There's not a lot of solid research-based information on how baseball players should properly fuel themselves to be their best, and how they can use nutrition to drop body fat.
Genetics play a role in how people look. But nutrition directly impacts your ability to put on muscle mass, drop body fat, regulate your hormone levels (such as testosterone and other anabolic hormones), enhance your immune system function, build your energy for games/workouts, tune your capacity to recover quicker and improve the quality of your sleep—along with pretty much everything else you can think of regarding the connection between baseball players and their performance.
It's easy to get caught up in the training because training is the fun part.
Going to practice, hitting, getting a pump at the gym, breaking a new personal record in your favorite lift—these are all important for baseball performance, but they're also relatively easy to understand and sustain. Most people know that training for baseball leads to better baseball performance.
That's easy to conceptualize on a surface level, but the nutritional aspect of things is not as easy to understand. Most people buy a few supplements, try to get additional protein and drink more water every day.
That kind of half-assed effort leads to half-assed results.
Imagine putting as much thought and energy into your nutrition as you do your training. Sets, reps, weight and rest periods become calories, protein, carbohydrates and fat.
Where you place the exercises in your workout is based on a set of principles and guided by sports science to optimize your strength and muscle mass. Similarly, where you place your protein and carbohydrates (and in what quantity) has an impact on your energy for training, how fast you recover and how fast you get results from your hard work.
To get a full return on your investment in training, and if you're serious about improving your physique and performance, you need both.
Ever heard the old saying "You can't outrun a bad diet?"
It's true. And it's the number one reason why people work out for years without seeing the results they want to see. They may train 3-6 days a week, but they stay skinny, or stay overweight, or stay average.
Because they are focusing so much on training and completely screwing up their diet.
There's always a difference between good and optimal. When I say optimal, I mean that I want you to get leaner, but not at the expense of your recovery or performance. I think that's what roadblocks most people: They begin their diet and feel so awful that they eventually go back to eating how they did before. But when you set things up right, you can continue to recover and perform the way you should.
Where to start?
In 4-plus decades of research, calories are the undisputed top bodyweight regulator. Plenty of theories, hypotheses and pseudo-intelligent opposition have come and gone throughout the years, but in the end, legitimate research always wins.
In nutritional circles, when people discuss calories regulating body weight, they use the term "energy balance," referring to energy (calories) going in and out of the body.
Calories in represent the consumption of food and drink, combined with how efficiently the body breaks down and absorbs nutrients. Remember, it's not just what you eat, it's what you absorb.
Calories out represent the calories you burn every day to sustain life (metabolism, organ function, etc.) as well as the additional calories you burn through physical energy expenditure (workouts, baseball practice, etc.).
Therefore, the balance between your calories in and calories out determines how much you weigh. There are only three possible states one can be in with respect to the energy balance equation:
- Hypocaloric. This is when your calories in are LESS than your calories out. You expend more energy than you take in per day, resulting in weight loss. This is typically characterized by somebody who is in a fat-loss phase.
- Maintenance. This is when your calories in are EQUAL TO your calories out, resulting in no weight change. This is typically characterized by someone who is happy with his or her weight or a person who has "plateaued" with their weight gain or loss goals and is simply hanging out at maintenance unintentionally.
- Hypercaloric. This is when your calories in are GREATER than your calories out, resulting in weight gain. This is typically characterized by somebody in a muscle-building phase or eating a little too much over the holidays.
This is all important to care about, because unless you're an absolute monster hitter, you need to be very in order to reach your true potential in this game.
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Without diving into too much detail, baseball is a highly anaerobic sport. It relies heavily upon fast-twitch muscle fibers for hitting power, pitching, throwing, running speed and jump height.
This fast-twitch muscle fiber dominance is exactly why you must lose fat by primarily using nutrition, and not the "I'll add more cardio" route. Most athletes who decide they need to drop more weight incorporate additional jogging, rowing, walking and low-intensity cardio.
This is all well and good, but only to a point. Baseball players need to be very fast-twitch dominant athletes, and low-intensity cardio such as jogging tell the body, "OK, we need to activate our slow-twitch muscle fibers," and the body responds accordingly because its job is to adapt to any stress you place on it.
This strategy sends mixed signals to your body between baseball performance and low-intensity cardio, and the only thing your body can do is meet you somewhere in the middle. And when you meet in the middle, you don't optimize baseball performance and you miss the point of your fat-loss journey right out of the gate.
