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Nutrition for Baseball and Softball

June 2, 2006 Print This ArticleShare

Author: Trainer-X

Nutrition for Baseball & Softball
It’s the bottom of the ninth and the bases are loaded. How well you perform in these last critical moments may depend on what you ate!

The Sports
Whether you are playing “America’s pastime” or softball, your sport is a game of skill, timing and power – and can go extra innings. Baseball and softball players must be able to maintain their focus, skill and coordination for an extended amount of time. To support your skills, knowing what to eat is imperative especially if you are the pitcher, fielder or hitter.

Nutrition and Baseball & Softball

Scouts and coaches look for several abilities that are essential in all elite players: bat speed, accurate and strong throwing ability, running speed and quickness. These movements require fueling short-term energy needs and maximizing recovery.

Study and/or work commitments can interfere with training and create a rather hectic lifestyle. Meal planning is essential to ensure nutritional requirements are met throughout the day particularly during consecutive days of playing or double-headers.

Training intensities may vary from low to very high. Accordingly, food intake must match to decrease the chance of additional body fat.

Nutritional Guidelines

Because we understand the energy systems involved, we can develop food strategies to fortify a player and ensure optimal performance. Our recommendations are speculative, but our general guidelines are based on scientific evidence.

• Eat nutrient dense foods. Fresh is best. Keep junk food and processed food at a minimum. These contain calories that the body does not use optimally because of their low vitamin and mineral content.

• Eat approximately every 3-4 hours to maintain insulin levels and aid in physical and neural recovery.

• Eat complex carbohydrates (starches) at a ratio of 5–7 g/kg bodyweight (2.5-3.5 g/lb bodyweight) (1). For example: a 70 kg (154 lb) male needs 350 – 420 g of carbohydrates per day.

• Starchy foods such as pasta, wheat bread, whole grain cereals, brown rice, potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, and vegetables provide a major energy source to fuel your activities. These foods are also a source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients – the health protective substances in plant foods.

• Choose protein sources from turkey, chicken, eggs, fish, lean cuts of beef, tofu, low fat cottage cheese at a ratio of 1.2–1.6 g/kg bodyweight (0.54-0.86 g/lb bodyweight) (1).

• Choose healthy fat sources from nuts, avocadoes and cold-water fish. Eat 40-100g of fat per day.

• Keep drinking water or a sports drink to maintain hydration while training. Try to avoid water-like substances such as Kool-Aid, sodas, juice or lemonade which can ultimately lead to gastrointestinal (GI) distress (i.e. diarrhea) and decreased performance.

• Eat a diet that consists of a wide variety of foods by keeping in mind the basic food groups. It is the best insurance for getting needed nutrients.

• Consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day among the foods that you eat. High fiber foods include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and cereals. Read labels and be aware of fiber content in everything you eat.

• Record your food intake in a Food Journal in order to know the calories and composition of all meals.

• Avoid high-fructose corn syrup and excessive table sugar, even when trying to gain weight. These include candy, juices, desserts, baked goods, etc.

• Use meal replacement shakes, fruit smoothies or bars whenever necessary. Always keep bars available such as in a book bag, purse, glove compartment, locker, or wherever poor nutrition might be the alternative such as at a competition.

• Take a multivitamin/mineral supplement from a reputable brand.

• Before going to bed, eat a light snack such as peanut butter on whole-wheat bread and a glass of skim milk.

Daily Nutritional Needs

Baseball and softball players require a daily moderate to high (depending on the season and position) carbohydrate (CHO) diet to maintain stamina, replenish lost glycogen stores, and fuel the ATP/CP system (i.e. the “power system”) during practice, competition and/or weight training. They need carbohydrates to fuel and protein to repair and recover from their explosive movements they repeatedly produce throughout practice and the game.

For athletes, the American and Canadian Dietetics Associations recommend 55 to 58 percent of calories be CHO, 12 to15 percent protein and 25 to 30 percent fat (1). However, there has been a growing body of evidence that protein and fat requirements may need to be altered for active individuals (2,9,10).

