I’ve been away from Show Me Strength for far too long. During my hiatus, I was working on making a comeback with my baseball career and graduating from Hahvard.
The former didn’t materialize so it was time to retire and echo in new challenges and trials to master and overcome in my post-baseball life.
For many reasons, I passed on detailing the reasons behind my retirement and the long arduous journey that encapsulated my baseball career. Maybe down the road when I’m in the reflective not living mode. For now, Chad’s series is top notch and provides incredible value for any individual looking to make their mark in the game. It’s hard to beat close to 10 years of professional baseball experience.
Going forward, it’s going to be my goal to impart all the knowledge I’ve accumulated in my tireless pursuit of a big league dream onto those who still have the chance to lace up their spikes.
To start, here are some preliminary thoughts on how to attack the off-season from a nutrition perspective:
You are an athlete, don’t diet
There are two types of players who embark on an off-season diet: those who live with the ever-present fear of being labeled as a bad body guy and those in the vain fruitless pursuit of looking better with their shirt off.
Dieting is the wrong approach in both instances.
The professional baseball season is a marathon not a sprint and it’s both a battle of performance and survival. If you can’t stay healthy, your chances of ever making the Show are drastically reduced.
The off-season is a time to build your body back up and to recover from the stressors that you endured from a chronic lack of sleep, poor nutrient quality, enough stimulants to kill a small animal, and probably your fair share of booze.
The last thing you want to do is embark on a calorie-restricted diet, which impedes the restoration process. Sleep will continue to suffer as will anabolic hormone levels such as testosterone and IGF-1.
A better approach, as related by Chad and I’s mentor Eric Cressey, is to focus on improving nutrition quality and to begin training hard again.
That alone should take care of most of the bad weight that was put on during the course of the season.
Intermittent Fasting is great for weight loss, not professional athletes
My assumption is that your training during the off-season is going to strain your recovery abilities. If it doesn’t, work harder.
Planned over-reaching is the fancy term but in normal jargon it means that if you don’t sleep well, eat enough, and take care of yourself in the hours that you’re not in the gym, you’re going to feel crappy.
You won’t feel explosive, weight that should feel light feels like a metric ton, and that mythical 10 that just walked by you isn’t going to do a damn thing for you.
Given these assumptions, intermittent fasting is not suitable for your unique needs as a professional athlete.
Going upwards of 15-16 hours without food places extreme demands on your system (in our context) and makes completing training challenging.
Trust me, I did it my entire first off-season. I trained fasted, got home, and would have to eat like an absolute glutton to ensure I got enough calories in my body in eight hours to make the entire process make sense.
In short, it doesn’t make sense.
Given the fact that I’m anti-intermittent fasting for athletes, I consider it near dogmatic for you to consume some sort of breakfast in the morning.
The exception being if you have an intellectually demanding job or internship that forces you to be sharp first thing in the morning, then you may feel better going without food.
Note: I implore all of you to take it upon yourself to do something other than training and playing XBOX during the off-season. Get an internship in an area of interest that you want to explore professionally after baseball ends because it will, often times without a big-time paycheck to compensate you for your time that you spent chasing your dream. Take it from me, I graduated from Harvard and still felt unprepared heading into my post-baseball life.
If you aren’t typically a breakfast eater, I’ve found habit stacking to be the best means of getting into the routine. I’ll go into this more in another post, but try eating breakfast right after you brush your teeth or make your morning coffee. You’ll find it becomes habitual much quicker.
Here’s how you construct a good breakfast
Take care of your gut
This is going to be the subject of a whole slew of posts because it’s that important.
If you maximize the health of your gut, you’ll sleep better (with ridiculously awesome dreams), recover from training better (less inflammation), and you’ll feel better in terms of your energy and mood.
For brevity sake here, here’s what you can do to improve the health of your gut today:
Eat more green vegetables. It’s monotonous and boring but being successful is often monotonous and boring. The fiber in the vegetables feeds your gut bacteria.
Have more beans. Beans help improve insulin sensitivity and insulin sensitivity is a key ingredient in maximizing both health and building muscle.
Add potato starch to your diet. This has been the biggest game changer for me personally and has honestly changed my life. Bob Mill’s Potato Starch is cheap and incredibly effective. 2- 4 tbsp a day.
Buy a greens supplement
Despite the importance that vegetables play in keeping our bodies functioning at a high level, many of us will neglect to act on this pertinent information.
It happens and I’m guilty of this as well as it’s simply not sexy or much fun unless you’re a weirdo and love the taste of broccoli.
If you fall victim to this trap as well, buy a greens supplement. I prefer Amazing Grass Orac. If you’re a high roller, you could go with Athletic Greens although personally I think you get a much better bang for your buck with Amazing Grass.
Maximize Sleep Quality
Sleep is king. “Nough said.
Re-establish your stimulant tolerance. Cut down on the caffeine
The life of a professional baseball player means that you probably drink enough caffeine to kill a small animal. Given the lack of quality sleep available, it’s incredibly difficult to play for five to six months in a fatigued state without a pick me up in the form of caffeine.
