Tar Heels' forward John Henson works to bulk up

Published Jul. 13, 2010 7:49 p.m. EDT

John Henson is battling his weight.

The lean 6-foot-10 North Carolina forward is desperately trying to bulk up. As one of only two returning Tar Heel big men, he'll need to be able to throw his weight around next season - instead of being thrown around like he was at times last year.

So, Henson tries to eat six to seven meals a day and spends four days a week in the weight room with team strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian.

It's working. Henson is up to about 210 pounds after arriving at Chapel Hill weighing 183. But it's a fight every step of the way.


''He's been the one guy I've probably sat up the most at night, pulling my hair out and probably giving me more gray hair, going, 'OK, What do I have to do with him?''' Sahratian said. ''Because, he is, he's kind of like a wet noodle. ... He's got the most minuscule joints you've ever seen. His waist is like a wasp's waist. Most girls would kill for it.

''It's getting better. It's been a rough road. He's been probably the most difficult guy I've ever had to train.''

Henson spent his freshman year getting tossed around by bigger players in the paint - sometimes knocked to the floor, other times merely knocked off balance enough to miss a shot. He averaged 5.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in about 16 minutes a game, though he improved late in the season as the Tar Heels salvaged some pride in an otherwise miserable season with a run to the NIT championship game.

He feels stronger now, at least, as he plays pickup games with alumni or in a summer league circuit in nearby Durham with incoming freshmen Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock.

''It's just my body control,'' he said. ''Certain hits I take, I probably wouldn't have been able to take last year or a few months ago. It's just overall confidence. When you're stronger, you're more confident.''

The flip side, however, is that Henson is burning calories faster these days by playing more basketball games and is struggling to maintain the weight gain.

His breakfast Tuesday morning consisted of six eggs with cheese and grilled chicken. Then over the past month, he would typically hit Subway after going to summer school classes, then stop by Chipotle for a burrito after study hall. From there, he'd come to workout with Sahratian for around two hours before downing a protein shake and chasing that with a big dinner a short time later.

When friends made runs to fast-food restaurants, Henson ordered several burgers or grilled chicken sandwiches, but shied away from french fries, chips or other fried items. At other times, he's downing pizza or spaghetti and meatballs. His father even recently bought him a George Foreman grill for him to cook steaks to meet Sahratian's instructions to eat plenty of protein.

The rule is simple and almost enviable: Eat whenever he feels even a touch of hunger.

''The nutrition coach told me to eat anything that swims, runs, jumps or flies,'' Henson said. ''And that's what I've been doing.''

Sahratian went as far as to have Henson send him pictures through cell phone of every meal he ate for much of last season to make sure he was eating enough of the right foods.

''You can't sculpt a pebble,'' Sahratian said. ''When you really want to put size on, you've got to pound the food.''

As for the weight lifting, well, Henson admits he's enjoying seeing the results more than the work itself. The player teammates have nicknamed ''Sticks'' and ''Slim'' believes he can get up to around 215 pounds or maybe even 220 by the start of preseason.

The trick will be staying there, of course.

''It's not fun being the weakest guy or the guy that's always picked on, the guy that you've always got to pay attention to (in the weight room),'' Henson said. ''When those guys over there are throwing up 250 (pounds) and you're throwing up 150. But as I've gained weight and gotten stronger, it's something that I've liked. When you see the progress, you start to like stuff like that.''