Baseball and Nutrition: A Double Play

An Interview with Jose Antonio, Ph.D.

Vitamin Connection

Written By:
Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.
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Richard A. PasswaterBaseball has long been our nation’s pastime, yet we read comparatively little about the importance that nutrition plays in the sport. Many thousands of Americans actively participate professionally or recreationally in baseball, while millions more enjoy the relaxation and wholesome entertainment that the sport provides. There are many articles and books about nutrition and an athlete’s nutritional needs in general, but few specifically address the unique needs of recreational or professional baseball players. Fortunately, Double Play: Training and Nutrition Advice from the World’s Experts in Baseball, co-authored by this month’s guest, Jose Antonio, Ph.D., superbly fills this need.

Young athletes hear a lot of “advice” from friends trying to help at the gym or on the field, but they must be careful about to whom they listen and whether that person really “knows” the advice is good for others and is safe. Athletes are exposed to a lot of misinformation that may do more harm than good. Poor advice may hinder the player’s athletic performance and/or endanger the athlete’s long-term health. The best nutritional information usually comes from either a sports nutritionist or someone trained by sports nutritionists. Sports nutritionists use specialized equipment and techniques to scientifically measure the effects of nutrients on performance.

We can learn a lot about nutrition from the experiences of sports nutritionists and athletes. A suitable analogy is how we learn about car performance from the finely tuned cars on the professional race circuits. In fact, many of us who study nutrition and performance entered the field because we were first interested in sports performance. It was my interest in learning why athletes become “a step slower” over time in spite of intensive exercise and proper nutrition that led to my research into the aging process. Others with whom we have chatted in this column over the years have expressed essentially the same motivation. Elite athletes are a perfect laboratory for studying health and aging.

Most World Class athletes that I have worked with followed good nutritional habits to get where they were, but they were interested in getting all of the performance they could out of themselves. World Class athletes have found they need more nourishment than the hypothetical average person that the recommended dietary allowances are said to be intended. They have learned that different sports have different stresses and challenges and thus have different nutritional requirements. Through the years, working with athletes ranging from boxing legend Muhammad Ali and baseball great Whitey Ford to teams such as the 1970s-era Washington Redskins “Over-the-Hill Gang,” I have demonstrated that nutritional supplements can play an important role in the health and performance of athletes.

Today, however, there is more to sports nutrition than “trial and response.” Today’s sports nutritionists and sports physiologists have many more advanced tools to measure the effects of various nutrients on performance. This month, we have the opportunity to chat with one of the all-time greats of sports nutritionists, Dr. Jose Antonio. Since spring training begins later this month, I will focus on baseball, but what we will learn will apply to most sports and to life in general.

Jose Antonio, Ph.D., FACSM, FNSCA, FISSN, is the chief executive officer and co-founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Dr. Antonio earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSWMC) in the area of skeletal muscle plasticity. He also completed a post-doctoral fellowship in endocrinology and metabolism at the UTSWMC. He is the editor-in-chief of Sports Nutrition Insider, the first sports nutrition trade magazine and the co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Dr. Antonio has written more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and 13 books.

Passwater: Dr Antonio, why did you become interested in exercise metabolism, energetics and sports nutrition?

Antonio: I have always been fascinated with human performance and how it is affected by nutrition and supplements. On a personal level, I pretty much try everything to see what works on me.

Passwater: You are a co-founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN). What is the
mission of ISSN?

Antonio: ISSN is the “leading” professional organization in the field of sports nutrition. The ISSN is dedicated to promoting and supporting the science and application of sports nutrition.

Passwater: What are some of the ways in which ISSN benefits athletes and sports nutrition professionals?

Antonio: One way is that ISSN is recognized as the only not-for-profit academic-based society dedicated to sports nutrition and growing the science of applied nutrition. The ISSN conferences, tutorials, lectures and courses have been recognized (vis a vis attaining continuing education credits) by the American Dietetic Association, National Strength and Conditioning Association, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, American Physical Therapy Association, National Association of Athletic Trainers and other organizations as well. Members of these organizations can earn continuing education credits by attending ISSN conferences and symposia. The ISSN is also recognized by many universities as offering the latest, cutting-edge and non-biased information about the science of applied and practical sports nutrition.

