Dave Ellis Resources

 Beating the Heat

Beating the Heat

By Dave Ellis, RD

Athletes who compete and train in the heat have to take precautions before, during and after these exposures. Every year, countless athletes suffer dehydration and heat-related illness, or worse. “Too much, too soon” in the heat, and athletes can break muscle down to the point where it becomes life threatening (rhabdomyolysis). Dry mouth, dry eyes, thirst, little to no sweat or urine generation, dizziness and big drops in endurance are all signs that you are dehydrated and potentially in the early stages of suffering heat injury. The higher the humidity along with the heat, the greater the potential for dehydration and heat injury. Prevention is the key because once an athlete has suffered from severe heat injury, they will express greater vulnerability for years to come.

Training in the kind of heat and humidity that you are going to be expected to compete in will help you acclimate. Acclimating to the heat must be a gradual process of ramping up the duration of time spent in the heat, as well as a gradual process of ramping up the reps taken in the heat. To be clear, NO rubber suits, saunas or oxygen restricting masks are necessary for this process of acclimatization. Any combination of caffeinated products or pre-workout energy drinks should NOT be used when training in the heat. You are going to want your heart rate to come down between sprints, not stay elevated from the actions of any combination of stimulants typical of pre-workout energy products.

A well-conditioned and acclimated athlete can exert themselves and recover with their heart rate and body temperature lowering between reps. Athletes who are the most vulnerable in the heat are those who are under-rested, under-hydrated, under-fueled and possibly attempting to run on a combination of caffeine sources from energy drinks.

Why do pre-workout energy drinks make us more vulnerable to heat injury? Caffeine and stimulants mask the burn we feel during exercise exertion, which in the short-term can improve performance, but when you mask the perception of exertion in the heat, that can set the stage for generating excessive body temperature (core temperature or muscle temperature). Not feeling the exertion might just mean that someone goes longer and harder than they should in the heat, and that is where the breakdown of muscle can occur. This results in rhabdomyolysis that, in extreme cases, can result in organ failure and death.

Health professionals who work with athletes who train and compete in the heat are always looking for ways to mitigate dehydration and heat-related injuries. Organizations like the Kory Stringer Institute track annual deaths of athletes from all sources, shining a light on the realities of what can happen when athletes do too much, too soon. It’s a sobering reality for Sports Dietitians, Athletic Trainers, and Strength Coaches to reflect back on the catastrophic injury statistics each year. These health professionals are all trained to participate in emergency action plans to respond to catastrophic events with athletes where every second counts on calling for help and taking appropriate actions.

Just as “too much, too quick” can be catastrophic when training or competing in the heat, too much in too short a time can be potentially catastrophic when consuming stimulant-laden foods or dietary supplements. Going out in the heat when using these stimulant-laden foods or supplements can escalate your vulnerability for heat injury. We can all do better by following these precautionary measures:

1) Show up to practice or competitions rested, fueled and hydrated. Catchers and starting pitchers are possibly the most vulnerable players on the field, so take precautions to hyper-hydrate with electrolyte-rich hydration formulas that are caffeine free!

2) Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. We are imperfect in that our drive to drink falls behind the rate at which we sweat. Every time you come off the field, drink liberally and get in the shade if possible.

3) Water and electrolyte-rich sports drinks will be key in replacing what you are losing in your sweat that water alone can’t cover (primarily sodium and potassium).

4) If you are sick or dehydrated before arriving at practice or competition, let your coach know your circumstances so they can check in with you and give you more frequent hydration breaks in the shade.

5) If you start to exhibit signs of dehydration or heat illness, let a coach know you need a break immediately. Something as simple as putting some ice or a cold towel up around the back of your neck and head while taking a break in the shade can help you cool down. Something as simple as submerging an overheating athlete in cold ice water can save their life! Coaches and parents should be prepared for those hot days as well. Seconds count, so have a plan for the hottest days. Shade, hydration, cooling strategies and even a cold kiddie pool with ice water in it under the shade can save lives. Have an emergency action plan.

6) As soon as you can get out of sweat-drenched clothing after a workout or competition in the heat, change into something dry and breathable, and keep the sun off your head and neck. Consuming cold foods helps too; frozen fruit and sports drinks frozen to slush all help bring that core body temperature down while drinking liberally from sports drinks and water.

7) As soon as you are cooled off enough to eat, get some food down from something you will find palatable on a hot day like deli meat sandwiches, cold pasta salad and colder cut fruit.

