to get bigger or else I really wasn’t going to have much more success,” said Reuvers, who as a true freshman started 15 games for the Badgers and averaged 5.3 points and 2.0 rebounds in 16.6 minutes per game.
As Wisconsin opens the 2018-’19 season at 7 p.m. Tuesday vs. Coppin State at the Kohl Center, Reuvers figures to be a key part of the team’s fortunes.
What’s mood got to do with it?
Improvements in Reuvers’ physique began with Badgers basketball strength and conditioning coach Erik Helland. He asks his athletes to assess their mood daily. It’s not complicated, just a simple rating system as part of the eight-question Metrifit app. But it’s essential.
Mood not only tells Helland how hard a guy thinks he can work each day, it also tells him how prepared the player is to work and how many extraneous factors – like stress – are at play.
“One of the most sensitive indicators is mood state,” said Helland. “The cascade effect of this is enormous.”
And the beginnings of this cascade start with sleep.
PREVIEW: 2018-’19 UW basketball at a glance
College students – well, all of us – face distractions that affect sleep. Helland hopes his players get eight hours of sleep a night; Reuvers gets that now, maybe even a little more. But it means putting down the social media and turning off the cell phone.
“Typically the kids with the most sleep disturbances, they are not putting that blue light (cell phone) away,” said Helland. “They don’t fall asleep really well, and they don’t stay asleep. They don’t go through the deeper sleep cycles.
“Now they’re not going to bed until 1 o’clock in the morning. And then they have to get up at 7. Now they’re overtired. Well, the reaction to being overtired is: ‘I just want to sleep another 15, 20 minutes.’ ”
And then that affects another critical part of training: the first meal of the day.
“Now you’ve compromised breakfast,” said Helland. “And then that means they usually eat a simple, quick American breakfast, which is maybe cereal. But the incompleteness and the quality of that is really, really poor.
“I always tell them, everything is connected to everything else. If you make one mistake, it cascades into the other areas.”
Food as fuel
In order to gain good weight, Reuvers really worked on his second source of energy after sleep: His nutrition. Reuvers didn’t gain his weight the typically unhealthy “freshman 15” way. That would have basically killed him athletically. He did it the good way. And the good way is hard.
Breakfast is four or five eggs (6 grams of protein each) and bacon. Ruevers also starts chugging the first of about four Organic Valley Organic Fuel milkshakes a day.
“That’s a 1,000 calories of milk. That’s a lot,” he said.
He also drinks more protein shakes with fruits and vegetables, protein powder and yogurt blends to get another 1,500-2000 calories in liquids a day.
Lunch is chicken breast, burgers or New York strip steak, fried medium rare with salt, pepper and garlic.
In all, he’s consuming 4,000 to 5,000 calories every day – and at first, it was hard to get all that down and keep it down – but that first step has to be a decent breakfast.
“All players struggle with breakfast,” said Helland. “It takes discipline to get up early enough to go and eat breakfast and make good choices.”
Reuvers took pride in shopping and preparing meals for himself and he would text Helland pictures of the selections he would make at restaurants.
Ready to work
This kind of calorie intake is important because Reuvers burns an average of 1,500 to 2,200 calories during a typical practice (2,500 during the more stressful practices in early October). He can’t have a calorie deficit and keep his energy. And once he was rested and fueled, he could hit the weight room to add muscle.
“A lot of just being stronger is just putting on more weight,” said Reuvers.
But being 6-11 makes that challenging. Strength comes from the core and the spine and Helland focuses a great deal of his attention on the basketball player’s exceptionally tall spine.
“Tall athletes, when they start to fatigue, they start to collapse from the top down,” said Helland. “The reality is a good, strong athletic posture is a tall spine.”
The posterior chain of muscles is also essential for powerful athletic moves. Reuvers became stunningly strong here.
Reuvers can squat with a bar of 350 pounds of weight on his back and he can get his backside down low enough that he breaks parallel. In the fitness world, “ass to grass” is the toughest squat.
“I can actually get pretty low for a big guy,” said Reuvers.
“The taller athlete doesn’t have the leverage advantage of a shorter athlete, but if they move well, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t train them in the same way,” said Helland, “because he’ll use it on the floor. He moves well, and he’s very exceptional, for a big.”
Ruevers discovered – even with the grueling bench press at 225 pounds with those long arms – that he loves strength training.
“Every week I was just putting more and more weight on the bar,” said Reuvers. “Just hitting PRs pretty much every week. Seeing gains like that, it’s fun.”
What remained are Reuvers’ quick feet and leaping ability.
“He’s one of the quicker jumpers I have – even compared to my guards,” said Helland.
“Obviously I’m heavier, which some people might think would make it harder to move, but honestly I put on a lot more muscle,” said Reuvers. “I feel quicker, even though I’m bigger.”
Does this guarantee a breakout Big Ten season? No. But Ruevers did everything he could to set himself up for a year of great gains, well beyond the scale.