Everyone thinks Georges Niang’s motivation to transform his body was sparked by a social media remark that read, “you have bigger boobs than my girlfriend.”
Georges Niang begs to differ.
"I feel like that was taken way out of context, and [the media] twisted it and made it seem like that was the only reason why I decided to lose all that weight,” Niang said. "I decided to lose weight just to feel and look better and help my overall game by being in better shape."
Looking at Niang last year, no one would have thought he was a Division I athlete. But he led the Cyclones to the Sweet Sixteen before he broke his foot in a playoff game against North Carolina.
This year, Niang has returned to the court with a significant weight loss that has made him sleeker and faster. He even looks like an athlete.
"You see change, and you become obsessed," Niang said. “People say I walk around with my shirt off all the time, and I do, and that’s just something I feel like I’ve earned the right to do because when I was fat, I wasn't walking around with my shirt off -- I couldn't."
But chiseling a body “worth the weight” for a 6-foot-7-inch basketball star isn’t the easiest of tasks.
“The typical basketball player is usually taller -- around 6-7, 6-8, 6-9 -- and a couple hundred pounds with a small amount of body fat [8-12 percent],” said Andrew Moser, director of strength and conditioning for Olympic sports who worked with Niang during his recovery. “[George’s body fat] was in the upper teens and leaned to the higher end of the body fat spectrum.”
The goal was set to help Niang achieve a typical basketball player physique. With that in mind, the star went from 256 pounds last season to 230 pounds and decreased his body fat percentage to just under 11 percent.
"With his new slimmed-down physique, he will be even more versatile,” head coach Fred Hoiberg said, adding that Niang will be more useful around the perimeter and able to play "bigger lineups.”
"This is something he took pride in doing,” said Naz Long, Niang’s roommate. "His game is a lot smoother now, and he gets to the basket quicker.”
Niang arrived at Iowa State weighing 250 pounds his freshman year and fluctuated between 248 and 255 during his sophomore year. After the injury last year, he put on unwanted weight because of bad eating habits.
"When I broke my foot I felt like my body started breaking down all together and couldn't handle the weight," he said.
Controlling his portion intake and macronutrient levels became key.
"My biggest thing was portion control," Niang said. "What I did was take in enough carbs to get me through the day. Sometimes I would have a power bar or balance bar before practice to keep me going.”
By increasing protein intake, restricting certain carbs, cutting out unnecessary condiments, Niang converted his eating habits into a lifestyle rather than a temporary quick-fix solution.
Complex carbohydrates are typically consumed for long-lasting energy and are important when it comes to athletes replenishing glycogen stores after intense workouts. But for Niang's body type, the overconsumption of any type of carb can cause immediate fat storage. However, he does seek simple carbs from his favorite fruits, which are watermelon and strawberries.
Although he had to work for his athletic physique, his new diet helped sustain fat loss and maintain lean muscle.
A pound of fat is 3,500 calories and a calorie is a form of energy. Therefore, the calories an individual consumes is fueling their everyday metabolism. But if excess energy is not being used or an individual genetically stores fat easily, it can be hard to have an extremely chiseled physique.
During the off-season, Moser increased the intensity and volume of Niang’s workouts and designed them for both recovery and improvement.
"I feel like I can jump a lot higher than last year,” Niang said. “Last year dunking was a struggle, and my overall foot speed has gotten better.
"One thing I really figured out is you don't have to work out long to see change,” he said. “People say, ‘Oh I gotta go for two hours or burn 1,000 calories,’ [but] if you really push yourself through and up your intensity, I feel like you will see changes quicker than you think."
Niang participated in a lot of High Intensity Interval Training on campus and over the summer to get ready for this season and ultimately, the rest of his life.
At the beginning of every workout he asked Moser to make sure to push him through and past failure, taking as few minimal breaks as possible.
During the week he would alternate between upper body and lower body days for lifting and incorporate conditioning into every workout, whether it be less rest time between sets or interval training through sprints on the treadmill at an incline.
“I’m going to try to get down to 10 percent [body fat] before the season to give myself cushion room before I fly on the fat scale," Niang said, laughing on how hard it can be to keep up healthy habits during the season.
Despite sweet indulgences every once in a while, Niang has found a new balance with his diet and hard work that provides a healthy happiness.
To Niang, losing weight was so much more than just a number on a scale and a selfie posted on Instagram that buzzed around social media.
It’s an exclamation to the world of college basketball: “I am here to be the best basketball player and human I can be.”