The Training Diet

In-Season

During your season, your training diet should be comprised of 55 percent CHO, 30 percent protein and 15 percent fat. The goal of the training diet is to provide adequate energy for recovery and tissue repair quickly and efficiently – without adding body fat – thus maintaining a high strength:power:weight ratio.

For simplicity, if you ate 2,000 calories a day, 55 percent of that is 1,100 calories from CHO, which is equal to 275 grams of carbohydrates (there are four calories of CHO per gram; thus, 1100/4 = 275 g of carbohydrates). For some it is easier to keep track of grams than calories.

Protein

The Recommended Daily Allowance of 0.8 g/kg bodyweight per day protein is based on what is healthy for the average sedentary individual, which is not necessarily enough for athletes. Some research suggests that protein should be 1.6-1.8 g/kg bodyweight (bodyweight in kg = bodyweight in pounds / 2.2 kg) per day (9) or as high as 2 g/kg bodyweight per day in athletes (10).

The additional protein is crucial not only for muscle repair, but also as an additional energy source during times of fatigue and stress.

Fat

The temptation of eating high fat meals (such as pizza and fast food burgers and fries) is a reality with the traveling schedule of baseball/softball players. Keep fat intake to about 15 percent of your total calories, consisting primarily of essential and monounsaturated fats.

For someone consuming 2,000 calories a day, the fat intake should be about 400 calories. This is equal to about 44 to 67 grams.

You may be tempted to ingest as little fat as possible, however, this is also unhealthy. Keeping your fat intake to less than 15 percent may have a harmful effect by inhibiting absorption of those vitamins that dissolve in fat, and it has no effect on improving your body fat percentage.

Training Diet in Off-Season vs. In-Season vs. Pre-Season

Off Season

During the Off-Season, baseball and softball players should strive to either add muscle or lose body fat. It is common for players to gain body fat during the off-season then want to drop it quickly once pre-season begins. Some resort to crash or fad diets, which typically result in a loss of strength and muscle mass rather than body fat. If you feel that you may need to lose some body fat to improve your game, then click here for a detailed description of how to loose body fat.

Players hoping to acquire lean muscle mass should also pay close attention to caloric intake. Their diet should consist of 60 percent CHO, 20 percent protein and 20 percent fat.

Muscle Mass Gaining Training Diet

The recommendations of the training diet may be controversial because methods of muscle-building depend upon body type, sex, age and current training status. In order for this diet to be effective, one must be involved in a weight-training program.

According to the research, each of the following should be practiced before, during and after training:

• Try consuming 20g whey protein 30-40g carbohydrates 30 to 40 minutes prior to exercise.

• Sip CHO-containing drinks during weight training (i.e. Cytomax).

• Immediately after, consume a protein shake with CHO and at least 20g whey-casein combo or drink 20 oz. of skim milk or fat free chocolate milk.

• Eat a whole food meal with the Training Diet ratios one hour later.

• Increase protein to 1.5-2g/kg bodyweight.

Pre-Season

In the Pre-Season, the training diet for baseball players should remain the same as the Off Season in terms of 60 percent CHO, 20 percent fat  and 20 percent protein. However, players should not be trying to lose or gain weight.

Hydration: Exercising the Heat

Baseball and softball are commonly played in a hot environment (i.e. greater than 30 degrees Celsius). Even a little loss of fluid will impair performance and increases the possibility of suffering a heat injury. Everybody responds differently to heat stress, and the effects should not be underestimated.

Studies suggest that optimal fluid consumption is a learned behavior and that players replace fluid losses best by following a schedule or protocol. Coaches could try a break every half-hour, depending the heat and humidity. Flavored beverages work the best, and beverages that contain carbohydrates will help keep glycogen stores fueled into the later innings.

While exercising for longer than an hour in the heat, we won't be able to totally avoid dehydration, but the following recommendations can help to offset large fluid losses:

• Thirst is the body's natural dehydration indicator. If you are thirsty, then it is too late, you are already dehydrated – avoid feeling excessively thirsty.

