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  1. Food

Trump gave Big Macs to Clemson, but do college athletes actually eat that stuff?

Some say the government shutdown drove him to it. Others that it's just what President Trump likes. How wrong-headed was it to feed the Clemson Tigers a banquet of takeout fast food?

Picture it. You go to a party, and there are golden candelabras fitted with dozens of tall flickering tapers, tuxedoed waiters and silver platters …. filled with Wendy's, Burger King and McDonald's sandwiches. You'd think it was ironic, right? Like a high-low winky extravaganza?

President Trump did just that, serving the national champion Clemson Tigers fast food during their White House visit on Monday, and it broke the internet. Twitter had a field day:

Ordering fast food for dinner is a classic parent move for when everything in the house is going to hell.

You know who else gets fast food after winning a championship? A Little League team.

Some attributed the choice to the shutdown. The White House has five full-time chefs, but they are among the 800,000 federal workers on mandatory leave or working without pay. President Trump tweeted that he paid for the "over 1,000 hamberders" — a typo that has also since gone viral — himself. And someone expended effort: French fries were repackaged in cups with the presidential seal, McNugget sauces heaped in silver presidential gravy boats.

While plenty of people defended the choice, athletes like former NFL running back and college star Reggie Bush tweeted that it was a "huge slap in the face." Clemson's star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, on the other hand, said "it was awesome."

We know Trump enjoys fast food, but can we, for a moment, think about how out-of-touch it is to serve student athletes junk food? Over recent years I've had many opportunities to talk to college athletes about what and how they eat. It is not fast food.

The food service options on college campuses for athletes are frequently entirely different than those for regular folk. Figg Performance Table at Florida State University has a teriyaki chicken stir fry station and black bean burgers, all menu items offered with a nutritional calculator and handy icons for dietary restrictions. Their nutrition staff provides team education presentations to all 21 teams, covering topics such as hydration, proper meal timing, recovery tactics and food choices. They even do meal planning for on-the road competitions. As with older athletes, elite college athletes calibrate, tinker, think of food as fuel, trying to maximize performance and weight.

Fine, football players may also hoover up guilty-pleasure fast food from time to time, but shouldn't a visit to the White House be an opportunity to eat something that represents the best of what American food is these days? Washington, D.C. has remarkable restaurants that cater, and Trump himself has hotel chefs nearby that might have been called upon.

Last semester, I mentored University of South Florida student Cassidy Kallenborn, a senior on the soccer team. She was a foodie, interested in local restaurants, an avid cook who did meal prep for health-conscious athlete buddies to make a little extra money. Her goal? To someday operate a healthy and sustainable food company.

But maybe she was an outlier. I talked to Nico Sawtelle, who will be a senior linebacker at USF next year.

What's an average breakfast?

"We eat at Champion's Choice," he said, a USF food service option with exhibition-style stations called Green & Fresh Zone, Grille Fifty Six, Gold Energy Zone and the Comfort Zone.

"I'd have a three- or four-egg omelet with onions and peppers, start my day with some protein, then go lift."

Lunch, he cooks for himself, often in a CrockPot because he's busy — lots of chicken and rice and pasta. With a resting weight of 228 right now, he's got to gain a little before the fall. Dinner might be a couple of cheeseburgers and fries.

Ah ha. So maybe Trump wasn't so far off. Sawtelle wasn't in a position to talk politics. However:

"I'll get a burger at Five Guys or Burger Fi. I don't do drive-through too often, maybe Chick-fil-A because chicken is a little better for you. Freshman year we all got nutritional counseling on how to eat better, what to eat and what not to eat. Eating right will help me get the weight I want. Otherwise I won't perform well."

That's a different interpretation of a happy meal altogether.

Contact Laura Reiley at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.

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