Nutrition can be a confusing game all by itself. It’s not like baseball players already have enough on their plate with a crazy long season, lots of games, practice, weight training, conditioning, and speed work—Not to mention most baseball players are also juggling either school or a full-time job to add to this list.
Where’s the time to research nutrition, right?
This crazy schedule that baseball players have to deal with can, unfortunately, lead to the athletes simply having to trust the word of those around them. Although meaning well, coaches and parents are often in the dark about real nutritional science and are more often than not going by personal instinct, or, “what’s always been done” in order to lay out the strategy for the performance meal planning of their kids/athletes.
Instinct normally leaves coaches and parents to the right place though, asking questions such as:
Among many others. In this natural instinct category, there is always the question of recovery. In that, what is the best thing I should have after a game or a workout in order to properly recover?
Before we get started, I always have to make the quick disclaimer that what you eat throughout the entire day is much more important than the more advanced nutrient timing strategies. Put another way, your “big picture” dietary intake is much more important than what you are doing in the smaller windows of time.
Eating like an athlete isn’t a pre- or post-workout only phenomenon. If you want to be the best you can be, you have to eat for your sport all day, not just immediately before and after you play.
But when it comes to optimizing our physiology post-game to maximize recovery, there are some definite and clear strategies baseball players should be taking and the distributions of Proteins/Carbs/Fats vary as well in comparison to other sports.
Let’s dive right in.
Anyone who has played baseball or who has even been in a gym for a few weeks in their life has heard that is absolutely critical to take in some source of protein post-workout or post-game.
Although post-workout nutrition can be advantageous for maximizing your recovery, it’s not the “magic pill” that people make it out to be. This is especially true if you are taking good care of your pre-workout nutrition which is still paying-it-forward towards energy demand and protein synthesis/breakdown rates.
There is no real need to run to the locker room after training and slam your shake down as fast as you can. If you follow the rules I outlined in the pre-workout/game blog I wrote previously, there are still nutrients kickin’ around so you can relax and have it more at your convenience.
The two biggest goals we are trying to accomplish within the post-workout period for baseball players are glycogen replenishment and increased protein synthesis (synthesis simply means to “grow” or “add”. Hence, protein synthesis representing adding protein back to your muscle tissue)
How do we accomplish these goals? And what nutrient do we need to take in?
Well, all of our food is made up of a combination between protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Similar to the layout in the pre-game/workout blog, let’s look at each one individually and determine what is going to be the best course of action to take to optimize baseball specific recovery and adaptation.
Baseball Post-Game Protein
Although the stimulus from intense physical activity is eventually anabolic (muscle building), the process of providing energy for intense physical activity is catabolic (muscle breakdown). This results in a state which is known as proteolysis, meaning protein breakdown. A tip for the geeks out there like me, whenever you see the term “synthesis” think “build”.
Hormone synthesis = Creating hormones
Protein synthesis = Creating muscle
Fat synthesis = Storing body fat
Whereas when you see the term “lysis” think “breakdown”
Proteolysis = Protein breakdown
Lipolysis = Fat breakdown
Glycolysis = Muscular carbohydrate breakdown
Getting back to protein, proteolysis occurs but is somewhat mild during training. However, it increases steeply during the post-workout period. Meaning, your muscles begin breaking down at a much higher rate after physical activity than they do during physical activity. This becomes much more magnified if you are training fasted, which is something I don’t recommend any baseball players do. If you have practice or a training session in the morning, get up and eat breakfast.
Proteolysis isn’t all bad though, it needs to happen in order to create the stimulus for new growth. Breakdown, before build-up. Without those microtears in our muscle, we wouldn’t be able to send the stress signals to our body that we need to adapt in that area (whether it be greater strength, muscle mass, or endurance adaptations in that musculature).
What we don’t want to happen though is a scenario that results in plenty of breakdown and no build-up, which can result in a net body protein loss (losing the gains!). Our job after a workout is to maximize muscle protein synthesis and minimize muscle protein breakdown.
The good news?
The process of eating protein after a game or workout is enough to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and bring muscle protein breakdown to a halt.
While a protein shake post-game may seem like a trivial process for a small result, they definitely add up over time. The more time you spend building up proteins instead of breaking them down, the more muscle you are going to gain over the course of a year compared to your non-nutrient timing wise counterparts.
So, we can agree that post-workout protein is a scientifically-validated strategy that makes sense to reach our baseball specific goals.
But the big question is:
“What should I have and how much of it should I be having?”
This varies from athlete to athlete depending on variables such as your age, total muscle mass, total dietary intake, the length of your training sessions, and current hormonal health.
But, a great general guideline to follow would be 40-50g of protein post-workout for men and 25-35g post-workout for women. Or, to be a little more specific, 0.5 x your weight in kilograms. For example, if you weighed 80kg, a good amount of protein for you to take in post-workout would be 40g.