• Drink adequate amounts of water daily. The general guideline is one liter for every 1000 calories you consume. Therefore, if you are sweating profusely, you need to drink more to replace fluid loss.

• For every pound that is lost, drink two cups of water. To determine how much weight you’ve lost, take weight measurements before and after profusely sweating or following the end of your day.

• Drink 16-32 ounces (480-960 ml) fluid 60-90 minutes before training

• Drink 8-16 ounces (240-480 ml) fluid 20-30 minutes before training

• Drink cold fluid regularly during practice and games between innings

One important consideration with regard to hydration is urine output. Dark urine can be a sign of significant dehydration.  Drinking fluids containing sodium may decrease urine output, particularly when dehydration becomes significant (less than two percent of body mass).  A low amount of sodium can be found in sports drinks because it improves taste and stimulates thirst. Drinks like this with added electrolytes (like Cytomax and Hammer Gel) may be the best choice for significant dehydration. During long, hot exercise, sports drinks with standard sodium concentration may be ideal because studies have shown less fluid is consumed as taste decreases. The ideal sports drink depends on your sensitivity to the type of sugar source, your fitness level, the duration of exercise and the temperature and humidity of the environment.

Drinking fluids with a carbohydrate concentration of less than 8 grams (like soft drinks, energy drinks and fruit juice) during exercise delays gastric emptying and slows fluid delivery.  Therefore, sports drinks are the best choices during long, hot exercise, especially where fluid demands are high, such as running, cycling, basketball, etc.

Be aware hydration is also necessary for proper digestion of food and cellular metabolic processes. Proper hydration impacts health on an assortment of levels.

Pre-Game Meal

The primary purpose of the pre-competition meal is to offset fatigue and ensure top performance. Pre-game preparation may make the difference in how well you finish in the seventh or ninth inning – the difference between victory or defeat. 

There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for the pre-game meal. Different people react differently to the same foods. Try to find food that won’t cause “nervous diarrhea” and will help to maintain focus and endurance. A few guidelines:

• Eat low-glycemic foods, such as whole grain cereals, certain fruits, sandwiches made with whole wheat bread, etc., approximately two to three hours before a competition. The closer to your match, the smaller the meal. This will help sustain blood-sugar levels.

• Keep protein moderate to help prevent hunger while playing

• Keep fat intakes low because it slows digestion.

• Avoid bulky foods, like raw fruits and vegetables, dry beans, peas and popcorn, which can stimulate bowel movements.

• Avoid gas-forming foods such as vegetables from the cabbage family and cooked dry beans.

• Drink 400 to 600 mL (14 to 22 oz) of fluid two to three hours before exercise depending on tolerance (1).
• Do not try new foods just before a game. Eat foods familiar with your digestive system.

• Some athletes prefer to use their favorite foods, which may give them a psychological edge.

During Competition

In baseball and softball, the demand for your performance varies with the intensity and length of the game. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Waiting to bat provides an opportunity for players to rehydrate and replace sweat losses throughout the game. Bring a water bottle containing a solution of six to seven percent CHO and electrolytes, such as Cytomax, Heed, Hammer Gel, or G Push. Try to avoid Gatorade, Powerade or any of the common sport drinks seen on commercials because they contain a considerable amount of table sugar (sucrose).  It is important to consume carbohydrates in order to prevent performance decrease. 

In most cases it will be unnecessary to eat during a game. However, in some cases, snacks such as fruit and cereal/sports bars may be necessary to manage hunger during long games. This will help maintain glycogen (i.e. energy) stores and focus.

Recovery Meal

Depending on the intensity and schedule of the next game, consume 0.75 to 1.5 g/kg bodyweight of CHO-rich, low fiber foods and beverages within 30 minutes or as soon as possible after a game and again every two hours for four to six hours to replace glycogen stores (1). This may be difficult when traveling, but failing to do so will encourage under-recovery and potential muscle wasting.

