Most people don’t know that when you’re in the gym — you don’t build any muscle, strength, power, or endurance.
None of that happens in the gym.
Instead, the carefully designed programs here at Baseball Training (and any workout you ever do) simply create a stimulus for change but don’t create the change itself.
For example, if I go to the gym and do a bench press set of 5 sets of 5 at 85% of my one rep max I would be effectively stimulating the body through a physical stressor in order to adapt to the response, and thus, make progress.
Stimulus → Adaptation → Progress
That’s how biology works, and it will only ever change if you put it under enough stress in order to give it a good reason to.
For example, if I did 5 sets of 5 at 30% of my one rep max, this would be really easy to do and therefore not send the signals to the brain/body that any change needs to take place because we are already strong enough to handle the pressures that are being thrown at us.
But, once you put 85% of your one rep max in your hands, your brain/body says:
“Whoa! That was a major stressor, I’m going to build more muscle and strength now in case this crazy person ever decides to bench press that much again!”
Pretty cool, right?
Our bodies recognize stress and then adapt accordingly so we can become better at whatever it is we are doing (speed, conditioning, strength, muscle mass, agility, explosiveness, etc.).
Here’s what people always miss though…
The gym is only the stimulus, everything you do outside the gym determines whether or not you will actually adapt to that stimulus.
Meaning, your workouts are super important, but your recovery from your workouts is ultimately going to determine whether or not you make any gains.
I bet you right now you could name several people who workout, and yet they don’t look anything like the way they way want to.
Yeah, that’s somebody who is all stimulus and no adaptation.
Put another way, you can’t out train a poor recovery routine. Physiology just doesn’t work that way.
Recovery for baseball athletes means a lot of things, you have to consider all dietary, sleep, and lifestyle factors if you want to maximize your recovery to dominate out on the field.
In the next several blogs I aim to do a full series on specific recovery strategies for baseball athletes.
But in today’s article, I aim to cover the most important of them all…sleep.
Sleep is the King of Recovery
Sleep — both quantity and quality — is essential for an optimal adaptation response.
Most all systems in the body become anabolic during sleep.
This includes your bone, immune, nervous system, muscle tissue, and endocrine systems.
During the night, the bones are building up and remodeling, muscle tissue is being added to the body, and various systems are producing hormones such as growth hormone (GH) and testosterone at their peak levels (Sharma, 2010).
Because we know now that the gym is just a stimulus, we can do a better job focusing on the adaptation response.
The actual tissue growth occurs only during a quality recovery, which demands a good night’s sleep.
Train to stimulate, sleep and recover to adapt.
How Sleep Impacts Baseball Performance
The accumulation of sleep research has shown comparing 5 hours of sleep to 8 hours of sleep that the groups who consistently had less sleep have higher concentrations of catabolic (muscle breakdown) hormones such as cortisol, and also had lower concentrations of anabolic (muscle building) hormones such as testosterone and IGF-1.
In fact, one study out of the University of Chicago demonstrated a 14% decrease in testosterone in healthy men once they decreased their sleep from 9hrs a night to 5hrs per night (Leproult, 2011).
Additionally, neurotransmitter pools in the brain are being restocked and contributing to all sorts of different metabolic benefits to our daily lives.
But most of which being relevant to you include increased motivation, drive, focus, speed of thought, speed of muscle contraction, learning, memory, attention span, vasodilation, and reduced time to fatigue.
Sounds a whole lot like a baseball game to me!
These all contribute not only to physical performance but also mental performance, and that’s powerful stuff right there.
It’s important to care about mental performance as well because the more “in the zone” you can be for your baseball games, the better you can execute your maximal skill expression and be that stand-out baseball athlete.
If we have continuous stressors coming in, such as mental (e.g. an exam, or our job), emotional (e.g. relationship problems with your significant other, family, or with yourself), or physical events (e.g. training, manual labor work) in our lives; the combination of stress damage and poor sleep can wreak havoc on how these neurotransmitters operate and what our mental state is going to be like on a day to day basis (Kinner, VL. 2006, Watson, J. 2010).
Not to mention it is enormously catabolic to your hard earned muscle tissue (Gore, 1993).
The performance benefits of sleep on baseball are somewhat common sense.
Yes of course there are many cellular intricacies that go into the “why” behind that but just looking at it bluntly, if you’re one of these people who is chronically tired, your performance is clearly going to suffer.
There’s no way around that, and you probably didn’t need me to tell you that.
But from a body composition standpoint it isn’t so common sense.
How Sleep Impacts Muscle Gain and Fat Loss
When most baseball players think of making changes to your body or physical performance; you’re going look to training, nutrition, and probably some supplements.
Which don’t get me wrong, those three things are a totally great place to start.
But when viewing the total potential for change from a “whole picture” point of view, leaving sleep out of the equation is leaving out a big chunk of what you could otherwise be accomplishing.
Within the muscle building and fat loss vein for baseball performance, sleep’s effect on the body’s Respiratory Exchange Ratio (RER) is one of its biggest noticeable and dramatic effects.
RER is a way in which to measure the primary source of your body’s fuel that it is going to use for its energy needs.