Ideally, this would be in the form of a whey protein isolate as it contains a large amount of the amino acid leucine, which has been linked to maximize this protein synthetic response. Whey protein also metabolizes very rapidly, giving your muscles access to these amino acids at a much quicker pace. Not to mention, it tops the charts of nearly every single scientific protein quality ranking in existence. Get it in ya, and don’t go cheap here.
Baseball Post-Game Carbohydrates
If you’ll remember, we needed to accomplish two main goals after baseball specific physical activity:
#1: Initiate protein synthesis
#2: Replenish muscle glycogen
Here is where we are going to accomplish goal #2 and get those carbohydrates delivered into your lean tissue and provide plenty of both performance and cosmetic benefits.
But first off, I think it’s important to point out that most of the talk around post-workout carbohydrates focuses on insulin because it supposedly “maximizes the anabolic response.”
Although this is true – insulin stimulates what are known as the mTOR pathways to kick off a muscle building response in the trained muscles, we don’t need carbohydrates necessarily to get this mission accomplished.
Whey protein by itself stimulates insulin enough to elicit a maximum synthetic response. Just because something is not a carb, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a rating on the insulin index.
A little-known fact about insulin is that it isn’t as anabolic as most people claim. Insulin plays a much larger role on the anti-catabolic side of things. Meaning, it doesn’t build a ton of muscle mass so much as it protects you from losing the muscle mass you already have.
Think of it slightly more as a protector of muscle as opposed to a constructor of muscle (not including bodybuilders who inject insulin, at supraphysiologic levels it does begin to become very anabolic, hence why they inject it).
With carbohydrates and protein both stimulating insulin secretion for us, we are doing a lot of good here to initiate the maximum recovery response so you can enter your next game or workout at 100% instead of 80% (did somebody say double-header?).
Where post-workout carbohydrates really come into play is in glycogen replenishment. I say this to all my athletes who work with me 1-on-1 and I’m going to repeat it again here:
Pre-workout nutrition starts when the last workout ends.
The moment you’re done training, your post-workout shake will help you maximize recovery pathways and offer you the best possible advantages to come 100% ready for your next training session or game. This will set you up to make progress during the entire off-season or in-season.
Baseball games, practices, weight training, and intense conditioning are all glycolytic activities. Meaning, they deplete your body of the carbohydrates stored in your muscle cells as these specific activities prefer carbohydrates as their primary fuel source.
During the post-workout period when you’re still in this newly depleted state, your body is physiologically primed and your ability to store incoming carbohydrates as glycogen as opposed to fat is dramatically increased.
Within this state, your muscles can even super-compensate and store even more glycogen than they had before the depletion. That’s powerful stuff, and it’s something we need to take advantage of if being the best baseball players we can possibly be is something we want to accomplish this year.
I like to compare this recovery process to digging a ditch. Every time you work out or play a game, you dig a recovery ditch. Your diet and sleep allow you to fill that recovery ditch back up before the next time you need to be able to perform.
However, if you don’t eat well and/or sleep well, you’re going to be digging a deeper ditch with each game that will ultimately lead you into overtraining syndrome, or the classic baseball players “burnout” during the season.
Post-workout carbohydrate content can vary depending on the volume and intensity of the workout. Of course, a 2-hour batting practice session would yield a greater need for carbohydrates post-workout than a 1-hour session. Yet, one thing that’s certain is that it is beneficial to have high glycemic index carbohydrates within this time period. Yup, the sugary stuff.
High glycemic index refers to the stuff people typically call “bad carbs.” I’m talking about sugars, white rice, sports drinks, etc. It is very beneficial to have these following a workout because they will metabolize faster (taking advantage of the enhanced glycogen loading window) and also stimulate insulin.
Additionally, research has shown that high glycemic index carbohydrates result in faster, more effective glycogen storage compared other carbs sources, even when carbohydrate content is controlled for. Put very simply, high glycemic index carbohydrates are the most effective option in this window and what I recommend all baseball players utilize in their day-to-day lives.
As far as recommendations go, most standard games and workouts require roughly 1g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight. For example, if you weigh 80kg, you will add 80g of carbohydrates in your post-game shake or meal.
Baseball Post-Game Fats
Fats, similar to the pre-game article, are once again left mostly out of the picture here. Not because they do anything bad, but because they don’t offer anything good. The post-workout window is all about speed of metabolization, how fast and effectively we can accomplish protein synthesis and glycogen replenishment. Fats slow the process of digestion down which then, in turn, slows our ability to accomplish the mission we set out to do.
Fats should absolutely be in baseball players diets, they have dozens of important health roles that they play in our bodies. But, as far as pre and post-game nutrition, they should likely be kept to a minimum in order to not slow down the metabolization process of what is providing us the benefits that we are seeking that are much more specific to baseball performance and baseball recovery since it is a glycolytic sport.
To wrap things up, I hope you have been able to have some “takeaways” from this blog post and that moving forward from here I have removed the myths you have been hearing and offered you some clarity to go out there and kick some ass on the baseball field. Check out some more Baseball Training Tips on our website!