Play it smart with these guidelines and stay safe this summer!

Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is a veteran Sports RD with over three decades of experiencing working at the highest level of sports. Dave was the first president of the Collegiate and Professional Sports RDs Association (CPSDA) and is currently CPSDA’s Ambassador over all matter Food and Supplement Security related, as well as the President of Sports Alliance Inc. and creator of the Fueling Tactics System. Dave is also the Consulting Registered Dietitian for MLB/MLBPA and USA Baseball.

 Fueling a Strong Immune System

Fueling a Strong Immune System

By Dave Ellis, RD

In season, it’s all about performing on a consistent basis over the course of the entire season. As a team, hanging onto hard-fought offseason gains during the long grind of the in-season schedule sets the stage for a productive roster in the second half of the season. It doesn’t matter how talented a roster you have; if the team is run down from illness and weak from lack of in-season maintenance training, a successful run at postseason play may not be in the cards. The underpinnings of a strong immune system to avoid illness in-season are…

1) The quality and quantity of your rest, and

2) The quality of your diet, especially from foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. These immune-enhancing foods improve your body’s resilience to stress that comes from playing those long double headers and not-so-great night’s sleep that comes when traveling in vans or buses. If you are not eating a salad or some cut fruit at a meal, then you should be making a smoothie made from those ingredients. Soups can also deliver a cocktail of ingredients we might normally find in a salad. Bottom line get some color on your plate for a strong immune system and turn off your social media and screen time to get some sleep!

Finding the drive to get in the weight room to do in-season maintenance training after practices in heat is what really sets some athletes apart. For sure, staying hydrated at practice can dramatically improve your drive to lift in-season.

1) Rule number one is, don’t wait to drink until you are thirsty. Go into practice hydrated, and drink with routine intervals over the course of practice. Water will do the job leading up to practice, but I would plan on having a sports drink around during practice, in addition to water. The carbs in the sports drink will come in handy when it’s time to lift post-practice, and the salt and potassium will help you retain fluid balance in the heat.

2) A carb-filled snack item that digests fast towards the end of practice like a dried fruit, a banana or a cereal bar can help you find the drive to lift.

3) Motivated teammates can really help you find the drive to get in that weight room in-season, so find a good workout partner!

Lastly, you will want to eat as soon as you can after you lift. If logistics for getting home to eat are going to delay you for a couple of hours…

1) You will want to bring something with you to practice gapping up post-workout. Chocolate milk works great, or a protein-fortified bar – there are dozens of options in every grocery store now (20 g protein in a 70 g bar, for example).

2) Portable protein foods can work great post-workout as well, like string cheese, beef jerky or a good old PB&J.

3) When it comes to protein powders, make sure you use NSF Certified recovery beverages.

The bottom line is, don’t just show up to practice without some hydration and fueling solutions, and value the quality of your sleep and immune enhancing foods to maintain your health over the grind of the season.

Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is a veteran Sports RD with over three decades of experiencing working at the highest level of sports. Dave was the first president of the Collegiate and Professional Sports RDs Association (CPSDA) and is currently CPSDA’s Ambassador over all matter Food and Supplement Security related, as well as the President of Sports Alliance Inc. and creator of the Fueling Tactics System. Dave is also the Consulting Registered Dietitian for MLB/MLBPA and USA Baseball.

 Fueling Gains in Lean Mass During the Off-Season

Fueling Gains in Lean Mass During the Off-Season

By Dave Ellis, RD

Sprint, Lift, Fuel, Sleep! These are four keys for any baseball athlete who seeks to build lean mass during the off-season. The great news is that the way you would train to be a more explosive baseball athlete is also the way you need to train to add lean mass.

While the focus of this article is fueling gains in lean mass during the offseason, one of the most fundamental elements for gaining lean mass is to simply find a good training partner! A good training partner with similar goals can help you attempt extra reps that alone, you would potentially be too fatigued to attempt alone. A good training partner challenges you to up the weight on the bar when you are completing your reps on a set too easily. Most importantly, a good training partner creates some meaningful accountability to show up and work out when you really felt like taking the day off. However, even if you have the most dialed-in workout to stimulate gains in lean mass and a good training partner, your drive to work out will be greatly compromised if you are coming up short on your sleep as will your ability to resolve muscle soreness from one workout to the next (deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep & hGH) (1).