A second way is through the publication of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN). JISSN is a peer-reviewed journal that covers various aspects of sports nutrition, supplementation, exercise metabolism and/or scientific policies related to sports nutrition. JISSN is the official journal of ISSN and is designed to keep ISSN members and the public up to date on the latest advances in sport nutrition.

We also offer the best sports nutrition certification in the business. It’s called the CISSN. You need a four-year degree to take the exam and it contains a lot of physiology, nutrition, supplements and metabolism information.

Passwater: Science is all about experimentation and measurement. What types of studies and measurements do scientists in your field do?

Antonio: The primary clinical endpoints that we “care” about are better body composition (measured via underwater weighing, DEXA [dual energy x-ray absorptiometry method of measuring body composition], skinfold measurements, etc.) and some measure of exercise performance—whether it is enhanced strength, endurance or cardiovascular fitness.

Passwater: What are the major measurement parameters that athletes should be familiar with?

Antonio: Honestly, athletes need not be familiar with any of the laboratory methods. I’m not sure how applicable they are. The “best” methods are what I call “real world” measures such as a 1-RM (one repetition maximum, which is the maximum amount of weight you can lift in one repetition) on a bench press or squat; or a timed run (40-yard dash, one-mile run, etc.). Lab tests such as time to exhaustion do not mimic very well what happens in the world of athletics.

Passwater: Why did you decide to write Double Play?

Antonio: My co-authors and I felt that there was a dearth of information vis a vis baseball training and nutrition. We hoped to fill that void.

Passwater: That you did very nicely. Your book is useful to youth and senior players as well as recreational and professional players. You help players get in better shape and play the best baseball of their lives. Eating right, taking the right supplements and engaging in the proper training program all contribute to greater overall baseball performance. Why did you team up with Bob Alejo and Dr. William Campbell?

Antonio: They’re both smart guys! Bob Alejo, CSCS, works closely with Major League Baseball. He is the current strength and conditioning coach for the Oakland A’s and previously served in that capacity from 1993 through 2001. Bob has more than 25 years of experience training athletes and has been the strength and conditioning director at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Dr. Campbell is an up-and-coming sports nutrition science expert! He is an assistant professor in the School of Physical Education and Exercise Science at the University of South Florida, where his primary research focuses on sports nutrition and skeletal muscle physiology. His master’s and doctoral degrees were earned at Baylor University while serving as the coordinator of the Exercise and Biochemical Nutrition Laboratory. Dr. Campbell is the director of the performance nutrition and Exercise Metabolism Laboratory at the University of South Florida. His primary research interests include investigating the safety and efficacy of ergogenic aids/sports supplements, endocrine response to nutritional and exercise interventions, and mechanisms regulating skeletal muscle hypertrophy. He is a fellow of the ISSN where he also currently serves as our elected secretary. In addition, Dr. Campbell has published multiple manuscripts and book chapters relative to performance nutrition.

Passwater: You have also written another book on sports supplements. What is the focus of Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements?

Antonio: The focus is on the science and application of sports nutrition and dietary supplements for athletes of all kinds.

Passwater: Who are your co-authors for this Essentials text?

Antonio: There are over two dozen contributing writers. The lead editors are myself, Jeff Stout, Ph.D., Doug Kalman Ph.D., R.D., Mike Greenwood, Ph.D., Darryn Willoughby, Ph.D., and Greg Haff, Ph.D.

Passwater: Do baseball players have special nutritional needs?

Antonio: Only in the sense that most of them don’t know basic nutrition and supplementation. Baseball is typically a speed–power sport (that uses the ATP-PCr energy system). Baseball players should NOT eat like runners, which is often the case when they work with clinical nutritionists. They should eat more like weight lifters or powerlifters.

Passwater: Do baseball players have special training needs?

Antonio: Of course! Their focus should be on speed, agility and power. The absolute WORST thing a baseball player can do is distance running!

SolgarPasswater: Players often snack on sunflower seeds, jerky, bubble gum etc., during games. Is there anything that you recommend for players to snack on or to drink during games?

Antonio: I actually think they should sip on a caffeine-containing beverage throughout the game; not enough to jack them up, but enough so that they have sustained energy throughout.

Passwater: What supplements can help a baseball player maintain his strength throughout the game and season?

