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Dan Garner is the head strength, conditioning, and speed coach + nutrition specialist for BaseballTraining.com. Specializing and delivering consistent world-class results in physique transformation and athletic performance, Dan has worked with many athletes from the youth leagues right up to the MLB, NFL, NHL, MLB, and UFC. He is an international lecturer on sports nutrition and has been featured in several major media outlets.
There isn’t a lot of easily available science-based information right now in the online world for baseball athletes to get their hands on some rock-solid nutrition recommendations.
Typically, the standard old school/vague recommendations get thrown around, such as:
Here’s the thing, there are very clear answers to all of these questions, and I will be providing all of those for you today. And you know what? I really want you to listen because no other day is more important for you to get your mind right then on game day. This is especially true for baseball athletes more so than many other sports.
Baseball players have it rough, you have to be 100% mentally ready before the game starts, whereas other players in different sports might have a bit more flexibility. For example, if I was a left winger in hockey and I wasn’t “in the zone” yet – I could go out on the ice and not feel the greatest, but then on that very same shift, I could get HAMMERED into the boards because my on-ice awareness wasn’t sharp yet. After I got hit, then I would be in the zone and ready for the game. Baseball players don’t have this luxury.
If you come out and your head isn’t screwed on right, you’re getting a strikeout – or, you’re missing a perfectly easy pop fly that you know you should have caught. Either way, you paid the price for you not being ready, and you paid it immediately. Getting an out or missing a ball is much more consequential for the team than a left winger in hockey getting hit. Getting hit is just part of the game, no one will even bat an eye. But, having a terrible strikeout or missing a ball you should have caught is something that will not only disappoint the coach but will disappoint yourself. Double-standard, I know. Still true though.
It’s a tough question to answer, and almost all of it has to do with your mind state.
Ask any experienced player, they’ll tell you performance is largely psychologically based. A line I like to use (which I think I might have stole from someone along the way…but can’t remember from where) with my baseball clients is:
The best baseball players in the world have short-term memory loss.
Have a terrible swing? -->Forget it.
Throw an embarrassing pitch? --> Forget that too.
Playing great today? --> Don’t get cocky, ever.
Short-term memory loss keeps you in the zone and keeps your confidence where it should be to optimize your performance.
No, my nutritional programming isn’t built to destroy your brain and give you short term memory loss. But it is built to maximize both mind and body. A lot of players have a similar size, build, strength, and flexibility. So how do you determine which one is going to be the best on game day? Whoever has their mind right. That’s what determines who is coming to play and who isn’t. The baseball player who is in the zone is the player who isn’t letting any hits past him tonight.
Let me just ask you…Can you remember a time you felt “in the zone”, both in body and mind? Where everything was just clicking, and you were predicting plays from a mile away? I want to recreate that with you. In my opinion, the undisputable most important factor towards allowing your physiology to get you “in the zone” lies within your nutrition.
If you want to perform like an athlete, you have to eat like an athlete.
You can’t expect to play to your potential if you wake up, eat a bowl of cereal, have a salad for lunch, eat some tacos for dinner, and then head off to your game. It’s not going to happen. You may play well, and that might be good enough. But you won’t be playing to your potential. That’s for sure.
There are four main phases that you need to have covered in order to maximize your pre, during and post-game nutrition. The Phases are:
(IMPORTANT NOTE: While we are just covering game day in this article, I do want to mention that following the meal plan guides found over at Baseball Training will play a huge role towards your game day performance. What you eat on a regular day-in and day-out basis is much more important and impactful towards your overall performance. You have to live like an athlete, not just turn it on pre- and post-game. It doesn’t work that way. The recommendations I am going to provide below are there to act as an “optimizer” of performance, but not the foundation of your nutrition.)
During phase 1, your primary fuel needs to come from a solid food source. You need something solid to be in the stomach to balance your blood sugar and food sources that are going to serve to provide your body with the raw materials required for baseball-specific energy throughout the entire game. The last thing you want is to be hungry during a baseball game. That is going to lead to lower blood sugar levels, decreased focus, decreased attention span, decreased energy, and physical weakness. The purpose of this meal is to top off your glycogen stores (the stored form of carbohydrate in the muscle cell) and prime the body so it has readily available glucose to feed energy from during the game. This does some very important things:
A baseball athletes typical pre-game meal should consist of a 1:1, or, 2:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein 1-3hrs before the game.
(The above two examples are recommendations for 175lb athletes. If you are above or below this size, adjust accordingly.)
If you’re a big eater or are eating your meal more like 2-3hrs before a game, opt further towards the 2:1 end of the spectrum. If you’re a light eater or are eating your meal more like 1-2hrs before a game, opt closer towards the 1:1 end of the spectrum.
This meal is also recommended to be low fat in nature. So, we don’t want to add things like oils, avocado, cheese, or choosing fatty meat sources. Fat very effectively slows down digestion, this is the last thing we want before a game. Ever do a workout or play a game and you can feel a lump of food bloating up your gut? Or even worse, you feel nauseous because of the meal? Yeah, you probably had too much dietary fat intake with the meal you ate prior to physical activity. Fat slowing down digestion isn’t always a bad thing of course, but it defeats the purpose of Phase 1 nutrition because it delays the rate of which beneficial nutrients enter the bloodstream and feed the muscles to fuel your performance.
