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Major league baseball players have the longest season in professional sports. Technically you could call them "the boys of spring, summer and fall." (See The Top 9 Baseball Exercises MLB Players Actually Do.)
This makes the game-day nutrition emphasis of MLB players as unique as their season. Most players begin around 11 am and finish around 1 or 2 am. With so many daily physical demands and little time for recovery, players require premium nutrition. We eat to fuel home plate.
However, the pros aren't the only baseball athletes dealing with a long season. Although they experience nothing as extreme as a 162-game regular season, high school and travel teams are familiar with long seasons as well.
Prepare yourself for your baseball season by modeling your diet after the plan I implement with the Texas Rangers.
Texas Rangers Game Day Eating Schedule
Morning: Before Players Report for Games
Typically in-season baseball game days start at the ballpark around 1:30 pm. However many players get up early for cardio or conditioning. Before morning training, players have a small bar or shake to fuel their activity and then have breakfast after.
Players aim to consume the largest majority of their calories at breakfast. This is because after breakfast, they spend most of their day on the field. Our "breakfast" is usually in the 10 am to 12 pm range, after which players report for stretching, hitting, base running, and skill practice. (See how Joba Chamberlain Starts His Morning Right.)
We provide the players with the following options:
- Made-to-order omelet bar
- Waffle station
- Yogurt parfaits
- Fresh fruit and avocados
- Breakfast potatoes
- Specialty item like pancakes or breakfast bread
You might have a buffet in the clubhouse before your game, but it's still important to get up and eat a solid breakfast. When athletes don't eat breakfast and wait to eat until they get to the ballpark, they tire out during the game because they simply have not put enough nutrition in their bodies.
Look to consume whole grain carbohydrates, lean protein, some healthy fat and lots of fluids. Options I would suggest are:
- Whole-wheat bagel with peanut butter
- Egg white omelet with veggies, a bottle of water and a 16-ounce glass of low-fat milk
- Large protein shake with whey protein powder, milk, fruit and/or peanut butter
Pre-Game Skills Practice
Since the players are outside for three to four hours, they keep nutrient-rich snacks in their bags so they have something to fuel them outside. The snack needs to have substance and withstand the sun.
A few foods are great for this:
- Peanut butter crackers
- Trail mix
- Peanut butter stuffed pretzels
Of all these options, I believe a sports bar is the best and most common. To a sports dietitian working in baseball, a bar should have a few things to give players energy: carbohydrate, protein and some fat so that is sticks with them, providing them with long-lasting energy. And it needs to not melt and not have a coating.
The KIND Plus Protein bars are a great choice, because they are a whole food product. With a variety of whole nuts providing protein and healthy fat, and with fiber and honey providing carbohydrate without lots of added sugar, KIND Plus Protein bars are a great field practice or dugout choice.
During the season, every day is game day, so "lunch" is served from 1:30 to 3:30 pm. Since afterwards, the players will report for batting practice, we provide:
- Hot foods like fish tacos or burritos with fresh vegetables, lean meat, black beans, rice, avocado and corn
- Lean burgers and turkey burgers
- Fruit and salad options
All of these are easily available for high school or travel league players. Just don't eat too heavy.
After batting practice, around 5 pm, it is time to eat again. This meal always has:
- Pasta with a lean protein
- One or two protein sources
- A whole carbohydrate source
- Salad and soup
Post-BP made-to-order shakes are available. Shakes are a great way to provide a player with calories and fluids to cool them off—and players love them. Many players lose weight over a long season, so shakes are a great way to get in nutritious calories without much effort.
Again not eating too heavy is key, as well as making sure your meal has plenty of carbohydrate and a lean protein.
During a Game
Healthy snacks are needed in the dugout to maintain energy levels throughout long games. Games typically last around three hours, but can go four-plus hours. Athletes need nutrition to give them energy—sustained energy through carbs, protein and fat so that their blood sugars do not spike. Nutritional bars like KIND Plus Protein provide healthy fat and protein to help stabilize blood sugar levels. They also provide 60 mg of sodium and 170 mg of potassium, which can aid in providing electrolytes.
Post-game, a full meal is provided with:
- Two to three lean proteins
- One to two carbohydrates
Players need to eat up and drink a good amount of fluid, both water and sports drinks, to rehydrate, especially in the summer months.
Hydration is critical in the hot summer months, and all players recognize that it is essential. But even before the heat wave, baseball players must pay attention to their hydration levels. Days of lifting, training, practicing and playing get long, and proper nutrition requires hydration to keep performing well. Consuming water and sports drinks helps replace electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, lost in sweat.
Players should assess the color of their urine for an easy hydration check:
- Pale yellow to clear is hydrated
- Anything darker means they need to drink
Most athletes who work out consistently should aim for five to 10 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes. Staying hydrated is key to performing well. We know that as little as a 2% level of dehydration causes a 10% decrease in performance.