Johnson beefs up for basketball season

BY JON FRANK | NOVEMBER 18, 2010 7:20 AM

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Many diets entail strict eating regulations full of dos and don'ts that can test an athlete's discipline, but Iowa sophomore center Morgan Johnson's off-season diet was simple: eat.

With height, athleticism, and skill, Johnson owns all the components that make a great post player — except width.

A thin 6-5 frame fueled by a hyperactive metabolism makes it hard for the Platte City, Mo., native to gain the size necessary to impose her will in the paint.

But during the off-season, she adopted a new plan to put on size and muscle, focused primarily on food consumption.

"Someone in [Johnson]'s position isn't just genetically predispositioned to grow and get big or gain muscle weight," said J.C. Moreau, the head strength and conditioning coach for the Iowa men's and women's basketball teams. "She has to teach herself to eat the right foods and more often. And sometimes, eat past the point of fullness."

Moreau said the resolution to put on weight came after the Big Ten Tournament, when Johnson was pitted against stronger, physical players.

But what makes her diet unique is its makeup. The sole guideline is high protein intake — carbs and calories be damned.

"[Johnson] doesn't gain body fat very easily, so we're not as concerned as with some athletes if she wants to have a piece of cake or an extra piece of pie," Moreau said. "In [Johnson]'s case, it was get enough protein and however you want to get the extra calories."

The conditioning coach said the lifestyle change is working, and she has bulked up since her freshman year.

"[Overeating] sucks at times, but I got better at it," she said. "I can feel that I'm bigger and stronger than I was last year."

Johnson said she eats at least three times daily and snacks between meals. During snacking sessions, she developed a love for trail mix.

And to ensure the high protein intake wasn't in vain, Moreau put Johnson on a new lifting regimen: high weights, low reps. The program focused on building explosive strength. As opposed to exercises with lots of repetitions with lower weight, this plan was designed to build lean muscle.

Johnson turned into a gym rat.

"We worked out five times a week," she said. "I started off really embarrassingly only being able to clean about 35 kilos. I've moved it up to around 50 now."

Olympic-style lifts like cleans, squats, and snatches dominate her routine.

Although she has made strides towards her goal of improving her post presence, the work is never done.

"We're pleased, not 100 percent satisfied," Moreau said. "It was realistic to get to where she got.

She's probably put on 20 to 23 pounds since the beginning of last season … hopefully, next year she takes another step and then another step going into her senior year."

Johnson's added size could be a big help for the Hawkeyes. She is the team's tallest player by 3 inches and the only center listed on the depth chart.

Head coach Lisa Bluder said she's seen a maturation in Johnson since she first came to campus — both physically and mentally.

"[Johnson] has gotten stronger," Bluder said. "It's going to help her battle in the paint a little bit — a lot more than it was last year. But I think it also gives her confidence."

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