After physical activity or exercise lasting longer than an hour, the body best restores lost glycogen when carbohydrates and protein are consumed together in a ratio of 4:1 (6) or 3:1 (7,8), rather than simply consuming carbohydrates alone. Furthermore, the combination of CHO and protein has the added benefit of stimulating amino acid transport, protein synthesis and muscle tissue repair, all of which will further speed recovery and re-energize you for your next competition.

Products such as Endurox R4 by Endurox and Recoverite by Hammer Gel will provide both nutrients. When in a bind, another option is drinking 20 oz. of low-fat chocolate milk post-exercise.

It is better to consume the “meal” as a liquid in order to facilitate recovery faster, and follow with a variety of whole-foods between two and four hours later.

Return to the normal Training Diet at the next meal.

The importance of a recovery meal cannot be overstated, especially when playing day after day. DO NOT FORGET the post-game meal!

Baseball and softball players will commonly find themselves eating late-night meals. It is important not to overeat during these meals as the number of calories burned during a game are much less compared to other sports. Do not forget about the calories consumed in the sports drink during the game. Keep portion sizes reasonable.

Alcohol
The temptation of binge drinking may come more after a match for a celebration of victory, helping team morale or a gathering to ease the pain of defeat. A sensible amount will not hinder performance or health. In general, this means one drink for women and two for men.

But alcohol intake can interfere with the game and post-exercise recovery. Alcohol delays and interferes with glycogen replenishment post-exercise. This may interfere with your next game’s performance.  As busy as a baseball or softball player is during a season, it is better to avoid alcohol entirely (3-5). 

If the temptation of drinking is too strong and unavoidable, get a post-exercise meal and fluids in first before drinking any alcohol. This way, less alcohol will have a tendency to be absorbed into the bloodstream and pass into the small intestine with the rest of the food.

Avoid any alcohol 24 hours post-exercise if you have any soft tissue injuries or bruises. Alcohol and injuries are a bad combination, and it may actually increase swelling, bleeding and delay recovery (3-5).

References
1.  Nutrition and athletic performance – Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine. J Am Diet Assoc.;100:1543-1556, 2000.

2.  Kraemer, W.J., J.S. Volek, K.L. Clark, S.E. Gordon, T. Incledon, S.M. Puhl, N.T. Triplett-McBride, J.M. McBride, M. Putukian, W.J. Sebastianelli. Physiological adaptations to a weight-loss dietary regimen and exercise programs in women. Journal of Applied Physiology, 83, 270-279, 1997.

3.  El-Sayed, M.S. Effects of alcohol ingestion post-exercise on platelet aggregation. Thromb Res. Jan 15;105(2):147-51. 2002.

4.  Peters, T.J., S. Nikolovski, G. K. Raja, T. N. Palmer, P. A. Fournier. Ethanol acutely impairs glycogen repletion in skeletal muscle following high intensity short duration exercise in the rat. Addict Biol.;1(3):289-95. 1996.

5.  Burke, L. M., G.R. Collier, E. M. Broad, P.G. Davis, D.T. Martin, A. J. Sanigorski, M. Hargreaves. Effect of alcohol intake on muscle glycogen storage after prolonged exercise. J Appl Physiol. Sep;95(3):983-90. 2003.

6. Williams, M. B., P.B. Raven, D. L. Fogt, J. L. Ivy. Effects of recovery beverages on glycogen restoration and endurance exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res. Feb;17(1):12-9. 2003.

7. Zawadzki KM, Yaspelkis BB 3rd, Ivy JL. Carbohydrate-protein complex increases the rate of muscle glycogen storage after exercise. J Appl Physiol. May;72(5):1854-9. 1992.

8. Ivy, J. L., H. W. Goforth, Jr., B. M. Damon, T. R. McCauley, E. C. Parsons, T. B. Price. Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. J Appl Physiol. Oct;93(4):1337-44. 2002.

9. Lemon, P.W. Beyond the zone: protein needs of active individuals. J Am Coll Nutr. Oct;19(5 Suppl):513S-521S, 2000.

10. Tipton, K. D., R. R. Wolfe. Protein and amino acids for athletes. J Sports Sci. Jan;22(1):65-79. 2004.


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