Originally Published on NextGearNutrition.com, a great resource for sports parents.
By Guest blogger, Mat Batts. Mat played baseball for four teams in the Twins minor league system from rookie ball through High-A.
Competing as a teenage athlete can be difficult for even the most disciplined of kids. It takes balance and time management and dedication. But why jeopardize your commitment to all three with poor eating habits?
Less than a year removed from a baseball career, I can honestly say that my time in the minors taught me more than I ever could have imagined about nutrition for athletes. Here’s what I wish I knew about the impact of eating for performance when I was growing up.
Fast food isn’t the answer.
As a high school baseball player, my friends and I would rush from school at the end of the day to grab McDonald’s and hang out before a night game.
Truthfully, we had at least two hours of downtime before a game, but meeting at McDonald’s was as much a social event as it was about having a meal.
Pregame meals for a road game were even worse. Traveling to play ball in the barbecue capital of our state? Then of course we had to stop for barbecue before the game! In either case, we often spent the early innings of a game digesting a meal that provided very little in nutritional value. We weren’t doing our bodies any favors, and ultimately our performance and energy levels suffered.
As a minor leaguer in the Minnesota Twins organization, our eating habits were so important to the support staff that players could be fined for ordering pizza or other unhealthy options. It was a lesson they wanted to make crystal clear, and one I could have benefited from during my teenage years.
Fast food meals provide quick—and sadly delicious—satisfaction. But rarely do they provide your body with adequate nourishment and with high levels of sodium and fat, they will most certainly bog down your game.
Small meals can go a long way.
The traditional three-meal-a-day schedule is good, especially in pre or post-season. But during season, there is a lot to be said for consuming smaller portions throughout the day, preventing bouts of hunger and over-stuffing, especially for athletes whose schedules don’t always center on breakfast, lunch and dinner. Instead of a regular meal, the schedule often requires more of a small meal or healthy snack.
As a starting pitcher for nearly my entire professional career, it was important that I balance pre-game nourishment with not over eating. If I was too full or stiff in the first inning, I might not even stay in the game long enough to digest my food. A snack between lunch and dinner as simple as a spoonful of peanut butter and a banana or a healthy carbohydrate just an hour before game time could give me the energy I needed to perform for the next three hours.
Post-game is every bit as important as pre-game.
The long baseball season (162 games in roughly 180 days) is a testament to endurance training. Every decision you make affects your ability to perform the next day. So even if your pre-game meal is efficient and well planned, you’re doing yourself no favors if your post-game meal is a burger and fries.
Even worse, skip a post-game meal and your body will break down over time, lacking the necessary proteins to help develop and maintain muscle mass.
Eating a hearty, balanced post-game meal that serves a purpose for your body can go a long way in keeping your body sharp during tomorrow’s game and next week’s game and even next month’s game, no matter what sport you play.
Ultimately, nutrition is important for anyone hoping to get the most out of life, but for the competitive athlete looking for an advantage on the field, it all starts with the food you intake. As you progress in your sport and your resources improve, don’t be stuck looking back at your younger years wondering what you could have done better.