Phase Two serves a couple of different purposes. If for some reason your schedule didn’t allow for a Phase One meal, then 30-45 minutes prior to game time I would suggest you have a liquid form of protein + carbohydrate. Although, in Phase Two I would not recommend utilizing a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein as it’s just simply not enough time before the game to properly digest and assimilate.
But, if you were good and did have the proper Phase One meal and now you’re moving into Phase 2-- I suggest the combination of:
These nutrients heighten alertness, focus, concentration, and will get you “in the zone” MUCH faster. They do not just work through a physical energy component, but they also work to bring the brain up to another level of performance. You could say they allow the brain to fire at a higher RPM, which allows you to read the plays better and be prepared to hit/catch everything that comes your way.
I left out the dosages as when it comes to stimulants / neural stimulants everybody has such a wide range of sensitivity. If I’m not working with you one-on-one it is just a tough call to make since we vary so much from one another in this particular category of nutrition. For example, some people go nuts on 1 cup of coffee, whereas others could go to sleep after it. I recommend always starting at the lowest possible dose, and only working your way up as needed.
Liquid nutrition should always be a component of every baseball athletes game day performance.A combination of either Carbohydrates and Whey Isolate (or) Carbohydrates and free-form amino acids will serve as a far superior option for performance and recovery in comparison to just water.
Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel system for both the muscular and nervous systems. This is important to care about because it is the combination of your nervous system and muscular systems synergistic work that allows baseball players to be explosive. If your nervous system isn’t firing on all cylinders, you won’t be explosive and you won’t have the proper dynamic flexibility you otherwise would have. Dynamic flexibility is completely governed by how well, or how poorly your nervous system is firing.
All extremely important components to what makes the difference in that split second from seeing the pitch released and having the ability to swing the bat in time. A typical intra-game drink for baseball players should consist of anywhere from 20 – 40g of carbohydrates and 8 – 12g of whey protein isolate. If you choose a product without electrolytes already in it, I would highly suggest you add your own electrolytes as this will drive hydration much better, improve muscular contraction speeds, and reduce cramping.
The two biggest goals we are trying to accomplish within the post-workout and/or post-game period for baseball athletes are glycogen replenishment and increased protein synthesis (synthesis simply means to “grow” or “add”. Hence, protein synthesis representing adding protein back to your muscle tissue).
How do we accomplish these goals? And what nutrient do we need to take in?
Well, it ends up looking very similar to our during the game shake, but, with a little bit more protein and carbohydrates to maximally support recovery (and also because we don’t have to worry so much now about something sitting light in the gut since you are not performing anymore).
Starting with protein, what should you have and how much of it should you be having? This varies from athlete to athlete depending on variables such as your age, total muscle mass, total dietary intake, the length of the game, and current hormonal health. But, a great general guideline to follow would be 40-50g of protein post-game for men and 25-35g post-game for women. Or, to be a little more specific, 0.5g x your weight in kilograms. For example, if you weighed 80kg, a good amount of protein for you to take in post-workout would be 40g.
Ideally, this would be in the form of a whey protein isolate as it contains a large amount of the amino acid leucine, which has been linked to maximize this protein synthetic response. Whey protein also metabolizes very rapidly, giving your muscles access to these amino acids at a much quicker pace. Not to mention, it tops the charts of nearly every single scientific protein quality ranking in existence.
Post-game carbohydrate content can vary as well depending on similar variables. Of course, a 2-hour game would yield a greater need for carbohydrates post-game than a 1-hour light workout. Yet, one thing that’s certain is that it is beneficial to have high glycemic index carbohydrates within this time period. Yup, stick with the powders once again in the immediate post-game window. High glycemic index refers to the stuff people typically call “bad carbs.” I’m talking about sugars, white rice, sports drinks, etc. It is very beneficial to have these following a workout because they will metabolize faster (taking advantage of the enhanced glycogen loading window) and also stimulate the anabolic hormone insulin. Additionally, research has shown that high glycemic index carbohydrates result in faster, more effective glycogen storage compared other carbs sources, even when carbohydrate content is controlled for. Put very simply, high glycemic index carbohydrates are the most effective option in this window and what I recommend all baseball athletes utilize on their game days.
Again, I can’t recommend enough that you include your electrolytes in this drink as well for many reasons that go outside the scope of this article today. As far as recommendations go, most standard games require roughly 1g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight. For example, if you weigh 80kg, you will add 80g of carbohydrates in your post-game shake or meal. The combination of whey and carbohydrates utilizing these bodyweight calculations ensures you are customizing the process and maximizing your recovery post-game.
Maximum recovery means you can come back 100% tomorrow for your next game or workout!
I hope this helped shed some light on the large topic that is game day nutrition for baseball players and that you were able to take some points home with you to help improve your game. If there is one thing you can take away from any of this is that you can only perform as well as you fuel yourself to perform.
Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!