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Now let's delve into more exciting strategies on what EXACTLY you should do with your nutrition to effectively get leaner for baseball.
What matters most is the big picture. Here is an sample conversation to illustrate what I mean.
Baseball athlete: Hey, Coach Garner! Yes, I make sure I get my protein shake in after every workout. Thirty grams of whey isolate plus carbohydrates and creatine. I'm diligent about that!
Me: That's awesome, nice work. How many grams of protein are you eating per day?
Athlete: I have no idea.
This is a problem.
At the end of the day, your total intake is light years more important than when you consume it. Don't misunderstand me. Timing is important. But it's a detail compared to the impact the big picture has on your physique, performance and health.
We'll keep it simple (a single topic on nutrition can easily consume 9 hours at a seminar) and talk only about energy balance formulations, since they are the most important and routinely overlooked component of nutrition for fat loss.
It always starts with finding your maintenance energy balance, because once you have determined your intake estimate, you can either add or subtract calories to gain or lose body weight. For the active population, one of the best maintenance calculators is the Katch McArdle formula:
- 370 + (21.6 x Lean Body Mass[kg])
This formula gives you an accurate estimate of what is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). A BMR total is simply how many calories your body burns each day to sustain life/function. It does not include your activity level, which is why you also need to use activity multipliers:
- Sedentary: 1.2 – 1.4
- Lightly active job + 3-5 workouts/practices per week: 1.5-1.8
- Active job + 3-5 workouts/practices per week: 1.7-2.0
Let's do an sample calculation:
- Average Joe, 185 pounds at 15% body fat.
- Using the Katch McArdle formula: 0.85 x 185 = 157.25 pounds of lean mass. Joe has 15% body fat, so we subtract 15% from his full body weight and are left with 85% lean tissue. .85 x his total body weight of 185 = his lean mass total. Divide his lean body mass by 2.2 to get the kilogram equivalent.
- Joe has a mail delivery job, works out twice a week and plays baseball twice a week.
- His job plus his activity put him in the "Lightly active job plus 3-5 sessions per week" activity multiplier.
- Joe's customized BMR: 370 + (21.6 x 71.5) = 1,914 calories
- 1914 calories x 1.5 (activity multiplier) = 2,871 kcals
Average Joe's maintenance level calorie intake is 2,871 kcals. At this level, he is expected to neither gain nor lose weight. Individual differences can of course change this, but time and experience have proven these equations to be accurate within a 10% margin of error. I chose the Katch McArdle formula because as it is more accurate for the active population than some of the other well-known BMR calculators.
Here's an important piece of the puzzle: We area putting his fat loss phase at a starting deficit of 10%.
- Average Joe maintenance: 2,871 kcals
- Average Joe deficit: 10%
- Average Joe new intake: 0.9 x 2,871 = 2,584 kcals
We use a percentage because the calculation self-corrects for the size of the athlete. If we used an arbitrary number such as a 500-calorie deficit, it would impact each person differently relative to their size. If they only weigh 130 pounds, that would be a big chunk of their total daily intake. But if it's a big hitter at 230 pounds, it would not be a whole lot of food.
10% automatically corrects itself because it is a percentage of the athlete's personal intake, not just an arbitrary number.
Why not more than 10%?
Starting with a steep deficit is where everybody runs into the problems I discussed earlier. Too big of a change too soon results in hormone dysfunction, lower energy, poor recovery, poor performance, and a host of other things. In other words, you really feel like you're dieting, but when you're more modest with your deficit because you've calculated it ahead of time, it is much more tolerable, and you can burn body fat without compromising other bodily functions.
This is the power of calculations. Most people begin "dieting" by eating healthier or simply eating chicken breast and salads more often, having no idea what their total intake is. Your guess is as good as mine as to how steep a deficit you started with. If you felt like crap, if the diet felt unsustainable, and if your performance went in the dumper, well then it was probably too much.
Using formulations allows you to be more precise in your approach to fat loss and baseball performance.
The typical male baseball athlete should be anywhere from 9-13% body fat year round, and the typical female baseball athlete should be looking to sustain a 15-20% body fat level. These ranges optimize both performance and health, which lead you to reaching your maximum ability and your long-term career longevity.
In addition, while dieting, athletes should not try to lose more than 0.5-1.5 pounds per week. This is a healthy rate of weight loss and is consistent with the research to prevent negative physiological aspects of dieting and be more realistic for sustainability, performance and life quality.
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