When it comes to the fueling side of the story for adding lean mass, realize that your first decision cannot be a trip to the local supplement retailer or some questionable website. If you walk into any dietary supplement retailer, a good portion of the store will be dedicated to products purported to improve your chances of doing more work in the weight room or improve recovery efficiency from bouts of resistance training (2, 3). Unfortunately, the cast of characters behind many of the energy and muscle focused dietary supplement brands seem to feel they can’t compete in the marketplace unless they intentionally adulterate dietary supplements with active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) that can cause positive doping outcomes for drug tested athlete and risk drug to drug interactions for anyone using medications! This is such a big problem that the US Department of Defense has dedicated extensive resources to the identification of API adulterated dietary supplement trends that put our military warfighters at risk (Operation Supplement Safety), as has US Anti-Doping with educational resources for drug tested athletes (Supplement 411) (4, 5). Many who desire a leaner, more muscular body are vulnerable to seek out and abuse “appearance and performance enhancing drugs” that could cause serious physical and mental health dilemmas. Organizations like the USA Baseball, the Taylor Hooton Foundation (THF) and the American Academy of Pediatrics are dedicated to raising awareness with young athletes who often seek to accelerate biochemical maturation by any means possible (6, 7).

Making gains in lean mass each off-season and hanging onto the gains in-season allows young baseball athletes to gradually fill out their frames from one year to the next. This is a process that continues into the collegiate year for the majority of male power athletes. It’s a long process that requires patience and dedication. Here are some key dietary elements for adding lean mass:

• Athletes who are trying to gain weight are most likely going to be pushing their calorie intakes up above the 18-21 kcals per pound of goal body weight.
• Protein-calorie distribution over the course of the day is very important when training three to four days per week with hypertrophic loads in the weight room designed to add lean mass. Binge eating patterns are not going to get the job done when it comes to lean mass gains or visceral fat avoidance (8, 9).
• Essential amino acid (EAA) rich protein sources are key to ramping up the tissue remodeling process to recover from hard resistance training sessions. Exactly how the EAA-leucine acts is still under investigation, but it’s a well-established fact that has elevated the value of high leucine protein sources in the marketplace, targeted at muscle sparing and recovery (whey isolate, egg white, casein, soy isolate) (10, 11). This is why you will see the same proteins in the formulation of recovery shakes and bars that often utilize a blend of fast digesting whey, slow digesting casein and moderate pace digesting egg white or soy protein isolate.
• The priority right after a workout is hydration and getting some well-timed carbohydrate into your bloodstream. By the time a baseball athlete gets out of the shower, it will be time to either eat an EAA-leucine rich meal or gap up till meal time with an EAA-leucine rich recovery snack or shake of some type. For drug-tested athletes, we only use NSF Certified for Sport dietary supplements or highly fortified conventional food snacks (functional foods) because of the aforementioned adulteration trends from some unethical fraudsters in this space… www.nsfsport.com.Pre-workout supplements are riddled with stimulants, many of which can’t be accounted for on the label. Stimulant based pre-workout products are some of the most highly API adulterated dietary supplements that routinely cause positive drug tests for athletes. A safer and smarter pre-workout alternative is hot tea with beet powder to stimulate nitric oxide driven blood flow and work capacity, all while helping manage blood pressure (12, 13, 14).
• Creatine can also be put in the pre-workout mix for college athletes who are still struggling to gain a functional amount of lean mass, but it’s not ideal for high school athletes trying to gain lean mass. There are big gains coming for high school athletes initiating offseason workouts designed for adding lean mass. There is also a significant vulnerability for adulteration of creatine products with API’s. If you do go this route, PLEASE find an NSF Certified for Sport source of creatine and use it pre-workout on the days you lift. No loading, no use on days you don’t lift. You will find that you can do more reps at the same weight and ultimately increase the amount of weight used (15, 16, 17).
• While supplements like creatine do help athletes gain lean mass as a result of increased rep capacity during workouts, I can tell you, athletes quickly fatigue of dietary supplements. Athletes never get tired of eating and they have always sought out protein snacks before bed, so it was no surprise to see some research surface in 2015 that looked at the benefits of a protein snack before bed for athletes who seek to gain lean mass (18). Greek yogurt works great as a slow digesting protein source that supports recovery while we sleep and leaves athletes hungry for breakfast!

I could continue, but let’s stop here for now. If you would like to digest all that goes into High-Performance Fueling you can watch this American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) webinar from 2016 “Nutritional Myths & Practices of the Elite Athlete” that will answer many of your questions.

