Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS, PBSCCS Advisory Board Member, Colorado Springs CO
Dave Ellis is an accomplished Sports Dietitian and President of Sports Alliance, which provides consulting services to athletics and the food industry. Dave has earned a reputation as a pioneer and leader in the field of applied sports nutrition and is celebrating his 25th year of practice athletics in 2006. As the Director of Performance Nutrition support services at the collegiate level (20 years combined – Nebraska and Wisconsin Universities), Ellis orchestrated the most highly evolved performance nutrition and body composition support service models in the country. Dave also Chairs the Nutrition, Metabolism & Body Composition Special Interest Group of the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) and is an advisor to the Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning Coaches Society (PBSCCS) Advisory Board, USADA and the Taylor Hooton Foundation.
For those who are ill prepared for the workload that comes with spring training you can add the smell of analgesic rub to the list of aromas in the air around camp. Inevitably many baseball athletes are going to wait until the last minute to start working out for spring training which results in all the problems you would expect when you do too much too quickly! Unfortunately for some the insult of all this work on an ill prepared body can result in injury that can compromise their ability to compete at their peak for the better part of the first half of the season. You can bet that you will only get one of those passes in your career at the collegiate or professional level before they find someone that is not a chronic injury problem. For some the problem is even more severe as we have seen massive muscle injury called ramdomyolysis that can result in kidney failure and sadly, even death with dehydration and heat injury. So here are some fundamentals that you need to keep in mind as you dial up your training just before and during spring training:
1) A poorly fueled muscle is a bad shock absorber! Every time you sprint to field a ball and put on the brakes when you get a glove on the ball you are generating a great deal of what we call eccentric force in the muscle and this is where most of the damage occurs in sport. When that muscle lengthens in a rapid fashion the muscle and joints are trying to amend all the forces generated during acceleration and if you are not ready for these rapid eccentric loads you can bet this is where you will injury yourself, especially late in the day after dozens of similar reps. The odds of injury go up in a very big way when that muscle is improperly fueled!
2) A dehydrated muscle is an acidic muscle that is stiff and won’t relax like it should between reps on the field. So you had better make sure you are drinking fluids before you arrive at the ballpark. Think of it as hyper hydrating to help ensure that you don’t fall behind before the daily reps on the field start. By weighing yourself at the start and end of each practice (in the buff) you can determine how good a job you have done staying hydrated during practice. This is important because most of us just don’t have the drive to drink at the same pace we are sweating, especially when the weather is hot and humid. A combination of water and sports drinks is a good idea, as the salt in the sports drinks will help stimulate your drive to keep drinking during practice, which is a good thing.
3) A muscle with poor antioxidant status is also an acidic muscle. Antioxidants like vitamin c, e, pigments called carotenoids and even healthy fats like we find in nuts and seeds will help a hard working muscle cope with all the free radicals and inflammation that comes with lots eccentric reps in the heat. If you are an athlete who does not value fresh produce at the most sophisticated delivery system for antioxidants then you can expect to experience some muscle stiffness as the rest interval decreases between reps and you might also find that after a week or so you get sick. These antioxidants are critical in helping your immune system avoid suppression that is typical of athlete training at high volume and intensity, day after day.
4) Most certainly a muscle that is carb fatigued is a poor shock absorber during eccentric loads. Spring training is not a time to go on a low carb diet! All those explosive reps in the batters box and out on the field will take there toll on your carb stores which we call glycogen stores. If you come up short on your carb intake at meals during spring training you will gradually lose a step late in practice and you can bet your coach is going to spot you inability to compete until the final rep is taken daily. During spring training get about half the food on your plate from healthy starches like pasta, rice, potatoes, whole wheat bread and you even have room for simple sugars from sports drinks and an occasional dessert. Any attempts to cut carb calories during camp while taking all these reps can leave you injured and in the training room. This is not the kind of image you want your coaches to have of you vs. out on the field competing.
5) Protein is also going to be key at each meal during camp to aid in the recovery process that occurs daily from all that eccentric loading. One source of protein does not cover all your protein requirements for muscle soreness. You need to diversity your protein intake between animal, dairy and vegetable protein sources to speed the rate that damaged muscle is remodeled. One amino acid that is key in the recovery process is leucine and we find lots of leucine in milk and bean protein so don’t just bank on a chicken breast to meet your protein requirements and realize that we need to feed that beat up muscle about every four hours during spring training! Fresh produce, carbs and protein are all key to build into each meal or snack every four hours to make sure that muscle can take on the reps without the slowed relaxation that leads to injury during eccentric loads.
6) Lastly plan on cooling those wheels and throwing shoulder down after each practice with ice bags or better yet an ice bath. We are only talking about 10 minutes of exposure in an ice bath and maybe 25 minutes for ice bags on joints. If you watch the veterans they are religious about taking the time to ice down after a long days work. What you are doing is blunting some of the inflammation and swelling that comes from all those eccentric reps and it even helps lower acidity in the fatigued muscle, which is all-good. If you take the time you will have some spring in the step the next day where others are dragging tail that comes from compromised recovery. A hot soak for 25 minutes before bed is fine when not injured to facilitate some additional release of growth hormone that typically will pulse during certain phases of our non-REM sleep. And on morning where you have a break we do 15 minute hot and 5 minute cold contrast baths along with light activity and stretching to flush sore muscles of the metabolites that leave muscles sore and stiff.
7) Lastly you want to bank all the sleep possible during spring training as that growth hormone that pulses every time we hit our non-REM phases of sleep is critical for recovery from eccentric loads on the field. Anything that leaves you amped up late at night has to go! Video games before bed, card games, caffeine, foods loaded with caffeine like chocolate are all things to avoid in the hours leading up to lights out. Shoot for 9-10 hours of rest nightly during spring training so for many this means lights out by 9 PM, like us old folks! Don’t bank on the night before a big spring scrimmage to make up for days of inadequate rest. Often the anxiety of the pending competition will compromise rest the night before a big scrimmage. Thus two bad night of rest in a row will leave you with hang over like symptoms when it comes to reaction time at the plate. And it goes without saying that alcohol is something that simply needs to be avoided during spring training. The combination of alcohol and caffeine will set the stage for dehydration and heat illness and possibly even worse outcomes if a supplement like ephedrine is put into the mix. This is not time to experiment with any new supplement that has not been evaluated by your trainer, strength coach or sports dietitian.