Mastering the Perfect Baseball Off-Season, Part 2: Nutrition and Psychology

November 19, 2012 | Josh Heenan

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In Part 1 of Mastering the Perfect Baseball Off-Season, I discussed the physical side of how the ballplayers at Sacred Heart University recover from the long season past and train to be more powerful athletes in the next season. But what happens in the gym is only half the battle, perhaps less than half.

For our players—or any athlete—to make physical gains, they must also have a healthy diet and a strong mindset. So Sacred Heart’s off-season program strives to build both. Although we don’t like to brag, the results have been impressive: our team won back-to-back Northeast Conference Championships in 2011 and 2012, and one of our players used our program to pack on 15 pounds of lean muscle mass while decreasing his body fat.

Here’s how he did it—and how you can do it too.

The ExperimentAthlete Self Photo

On the first day of fall training, I held a group meeting with players and asked them a simple question: how many of you would change your body composition if you could?

Almost every hand in the room went up. Everyone had something he wanted to improve about himself. So with this in mind, I made a deal with them: I would provide each athlete with a custom nutrition plan to help him reach his goal, as long as he proved he was committed to it.

How did a player prove his commitment? By changing his Facebook profile picture to a shirtless photo of himself holding a sign stating his goal and the end date.

The Group

Participation was optional. Of the 31 players on the roster, 15 (seven freshmen, four sophomores, three juniors and one senior) chose to commit publicly. The remaining 16 (four freshmen, five sophomores, five juniors and two seniors) were deemed the control group.

The Results

The control group had a good off-season. On average, they gained three and a half pounds of lean muscle. One player gained 10 pounds while losing 9 pounds of fat.

Those gains, however, were nothing compared to what the guys in the experimental group experienced. Those 15 players packed on an average of nine and a half pounds of lean body mass, the most dramatic change coming from a player who added 15 pounds of muscle while dropping two pounds of fat.

Control Group Public Goal Group
Pull-Ups Change

3

5

Squat Change 36 lbs 51 lbs
LBM Change 2 lbs 9.5 lbs
Fat Mass Change

-2

0

Vert Change .5 inches

1 inch

Many people will believe these were beginner gains. When pooling all athletes and separating freshmen, here were the outcomes:

Freshmen Upperclassmen
Pull-Ups Change

+4.6

+3.5

Squat Change +67 lbs +38 lbs
LBM Change +4.6 lbs +5 lbs
Fat Mass Change -1.8 lbs -0.8
Vert Change +.6 inches +0.5 inches

Conclusion

Obviously, this wasn’t a perfect scientific study, and we didn’t control every variable. But the fact remains that the players who made their goal public outperformed those who didn’t.

Why? An economist would tell you that by publicly stating their goals, the athletes adopted a strategy called pre-commitment, where a party in conflict (like an athlete working against his current body composition) strengthens his position by limiting his own options. By creating an environment in which players were held accountable to their online community and teammates, they were more likely to be driven to succeed.

So, next time you want to push yourself out of your comfort zone, make your goal specific and public. Set a definitive deadline, tell the world, and then get after it!

Take the Challenge

Below is the exact nutritional sheet I used with my Sacred Heart players. (The example weight is 185 pounds.) You can see that for each meal, there’s a breakdown of how much of each specific nutrient you need. Track your food intake, and see if you can mimic the plan. After a few days of tracking, it should become natural. Remember to go after your training sessions with everything you have, and hold yourself accountable for the goals you set—ideally through your social media accounts. Learn more about building an off-season meal plan by checking out tips and recipes in STACK's Nutrition Guide.

Josh Heenan
- Josh Heenan a Doctor of Integrated Medicine and a Strength and Conditioning Coach to hundreds of athletes, primarily baseball players. For five seasons, he served...
Josh Heenan
- Josh Heenan a Doctor of Integrated Medicine and a Strength and Conditioning Coach to hundreds of athletes, primarily baseball players. For five seasons, he served...
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