WORM IS THE WORD ON TRAINING TABLES

Gatorade is out. Worms are in.

It’s true. As you read this, athletes are pouring milk on their worms.

Or spreading worms on toast.

Bagels and worms? With tomato?

Whatever. It’s just a matter of time before we’re all into the slimy little buggers, after the news this week in sports:

Worms make you run faster.

And I don’t mean the way they make my Aunt Helene run faster. My Aunt Helene, who is one of those people who kisses you and leaves a footprint-sized lipstick smear on your cheek, has never been known to move fast, although she will pick up the pace for a clearance sale.

One day she went outside, saw a worm, went “EEEEEEEEEK!” and bolted halfway to the airport.

So worms have a history with speed. But until this week, we didn’t know you had to eat them.

Now, thanks to a Chinese track and field team, worms soon may be welcome on training tables around the world. Once they’re dead, of course.

“This is what I tell my athletes to drink,” a Chinese coach named Ma Junren announced, holding up a worm-derived potion. “It’s all natural.”

Ah, but there was nothing natural about Ma’s female athletes in a Beijing track meet. One of them shattered the world record in the 10,000 meters by 42 seconds. That’s like breaking Roger Maris’ single-season home run total — in August.

Five of Ma’s runners broke the world record in the 3,000 meters. Two broke the world record in the 1,500 meters.

All were on the worm diet.

I can see it now. The Olympic profile. Little Bobby is fishing with his friends, and as they lower their lines into the water, he yells, “Wait up, you guys! Don’t feed that perfectly good worm to the fish!”

He eats it instead.

And wins the gold in the 100 meters.

This Olympic Moment, brought to you by Ragu.

McWorm Sandwich?

The Chinese insist this is perfectly kosher, so to speak. Coach Ma says the worm potion is “something Chinese people have been drinking for hundreds of years.”

Of course. The Great Worm of China.

Dennis (Worm) Rodman better never visit Beijing. He’d give a whole new meaning to “I’ll eat you alive.”

Ma — and somehow, I can’t imagine saying, “Ma, can I have some worms?” — is only following tradition. Baseball players chew tobacco. Boxers used to eat steak dinners before a fight.

NBA stars suck ginseng during time-outs. Triathletes gulp bananas between the three stages of their sport: swimming, bicycling and fainting.

Still, none of these items is found crawling in the ground or slithering under rocks — although I know a few agents that fit that description.

Worms? They train on worms?

I went to the Lions’ locker room to test the idea.

“Me, I eat honey,” safety Bennie Blades said. “In the pregame meal. Lots of honey. It works.”

How about worms?

“Are you nuts? I can’t even drink tequila knowing there’s a worm in the bottom of the bottle.”

“Do you have a pregame food ritual?” I asked Marc Spindler, the hulking defensive lineman with the dangerous eyes.

“Apple juice and orange juice mixed together.”

“Why apple juice and orange juice?”

“We used to mix orange juice and Sprite, but now we can’t have soda.”

Uh . . . OK . . .

Let me just mosey across the room.

“Pregame meal?” Andre Ware, the quarterback, said. “I’ve been eating the same thing the night before a game since I was in college.”

“What’s that?”

“McChicken Sandwich, fries, Sprite and pie.”

Hmm. Ever tried worms?

“Uyhhhhhh. Disgusting.”

I agree. Then again, some distant Chinese farmer might say the same thing about McNuggets.

Soup du jour?

Of course, man cannot live on worms alone. Neither can woman. Ma’s runners supplement the squirmy part of their diet with a wet part, soups make from soft shell river turtles.

Again, I would not recommend this for football, because, as quarterback Eric Kramer recalls, “One time in college, one of our lineman came back to the huddle and threw up. Right there. In the backfield.”

What did you do?

“I said, ‘No sacks this play, fellas.’ “

So turtles and worms might have a nasty effect on the gridiron. Then again, compared to some of the other substances football players — and track and field stars — have been known to put in their bodies, including steroids, cocaine and human growth hormone, I guess worms don’t seem so bad.

Of course, the worms may have less to do with Ma’s runners’ success than the fact that they train at least 26 miles a day and mostly come from poor villages, where hard work is no stranger.

Says Ma, “I search for athletes who can eat bitterness.”

Among other things.

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