2. Muscle Energetics During Explosive Activities and Potential Effects of Nutrition and Training
3. New strategies in sport nutrition to increase exercise performance
4. DOD - Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS)
5. USADA - Supplement 411
6. Taylor Hooton Foundation
7. Promotion of Healthy Weight-Control Practices in Young Athletes
8. Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis
9. Quality protein intake is inversely related with abdominal fat
10. Sestrin2 is a leucine sensor for the mTORC1 pathway
11. Whey protein ingestion enhances muscle protein synthesis in aging males
12. Nitrate Intake Promotes Shift in Muscle Fiber Type Composition during Sprint Interval Training in Hypoxia
13. Effects of Chronic Dietary Nitrate Supplementation on the Hemodynamic Response to Dynamic Exercise
14. Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients: a randomized, phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled study
15. Creatine supplementation combined with resistance training in older men.
16. Creatine supplementation improves muscular performance in older men.
17. Effects of creatine supplementation and exercise training on fitness in men 55–75 yr old
18. Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men

Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS is a veteran Sports RD with over three decades of experiencing working at the highest level of sports. Dave was the first president of the Collegiate and Professional Sports RDs Association (CPSDA) and is currently CPSDA’s Ambassador over all matter Food and Supplement Security related, as well as the President of Sports Alliance Inc. and creator of the Fueling Tactics System. Dave is also the Consulting Registered Dietitian for MLB/MLBPA and USA Baseball.

 Fueling Tactics

Fueling Tactics

By Dave Ellis, RD

Young male athletes playing power sports like baseball often dial in on muscle or weight gain strategies promoted by the popular press (supplement retailers on the internet, muscle magazines), loaded with “Bro Science” level information all designed to promote a dietary supplement solution over food. In reality, however, these athletes should trade in the “Bro Science” for a “Pro Routine” if they want to train their way into the body of a power athlete that can stand out against the competition.

My name is Dave Ellis, and I am the consulting registered dietitian (Sports RD) for MLB / MLBPA, and what I am going to present to you here is 30+ years of key learnings from working around some of the most successful teams in sports. If you want to outwork the competition, it’s all built on adequate amounts of quality rest, quality meals spread out strategically over the day and a lifestyle that doesn’t negate all the hard work at the degenerative hands of drugs or alcohol! Let’s focus on the fueling side of the equation first.

When it comes to fueling hard working athletes, the most important lesson they can learn is how to divide food into three categories that deliver unique benefits, such as minimizing workouts missed due to illness; energy to take on all the reps on the field and in the weight room that come your way daily; and all the building blocks you need to fix damaged muscle and support growth that the vast majority of you are still experiencing. This three-step approach to feeding athletes is called Fueling Tactics® and it is easily the most widely emulated approach to fueling in U.S. sports. Fueling Tactics® is taught to MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL athletes, as well as some of the top college and Olympic development programs in North America. Fueling Tactics® is a food-first approach that athletes implement to outwork the competition. It is really a life skill that will work for you long after your days on the baseball diamond have ended.

Step 1: Immune Health

The two biggest underpinnings of having a strong immune system are 1) adequate sleep and 2) putting some color on your plate at mealtime! If you are the athlete who is up late checking your social media and you have never managed to learn how to eat fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts or seeds, you may well be the most vulnerable athlete on your roster to get sick when the team starts traveling! You can have the most talented team roster, but if they are sick and not available on game day, that team is vulnerable to underperform! Sports RDs spend a significant amount of the fueling budget supplying fresh vegetables and fruit like you would typically see in a salad bar for our athletic training tables. We also supply immune strengthening soups loaded with vegetables, smoothies made with fresh fruit, and we keep healthy fats around like nuts, seeds, olives and avocados that help our hardest gainers meet their calorie requirements in a smart way. All of these foods are loaded with polyphenols* that help your immune system stay primed and ready for action when challenged. A well-primed immune system can minimize downtime due to an illness that leaves you missing classes, practices or games. Coaches notice athletes who show up to practice and train consistently. You play like you practice, so staying healthy gives you a fighting chance to impress your coach and move up the depth chart.

Polyphenols* - abundant in fresh produce, the antioxidant properties of polyphenols play a probable role in the prevention of various diseases associated with oxidative stress, such as cancer and cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.

