One of the most popular topics in professional baseball today is nutrition. How teams can help athletes keep themselves fueled for optimal performance is quickly becoming a critical issue for many professional organizations. In the Minor Leagues, long travel, smaller budgets and less than optimal fueling options are just a few of the challenges that players face when trying to eat a proper diet. We asked the Texas League Strength and Conditioning Coaches how they work around these issues, and the following is what they said.
Andrew Chappell, MS, CSCS, RSCC (Arkansas Travelers – Los Angeles Angels) – Our philosophy is to treat each meal and snack as a fueling opportunity to enhance both performance and recovery. We stress the importance of every player having a meal strategy each day and using each meal as an opportunity to help make them better. While we stress whole grain carbohydrates, protein, fruits and vegetables throughout the day, we have found that making shakes is a valuable fueling option to help us reach our daily nutrition goals both at home and on the road. The majority of our players will consume a shake at some point in the day. Some consume a shake as a post-workout drink, others will drink them pre-game, and some use them post-game to aid in recovery. Although the shakes can vary, the general recipe remains the same. We start with a water or almond milk base to which players often add vegetables such as spinach, kale or raw broccoli to get the nutrients that they might normally avoid because of a perceived unpleasant taste. Next they add fruit such as strawberries, bananas, blueberries to add some natural sugar and increase the sweetness of the drink. Finally they add up to two scoops of protein powder and/or peanut butter to enhance protein content and flavor. Some players add things such as chia seeds, coconut oil, or almonds to vary the goal of the shake.
Mark Spadavecchia, CSCS, RSCC (Corpus Christi Hooks – Houston Astros) – A major focus concerning clubhouse nutrition is to effectively use our additional nutrition budget to provide healthy clubhouse food options at home. By doing so, we try to limit the number of players who pick up fast food for their first meal, and encourage those, who skip breakfast or don’t eat enough upon waking-up; to eat a proper meal before activity begins. Clubhouse options include several varieties of fruit, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, milk, and whole grain breads and cereals. Another major focus is proper hydration, especially given the high temperatures and humidity levels experienced in most Texas League affiliates. To help replenish the water-related weight lost throughout the day, we provide hydration supplements during practices and games, use our extra nutrition budget to purchase extra fruit for pre-game snacks, and monitor players’ weights throughout the day, especially the heavy sweaters. We also provide recovery supplements for players after resistance training workouts and games.
Eric McMahon, M.Ed., CSCS, RSCC (Frisco Roughriders – Texas Rangers) – Our club has a new, collaborative nutrition program to help bring healthier food options to the clubhouse. We use a shopping list that was created in Spring Training by our strength and conditioning staff and clubhouse managers. When the team is at home, the clubhouse manager is responsible for providing food from the list. On the road, the strength and conditioning coach, athletic trainer, and team video/nutrition assistant work with the visiting clubhouse manager to ensure the quality and nutritional content of the meals being provided. Other than limiting the unhealthy options being served, our focus has been on providing as many high-quality, nutrient-dense foods as possible to ensure that players are consuming a sufficient number of calories on a daily basis to perform at their best. On the first day of each road trip, the team video/nutrition assistant takes an inventory of the visiting clubhouse kitchen area and then goes to a grocery store and uses our supplemental food budget to purchase additional food from an approved list. We supply whole grain breads and tortillas, deli cold cuts, a variety of dairy – protein-fortified chocolate milk, Greek yogurt, and cheese, peanut and almond butter, cereal, oatmeal, healthy dips like hummus, salsa, and guacamole, fresh fruits and vegetables, and a mix of healthy snacks, like beef and turkey jerky, granola bars, and nuts. We travel with a blender to make frozen fruit and protein smoothies after batting practice, and a rice cooker to prepare rice or warm soup as additional pre-game hot food options. Ultimately, we strive to maximize the nutrition component in each of the clubhouses we visit.
AJ Seeliger, MS, CSCS, RSCC, CISSN, NASM-CES (Midland Rockhounds – Oakland Athletics) – We break our nutrition program into 3 levels. The base level is the foundation of the diet emphasizing whole food and nutrient dense options. Meats, eggs, fruits, veggies and nuts compose the majority of the food consumed. We encourage athletes to not be afraid of fats and salt as they are necessary for effective performance, recovery, and hydration. The second level is the timing of the intake of these foods. We try to limit carbohydrate intake early in the day, limit fat intake later in the day and provide protein sources as the main focus of each meal. The third tier is the use of appropriate, quality supplements like whey isolates, fish oils, and creatine. We focus on nutritional education to ensure that our athletes are able to make educated choices and decisions.
Austin Driggers, MA, CSCS, RSCC (Northwest Arkansas Naturals – Kansas City Royals) – My approach to clubhouse nutrition has two target outcomes. The first is to improve performance by maximizing adaptation to and recovery from training. My philosophies are heavily influenced by John Ivy, Ph.D. and his research on nutrient timing1. I adapt and try to explain these principles in ways that each player can understand so that they can effectively use nutrition as a recovery modality. I try to ensure that they can apply these principles by making quality carbohydrate and protein sources immediately available whenever we train, both at home or on the road. The second target outcome is to positively impact the overall health of each player. Good dietary habits support healthy immune system function to help players battle infection and keep them on the field. Education is equally important here, but I have found that action gains more traction. For instance, buying a portable blender and mixing up green shakes after BP has been far more effective than talking about the importance of eating more green leafy vegetables.
- Ivy, John and Portman, Robert, The Future of Sports Nutrition: Nutrient Timing, Basic Health Publications, Inc., Laguna Beach, CA, 2004.
Eric Wood, CSCS, RSCC, USAW (San Antonio Padres – San Diego Padres) – Our nutrition plan is fairly simple. We teach a “food first” approach, and try to educate our players on the best choices that they can make in the situation that they are in. Our primary goal on the road is to encourage players to eat as many nutrient-dense foods as they can. Given the fact that a proper diet is not always available, we provide supplements like Core Greens and protein powder and many of the vitamins, minerals and clean proteins missing from fast foods. Because practical experience suggests that some players will not consume enough calories on the road to fuel the demands of the game, we provide protein bars, whole fruits and vegetables, and as many caloric intake options as we can to help keep our athletes properly fueled. At home the organization provides a catered post-game meal that includes a lean protein, starch, grilled or fresh vegetable and a salad. The home pre-game meal is provided by the clubhouse manager who follows the nutrition guidelines provided by the strength and conditioning coach.
Lance Thomason, CSCS, RSCC (Springfield Cardinals – St. Louis Cardinals) – I place a major emphasis on providing proper nutrition and educational information to help players make wise food choices. Before the season, each player is subjected to a body fat analysis. Based on the results, individual meal suggestions are provided to each player. The foundation of each meal plan is based on the consumption of real food first and then filling in the nutrition gaps with supplementation. A separate budget is used to assist the clubhouse manager provide healthier snack options such as fresh deli cut meats, mixed greens salad, mixed nuts, vegetables, hummus, Greek yogurt, granola, coconut water, etc. both at home and away. Full post-game meals are also occasionally catered in to help replace non-nutritious meals. NSF certified for sport supplements including protein, creatine, BCAA’s, and multivitamins are provided to help supplement food and nutrient intake. Supplements are used primarily post-workout and post-game. Some athletes may take several supplements throughout the day to compensate for lower quality meal options.