Antonio: My top three supplements for baseball players are: a whey protein shake immediately after working out; 5 g of creatine daily; and supplemental fish oil (2 g per day)—and vitamin D (2,000 IUs) daily. Okay, that’s four supplements!

Passwater: Excellent advice! Thanks especially for clarifying the amount of creatine that baseball players should use during the season. I discuss creatine frequently in this column in terms of athletes in general, but this specifically addresses the baseball player. There is detailed information about how creatine helps build and maintain strength on my Web site at www.drpasswater.com/articles.htm. Five grams is ideal for baseball because of the hot temperatures, long games and long season, as well as travel problems. Less than five grams will result in muscle degradation; very much more than five grams a day throughout the season requires special split dose and hydration techniques that are more suited for athletes such as football linemen or bodybuilders working out in gyms during their off-season.

How about building strength for baseball players during their off-season?

Antonio: They need to work with a qualified strength and conditioning professional; preferably one with a CSCS certification. The CSCS will put them on a periodized program to ensure they maintain their shape throughout the off-season.

Passwater: Are there differences in how these supplements should be used by baseball players during the season and off-season?

Antonio: Not really; most of these need to be taken daily.

Passwater: So if a pitcher has been throwing hard for six innings, his muscles are then catabolizing themselves to start the rebuilding process. What supplements can help the overall process by reducing the amount of catabolism required and supplying the nutrients for the building of the stronger muscles?

Antonio: A lot of the same building blocks! First off, he needs to consume a protein and/or essential amino acid-based drink (immediately after the game); also, fish oil (for its anti-inflammatory effect) needs to be taken at 2–3 g per day. Vitamin D is critical since the vast majority of players are deficient in it (unless they are out in the sun consistently). I also believe they need to take creatine to help maintain lean body mass.

Passwater: Creatine also helps keep the energy tank primed. Are there other supplements that will help baseball players maintain their maximum output during bursts of energy expenditure such as chasing a fly ball or running the bases instead of having their energy fade during the action?

Antonio: For baseball players, caffeine is also important. Caffeine is perhaps the single best supplement for enhancing mental acuity, which is needed in baseball.

PolarPOWERPasswater: Most players are pretty well banged up by mid-season with one injury or another. Pitchers usually have sore arms to some degree. Are there supplements that help reduce muscle inflammation or joint pain?

Antonio: For inflammation, fish oil, of course. But for chronic joint issues, glucosamine and chondroitin are best!

Passwater: Baseball players are subjected to a lot of misinformation about nutrition as they develop their skills. What are some of the most detrimental old-school nutritional myths?

Antonio: That baseball players need to eat lots of carbs. Lots of carbs equals big, fat bellies!

Passwater: What advice can you give baseball players about how to avoid sleazy supplements that can be tainted with banned substances?

Antonio: Go with a top-notch branded company; the BIG companies do not taint their products. Avoid the small, fly-by-night companies.

Passwater: What are some of the most harmful myths given to players about training?

Antonio: That weight training will slow them down. On the contrary, kids who play baseball should start doing weights and speed-agility drills at as young an age as possible!

Passwater: Briefly, what general advice would you give baseball players to help their health and performance? What is the bare minimum supplementation program they should have and where can they go to receive additional information about maximizing their supplementation programs?

Antonio: One, get plenty of sleep. Two, eat plenty of lean protein, unprocessed carbs and healthy fat. And three, take supplements such as creatine, protein/essential amino acids, fish oil, vitamin D and a multivitamin.

Passwater: And where can journalists go for accurate information about creatine and other healthy, legal performance-enhancing dietary supplements?

Antonio: My book, Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements (ISBN: 978-1-58829-611-5). And also, visit www.theissn.org and www.jissn.com. I also have two radio shows dedicated to this topic: The Weekend Workout (www.theweekendworkout.com) and the Performance Nutrition Show (www.performancenutritionshow.com).

Passwater: Thank you, Dr. Antonio, for sharing your knowledge and experience with our readers. Readers may visit Dr. Antonio on his Web site, www.joseantoniophd.com. WF

 

Dr. Richard Passwater is the author of more than 40 books and 500 articles on nutrition. He is the vice president of research and development for Solgar, Inc. Dr. Passwater has been WholeFoods Magazine’s science editor and author of this column since 1984. More information is available on his Web site, www.drpasswater.com

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Published in WholeFoods Magazine, Feb. 2010