If you have a low measured RER (they measure this stuff in labs, but that’s not important to get the overall idea) you are burning a greater proportion of fat per day to meet your energy needs.
Not bad, right?
But if you have a high measured RER, you guessed it, your body is burning a greater proportion of lean tissue per day to meet in order to meet its basal energy needs.
Keeping in mind the above difference between low and high RER rates, most of us are all also familiar with Basal Metabolic Rates (BMR).
For those of you who are not familiar, a BMR value is the number of calories at which you burn per day just to sustain normal bodily function.
This is the rate of energy the body uses while at rest to keep vital functions going, such as breathing, having your organs work without you needing to think about it, and keeping your temperature stable.
This can vary quite a bit between individuals based primarily on size.
For example, a 300 pound big hitter on the team is going to have a higher BMR to keep his body functioning on a day to day basis than a 180 pound short-stop.
Bigger machines need more fuel, period.
Where RER values come back into play is that they determine how much of this base daily calorie burn is coming from either fatty tissue, or lean tissue (muscle and glycogen stores).
If you’re reading this article, it is very likely that you want to have a respectable lean muscle tissue to fat tissue ratio so that you have a lean, athletic physique.
By default of this goal, optimizing RER is something of significant importance here because you want to be burning fat, NOT YOUR HARD EARNED MUSCLE.
Shocking Study on Sleep
How sleep ties into all of the above is that research has shown that low levels of sleep (5.5hrs nightly) significantly raises your RER.
Meaning, if you are consistently getting poor sleeps you are shifting the majority of your daily calorie burn to lean tissue as opposed to fatty tissue.
Ideally, we would have a low RER value to optimize fat burning while keeping your lean muscle mass.
That’s how you sculpt a physique and build a real baseball athlete, no matter what your end goal is.
Want to look gain size?
How about burn body fat?
What if you just want to fuel yourself for performance?
Or, maybe you just take it easy now and play in a recreational softball league and only want to focus on the “health” side of the fitness business?
All of those things involve RER, and ultimately, sleep.
So I don’t care where you’re from or what you’re doing, sleep is the KING of recovery.
Here’s some more bad news for the poor sleepers, if I haven’t brought enough of that already throughout this article.
A decreased sleep level raises your RER value without affecting your basal metabolic rate.
Meaning, if your daily calorie burn average is 2500 calories, it is going to stay that way with or without a bad sleep.
So, if you get a bad sleep and your RER raises, your metabolism won’t lower to offer up some damage control.
You will just lose that much more lean tissue.
A high metabolism combined with a high RER means a whole lot of unnecessary muscle loss due to a factor that is totally independent of nutrition and training.
To put things into perspective and give some examples.
Let’s say you have an average calorie burn of 2500 calories per day.
If you have a low RER value, 2000 of that could be coming from fat and only 500 from lean tissue.
Whereas if you have a high RER value, 1250 could be coming from fat at 1250 from lean muscle tissue.
Not a good trade-off if optimizing your baseball performance potential and body composition are in your sights.
Why Should We Actually Care About This?
I can quickly answer this question with a couple other questions.
If you’re trying to lose weight, do you want to lose 50% body fat and 50% lean muscle tissue?
Or would you rather lose a lot more body fat and not any lean muscle tissue?
If your priorities are straight and you’re looking to keep and/or build as much lean muscle mass as you can while decreasing your body fat percentage, the latter is the obvious option and getting a great night’s sleep is an effective tool in your arsenal.
This also works in the other direction.
If you’re trying to gain weight and lean muscle mass but you sleep poorly on a regular basis, you’re going to be spinning your tires in the mud.
Going nowhere fast.
You will simultaneously have a higher amount of catabolic hormones (cortisol), a lower amount of anabolic hormones (testosterone, IGF-1), lower neurotransmitter pools, and a high RER value.
Good luck with that!
If laying out the theory wasn’t enough, this RER work was demonstrated in some research done at the University of Chicago where 10 overweight adults followed a weight loss diet for two weeks.
One group slept for 8.5hrs per night, while the other group was restricted to only sleep for 5.5hrs per night.
The results were striking.
The 5.5hrs of sleep per night group lost 55% less fat and 60% more muscle than the 8.5hrs of sleep per night group.
Beyond this, the 5.5hrs group also reported greater cravings than the 8.5hrs group, lending susceptibility to the idea that not only were they burning muscle instead of fat, but they were also more likely to cheat on their diet that day as well (Nedeltcheva, A. 2011).
Since we know that the gym is only the stimulus to progress but that the adaptation that occurs outside the gym ultimately determines what happens at the end of the day to your baseball performance, we need to care as much about the recovery aspects of training as much as we do the training itself.
When we look into the research of baseball recovery, we know for sure that sleep is numero uno.
Diet is a close second, but, sleep is the king.
I hope I was able to offer you some new knowledge moving forward from here and that you will start taking your sleep more seriously from here on out.
Your baseball performance depends on it.
And if you’re interested in using completely “done for you” training programs to maximize both the stimulus and adaptation to becoming the ultimate baseball athlete, check out our programs here today.