Building the beasts: An inside look at the strength training and nutrition process

Mizzou men’s basketball’s Ryan Reist and Nick Michael tag team teaching their players to attack, compete together
Nick Michael, Mizzou assistant athletics director for athletic performance, sits in the Mizzou Arena weight room where he helps Tiger men’s basketball players gain the strength needed to play SEC basketball.

The recipe for a Beast Mode breakfast sandwich is simple.

A Hawaiian bun, three hamburger patties, bacon strips and peppers. Throw on a slice or two of cheese to top it off, and voila — the sandwich from the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex is ready to make Missouri’s men beasts under the boards.

Ryan Reist, Mizzou's director of sports nutrition, approached a dining hall staff member about creating something to help Mitchell Smith, a 6-foot-10, 210-pound freshman, gain weight.

Enter a Beast Mode.

“We said we had a guy [in Smith] who needs to gain weight, and he said, ‘Let me throw a few things together here,’” Reist said.

The sandwich that screams calories is just one aspect of a plan to help Smith turn into a Southeastern Conference big man.

Smith is one of at least four freshman expected — and needed — to log significant minutes on Missouri’s men’s basketball team in the 2016-17 season. For the freshmen to be in playing shape, it requires a high level of collaboration between Reist and Nick Michael, the team’s new strength and performance coach.

Freshman Mitchell Smith is one player Ryan Reist and Nick Michael is helping gain weight so that Smith can play near the basket in the Southeastern Conference. Nick Kelly

Rising with Reist

Reist’s day often begins before the sun makes an appearance. He arrives at the MATC around 7 a.m. and heads to the dining hall. Michael meets him there, and the men’s basketball players who have class at 8 a.m. arrive for breakfast.

It’s much more than just a meal to start the day, though; it’s a time for fueling, learning and trust-building.

As the athletes pile carbs, proteins and other foods onto their plates, Reist strolls around and tells them if they don’t have the correct amount of each food group in front of them.

Michael will sometimes help out as well, but he often lets Reist do most of the plate checks.

“I get into them enough during the lifts and during practice, so for me to get after them at breakfast can be kind of mind-numbing if I do too much of that,” Michael said.

Reist, however, strives to be more of a food counselor than a food cop.

Ryan Reist, Mizzou’s director of sports nutrition, smiles for a portrait.COURTESY OF Mizzou Athletics

“It’s not all about telling people what they can’t eat,” Reist said. “It’s helping them find out what is going to help them perform better based on what their specific training is. We really try to match up their specific needs with how we can help them out.”

He sees breakfast each morning as an opportunity to educate the athletes on nutrition while getting to know them. It also allows the athletes to get to know Reist, something that is a necessary first step for improving their performance and physique.

“When they trust you, they start to listen as to what you have to say,” Reist said.

Smith said he often doesn’t know what he will be eating each morning, but he trusts it will make him a better athlete with Reist assembling his plate.

“I am getting more used to it,” Smith said. “I am embracing it every morning.”

Players who have class at 9 a.m. don’t have to show up for breakfast until 8:15 a.m. so they can get more rest, Michael said. Once those players leave, Michael heads to Mizzou Arena to complete office work and prep for weight lifting.

Reist and Michael don’t dissect plates at lunch or dinner, making education even more vital when the players are on their own.

Reist preaches a plate visual to many of the athletes. This requires the athletes to look at their plates and ask themselves if half is carbohydrates, a quarter is proteins and the rest is fruits and vegetables.

Some adjustments are made for special cases such as Smith, who Reist has eat more carbohydrates.

Many athletes trying to gain weight are encouraged to drink calories as well. Whether it be juice, sweet tea, milk or chocolate milk, all are recommended by Reist as forms of quick calories.

“The good thing about when you drink something is that you don’t have to sit there and chew on it,” Reist said.

Nick Michael, who is in his first year as Mizzou men’s basketball assistant AD for athletic performance, speaks with coach Kim Anderson during practice.="credit">Nick Kelly

Michael the mentor

Reist runs the morning show, but the afternoon belongs to Michael.

