Robert Williams can tell his body has changed.
Even if he couldn’t, he’d know he looks a little different.
“Everybody compliments me on [my leaner physique],’’ Williams said. “The work I’m doing is actually paying off.’’
After a rookie season full of takeout orders, Williams is cleaning up his food intake in hopes the changes will benefit him on the court. The 22-year-old Celtics center spent part of the offseason in search of a personal chef, and although the hire has yet to become official, he’s leaning toward employing that of former teammate Terry Rozier.
“He knows what I like, so I feel I can roll with him,’’ Williams said. “I just call him ‘Money Man.’ He don’t miss a meal, you know? It’s ‘Money Man.’ ’’
On his own, Williams has begun modifying his diet. He still likes to swing by Chipotle after practice, but he’s stopped the late-night visits to his favorite local joint, Mainely Burgers. He’s also cut out soda, candy, and pizza. He’s even tried to ax his all-time favorite snack: Hot Cheetos.
“I did have Hot Cheetos, though, two nights ago,’’ Williams admitted. “[I’m keeping] it real.’’
While he eagerly awaits the start date of “Money Man,’’ Williams has taken advantage of the resources at the Auerbach Center, the Celtics’ practice facility. “The free meal is the best meal,’’ he said with a smile.
Like coach Brad Stevens and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ chef and registered dietician, Nick Arcuri, noticed how Williams frequented the facility during the offseason. Not only was Williams around more, he also started arriving earlier so he could stop by the kitchen for a meal from Arcuri.
Arcuri emphasizes the process has been ongoing and gradual, with the pair collaborating to create an energizing fuel plan. There are no strict calorie or macronutrient requirements. Instead, Arcuri produces well-rounded meals and helps educate Williams on nutritional concepts such as properly timing and portioning his intake.
“We’re just trying to feed the beast that is Rob Williams,’’ Arcuri said. “To be effective, it’s not about reinventing the wheel or reinventing what he’s doing every day. It’s taking what he’s doing and slowly but surely replacing some of the bad habits with good ones.’’
For breakfast, Williams likes to request four or five scrambled eggs with cheese and spinach, bacon, and a waffle. If Williams is running short on time, Arcuri will whip up a protein shake, such as the Green Man, which is loaded with avocado, kale, apple, pineapple, and mango. Those ingredients are all relatively new to Williams, who grew up a picky eater.
“I’m not a big fruit guy,’’ he said. “I don’t eat a lot of fruit. I only eat grapes and apples. I don’t really eat bananas. I’ve been trying mangos and peaches, trying to venture out. It’s iffy, but I’m kind of getting on the train — the fruit train. I’ll eat a fruit salad before I eat a lettuce salad.’’
As Williams starts to break out of his old ways, Arcuri tries to be creative in how he integrates fruits and vegetables into dishes. His butternut squash macaroni and cheese has been a winner.
“We tuck in something that may not be that attractive or familiar into something that’s very attractive and very familiar,’’ Arcuri said. “Yes, it’s mac and cheese; yes, there’s dairy; and yes, there’s cheese; but there’s also a whole serving of vegetables in every cup he puts on his plate.’’
At a little more than 240 pounds, the 6-foot-8-inch Williams said he’s comfortable at his current weight but noted he’s “still got a lot of fat [he’s] trying to muscle up.’’
“It’s hard, but it’s something you’ve got to do,’’ he added. “It’s really just about getting a good meal that you like to eat every day. That’s why I like the chef that [Rozier] has and the chefs up here because they work with me. They know I’m not going to sit here and eat a big-ass salad.’’
Now that the season is under way, Williams has noticed an upgrade in his conditioning. “It’s helped my wind a lot,’’ he said. “It’s helped my agility [and] my ability to turn angles pretty fast.’’
Williams remembers how exhausted he would be coming back to the bench during games last season. Assistant coach Jerome Allen said he and Williams have spoken about how being in shape as a big man can help him fight through fatigue and perform more consistently.
“If you’re not in shape, you can’t run the floor,’’ said Allen. “You can’t help defend ball screens. You can’t give multiple efforts on the offensive glass. You can’t contest shots with the right anticipation. I just think being in better shape has helped him put himself in position to do what’s asked of him.’’
The hope is the changes in diet are the start of Williams showing more initiative. The other day in the kitchen, for example, Allen overheard Williams going over defensive clips on his iPad with video coordinator Matt Reynolds. “It makes me smile,’’ Allen said. “It’s all connected.’’
Williams, too, views his slimmer physique as just the beginning.
“If you bring it every day, if you’re accountable and you’re reliable, that’s where the respect comes in,’’ he said. “That’s what I’m grinding for. Just that I belong.’’