That being said, the off season is a time to reduce your intake, regain sensitivity to caffeine, improve your ability to recover from training sessions and ensure better sleep quality.
If you need a coffee at 5 in the afternoon to get through the rest of the day, there are going to be many adverse effects down the road. For one, you won’t be getting much quality sleep as caffeine later in the afternoon prevents you from reaching the restorative phases of deep sleep, which in and of itself hurts your ability to recover.
Further, coffee is a driver of the sympathetic nervous system. After training, you want to spend as much time in a relaxing and restorative state as possible. Chugging espressos won’t allow you to do that.
It’s easy and ignorant to tell you to simply stop drinking coffee. You’ll hate your life and in turn hate me so I won’t be giving you that horrible advice.
Some may be able to stop cold turkey without any symptoms of withdrawal. If so, congratulations you’re an asshole and hated by millions throughout the world. If not, here’s what you can do:
- Gradually reduce your caffeine intake
Let’s give an example of what I mean. Let’s assume your typical day is three coffees of 450 mg of caffeine total:
Day 1: 2 coffees, 1 green tea à ~400 mg of caffeine
Day 2: 2 coffees, 1 green tea à ~400 mg of caffeine
Day 3 : 2 coffees à ~300 mg of caffeine
Day 4: 2 coffees à ~300 mg of caffeine
Day 5: 1 coffee, 1 green tea à 250 mg
Day 6: 1 coffee, 1 green tea à 250 mg
Day 7: 1 coffee à 150 mg
- Optimize your caffeine intake based on your circadian rhythm.
- Use rhodiola rosea to combat fatigue associated with reducing caffeine intake
Rhodiola is a Scandinavian herb that has been used for centuries to combat fatigue.
I use it personally myself and love the anti-fatigue effect it has both chronically and acutely. Check out examine.com for more information.
Gaining weight doesn’t automatically equal functional velocity or power
Hard throwers or powerful hitters are often times the most efficient biomechanically.
Even if you aren’t necessarily considered a hard thrower by professional standards, it’s reasonable to assume that you probably are pretty efficient biomechanically. You don’t become a professional otherwise.
Given these assumptions, gaining weight doesn’t automatically mean you are going to throw harder as a result. You’re inducing a disruptive change in an efficient system and the end result isn’t always what you were expecting.
For me personally, gaining weight didn’t work but individual variance is going to play a large role in assessing whether or not it’s worth your while. Going into my first pro season I weighed 205 lbs but didn’t have the prototypical pitcher body as I was pretty muscle bound, both upper and lower body.
After my first off season, I went in weighing roughly 220 lbs and didn’t throw a tick harder. Going into my final comeback, I went into workouts weighing 235 lbs and again didn’t throw a tick harder.
Could my time have been spent better in some other capacity? Probably but it’s impossible to say given that I may have reached my genetic ceiling in terms of velocity.
The key is that I don’t have an exact answer for you. Given an assessment of what your body type is and your experience in the weight room, I could certainly provide you with an hypothesis but ultimately you must weight the potential positive and negatives because unlike bodybuilding, bigger isn’t always better.
Eat More of It
People can debate until the universe implodes about how much protein you actually need and how often. The truth of the matter is that I don’t really care and as professional athletes neither should you.
Being dogmatic about macronutrient numbers never got anyone closer to the big leagues.
What you do need to do is give your body an ample supply of nutrients on a regular basis in order to ensure an anabolic state to fuel your recovery sessions.
A good general rule of thumb is a source of protein every 4-6 hours and at the end of the day be somewhere around or north of your bodyweight. Do these things and you’ll be right around where you should be.
Leave worrying about the minutia to people wasting their time on bodybuilding forums.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Simplicity works
Kai Greene could be one of my favorite athletes. It’s not because I am a diehard fan of bodybuilding because I have no stake in that game but because he is the personification of committing to the process that in turns leads to great success.
It’s not sexy and in actuality it’s probably the furthest thing from sexy that it could possibly be.
In Kai’s world, getting to where he is today was built on a foundation where the basics were mastered. Prepping food ahead of time, eating every four to six hours, doing due diligence in training sessions that may not be sexy for the cameras but address his needs.
Now his needs are entirely different than yours as baseball players but the process is similar. To be successful nutritionally means that you execute the basics with dialed in precision. To me that means the following:
Providing the appropriate fuel for your body. That means foods with high nutrient density
Avoiding the minutia of stuff like intermittent fasting, carb back loading, or anything else that may distract you from a commitment to the basics.
Ensuring a commitment to adequate rest. Sleep is king, make sure you get plenty of it.
Balance is king and in no way should you not go out and have a good time. But there’s a big difference in going out a couple times a week and boozing every night. The latter will eventually catch up to you.
This list is far from encompassing but it should give you a good guideline when formulating your off season nutrition plans. In the future, I’ll go into more detail on each of these topics as well as other pertinent things relevant to your success.
Just don’t ask me what pre-workout you should be taking because that’s eyewash.
P.S. If you have any questions or want to get more details on how Chad and I would go about structuring your off-season, shoot us an email at email@example.com