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Out of the whey: Change in diet fuels Arizona quarterback Nick Foles

Nick Foles, seen here in spring, should show more athleticism this season. Photo by David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic

Arizona Wildcats coach Mike Stoops says, perhaps exaggerating only slightly, that if his offense has to pass 60 times a game, it will.

For sure, quarterback Nick Foles is going to need a lot of energy.

And he has more of it than ever before.

One of the changes in Foles this season is that while he is still around 245 pounds, he is noticeably leaner, the result of dietary changes that came after he was tested for food allergies. He read about the subject and decided to get tested.

The discovery: He had to say adios to three staples of his diet: whey protein (which he would take after workouts), milk and eggs. Oh, is that all?

His body’s reaction to those foods causes slight swelling and general sluggishness.

“My biggest allergy was whey protein,” he said. “It wasn’t doing anything for me, and it was actually making me have a food-allergy reaction.

“I had drank whey protein shakes my whole life, and when I got off them and started taking different supplements and proteins, I noticed a huge difference in the weight room and my body fat going down. My muscles were recovering better and my strength was going up. Just everything.”

Foles said his body fat, measured at the beginning of summer, was about 8 or 9 percent. He hadn’t been tested a year earlier, but he said he figures that is about a drop of 3 to 5 percent.

The upshot is that Foles — who now won’t be loading up on foods that are bad for him before games — will have more confidence on the field. He’s been known more for his arm and his accuracy than his overall athleticism, which is somewhat strange considering he was a basketball player of some renown at Westlake High in Austin, Texas.

“On the basketball court, I have always been able to run with anybody, jump high, slam dunk and do all those things,” he said.

“To put my basketball abilities on the football field, that’s something I’m continuing to do. I’m starting to feel more comfortable moving around, making plays with my feet. I love throwing on the run, just being more of an athlete out there.”

So, he’ll skip the cheese enchiladas or similar things at the team’s training table, focusing on beef or chicken and finding substitutes for his protein shakes. And he’s OK with a little cheating now and then.

“It’s definitely a challenge, though, when you have three basic things — whey, milk and eggs — that are in a lot of things,” he said.

“Sometimes, people don’t like to test because they don’t want to know what they’re allergic to and to know that they’re not going to be able to eat something they love. That happened to me, but it’s worth the sacrifice.

“Anytime you can get better in any aspect of the game, that’s exciting to me.”

Foles’ transformation through nutrition is such that quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo commented, “It has just allowed his body to blossom.”

And Scelfo was impressed enough to follow his quarterback’s lead.

Scelfo had his son Anthony — who is an outfielder for the Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs — tested for food allergies. Turns out, Anthony is allergic to — of all things for a baseball player — sunflower seeds.

“He says he feels so much better now,” Frank Scelfo said.

Foles is feeling pretty good, too. His investment into his senior season is complete, from his dietary changes to how he firmly established himself as the team leader in the summer, organizing informal team workouts and rallying his teammates around their “All in” motto.

“It’s almost like he’s our coach,” said freshman quarterback Daxx Garman.

Foles completed 286 of 426 passes for 3,191 yards, with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, last season. He led late game-winning touchdown drives vs. Iowa and Cal. He also led late scoring drives against Oregon State and USC, but the Cats fell just short both times. Foles did it again against ASU, but a blocked PAT with 27 seconds remaining denied Foles the credit for another game-winning march.

Now, he feels better than ever, has almost certainly the best receiving corps in school history at his disposal, and is playing in an offense that will rely on his right arm.

Assuming he stays healthy behind an all-new offensive line, this is the Season of Foles.

“He wants this,” Scelfo said.

“This season is very important to him, for the University of Arizona, for what he leaves behind. He is not going to be judged by yards or anything like that. It’s going to be wins and losses.”

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