At around 2:45 p.m., some of the athletes arrive at Mizzou Arena and prepare to lift with Michael, who is in his first year as assistant athletics director for athletic performance. During the season, half of the players lift on one day while the other half lifts the next day. Each session is about 30 minutes before practice, a compromise Michael made with coach Kim Anderson before the season.

“Neither one of us like the lifts after practice because they have been wired up for so long that they kind of lose their concentration a little bit,” Michael said.

Michael may not have the athletes in the weight room much during the season, but of any coach in the offseason, he gets to spend the most time with players. The NCAA allows Michael up to six hours per week with the athletes during the offseason. Anderson gets two at most.

“Typically guys don’t think about this, but you’re going to spend so much time with that strength coach,” Michael said. “It would be good if they knew a little bit about basketball and had a background in that area.”

Michael fits that description. His resume as a player includes playing Division III college basketball at Elmhurst College and professionally in Ireland and Germany.

Michael said he looks back on what he would do differently to ensure his players don’t commit the same mistakes.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t push myself in college the way that I do now,” Michael said. “I pushed myself pretty hard, but not sickly hard.”

He pushes his athletes “sickly hard” now, though. During the offseason, Michael put them through ROTC training. This arduous training regimen included everything from carrying ammunition crates to running several miles at 6 a.m.

Michael made it clear during these workouts what he wanted to see from his players.

“It’s how far are you willing to basically make yourself throw up,” sophomore Terrence Phillips said. “He likes to call it getting sick in the head.”

Nick Michael, a former professional European basketball player, watches from afar as Terrence Phillips shoots at practice.Nick Kelly

While this may seem like a stereotypical strength coach, Michael strives to be more. Michael said he is big on coaching habits and training the person. He preaches the acronym A.C.T.: Attack, Compete, Together.

Michael said the attack aspect shows by going hard throughout lifts and workouts. The compete part is similar. He wants his athletes to strive to win at everything they do, whether it is getting one more repetition than the person next to them on the bench press or getting a better grade on an exam.

“It can get tiring mentally when you’re like that, but at the same time, those are habits that if they translate, you can really be successful,” Michael said.

The togetherness pillar might be the most important for a Missouri team that has won a combined 19 games the past two seasons and was picked to finish last in the SEC in the preseason coaches poll.

Sophomore Kevin Puryear said he has already noticed a difference in togetherness from last year’s team.

“I’m not saying we weren’t together last year or close, but this year, we are taking more from the weight room and what he is telling us and taking it onto the court and actually applying it,” Puryear said.

Anderson, who is in his third year coaching the Tigers, has noticed Michael’s immediate impact throughout the program.

“He kind of changed the culture of how we work in the weight room so that it carries over to how we work on the floor,” Anderson said.

Nick Michael participates in the pushups portion of warmups before a practice in October.Nick Kelly

Shaking up practice

Once lifting concludes, a practice that typically lasts about two hours ensues.

Although he spends most of his time with the players during lifting and workouts, Michael is an active participant. He leads the players through stretches, participating in everything from touching his toes to push-ups.

When drills commence, Michael watches and offers pointers. He also keeps an eye out for things Anderson might not see.

While Michael helps with practice, Reist is busy working behind the scenes.

When practice ends in the early evening, Reist and his staff of interns have Gatorade shakes waiting for the athletes. For those trying to maintain or lose weight, a 370-calorie shake awaits them. Weight-gainer shakes are different, though.

Reist adds ingredients like peanut butter, chocolate syrup, bananas and vanilla Greek yogurt, putting the weight-gainer shakes’ calorie count at over 800.

After shakes are distributed, Reist and Michael are done for the day. They typically head home around 6 p.m. and get ready to do it all again the next day.

They don’t mind the typically-long days because of the daily satisfaction they receive when they watch a player such as Smith develop and grow one day at a time.

One Beast Mode at a time, that is.

“When you start to see the change and the development, it’s pretty awesome,” Michael said.

Edited by Peter Baugh |

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