Fresh produce is typically better than frozen, and frozen is better than canned when it comes to the immune value of polyphenol-rich foods. That even goes for beverages like tea, with freshly brewed tea being better than bottled to get the maximum immune resilience to stress. The bad news for busy athletes is that fast food is typically a poor solution for fresh, polyphenol-rich foods. Sports RDs also have a much more difficult time helping athletes keep body fat off if they don’t eat fresh produce. Using a multivitamin to help augment polyphenols in your diet is fine, but the fresh produce itself just can’t be replaced. You have to learn how to get some color on your plate at every meal. Fruit and fruit smoothies are the easiest start for those who consistently miss the mark on polyphenol-rich foods. Soup and cooked vegetables are next, and eventually a salad with lots of freshly prepared dark greens, tomatoes, carrots, onions, olives, and seeds. If you want the edge on the competition, pull the plug on your video games and social media long before you plan to go to sleep, and get some color on your plates at meals!

Step 2: Energy to Work

Sprinting the bases, taking explosive reps in the batting cage, fielding balls and making throws over and over, all add up along with the work you are doing in the weight room. The preferred fuel for hard working muscle when doing repetitive high-intensity work is carbohydrate (carbs - starch and sugar). You also burn fat between burst activities, but when you take short rests between reps, the reliance on carbs is increased. When athletes do intense activities without enough carb onboard in muscle (muscle glycogen) Sports RDs often see vulnerability for muscle pulls. Do the same intense workout dehydrated, and you may also increase vulnerability for muscle cramps. You have to show up hydrated and fueled to do quality work, and to take the kind of high-intensity reps that translate to explosive game day performance potential. The good news is that carbs are not a hard sell compared to the foods in the first step, and carbs are inexpensive. However, not all carbs are the same when it comes to fueling workouts vs. our long-term health.

Slow digesting carbs that have more fiber and digestion-resistant starch are the smartest sources of time-released carbs for our long-term health. These slow digesting carbs are not flash-in-the-pan carbs that have you bouncing off the walls one minute and looking for a place to take a nap the next. This is why Sports RDs always have slow digesting carb sources around training tables for athletes to choose from, like slightly undercooked pasta (al dente - firm, not mush), potatoes with skin on (skin has more fiber), brown and white rice (brown has more fiber), whole wheat and white bread (wheat has more fiber) and cereals made with whole grains (go easy on the cartoon character brands). You have to build the base of your carb intake at meals from these slow digesting carbs, and you use more of them on days when you are training hard.

On the high end, up to half the food on your plate, or a couple of fistfuls, would be an active day feed rate for carbs. Is there room for some simple sugars that digest fast on days when you train hard? Absolutely! Sports RDs make sports drinks available during training for athletes, along with chunks of easy to digest, carb rich foods like bananas or cereal bars. The use of fast digesting carbs helps athletes top off the carb tank after a long day at the park, and you still have to muster up the energy to get in a lift. If it’s hot out, you burn carbs even faster when doing all this work, just like you do when training at a higher altitude. On top of all that, if you are the emotional leader of the team, you burn carb even faster (it’s an adrenaline thing).

So, think twice about showing up to a long day at the park empty handed. Plan ahead and pack some fueling solutions along with your daily meals, and yes – a PB&J could work to fill the gap up from lunch to practice lifting. Of course, you just can’t live off the low fiber, fast digesting carbs for all your energy requirements. They just digest too fast, like throwing hay in a bonfire. We will discuss fueling for inactive days shortly.

Step 3: Protein to Recover

Most athletes think about recovery along the lines of resolving muscle soreness that is typical of explosive work endured in the weight room, on the field when doing sprints, agility and power drills or those explosive reps in the batting cage. The more explosive and repetitive the activity, typically the more muscle soreness you will experience. It’s important that you understand the same protein intake that supports the tissue remodeling behind resolving post workout muscle soreness also supports growth. The vast majority of young male athletes are still experiencing vertical growth, which might not end for some until they are in college for a couple of years (late bloomers with late birth months). The biggest vulnerability that Sports RDs see with male athletes is not inadequate protein intake; rather, it is lack of diversity in their protein intake among animal, dairy and vegetable sources.

Why diverse protein sources? Some protein sources digest quickly, some slowly and some in between. Diversifying protein sources gives you a mix that ultimately offers a bigger recovery window between protein meals or snacks. Another reason is that you get different amino acid profiles from different protein sources, as well as some very important nutrients like the calcium from dairy proteins, iron from animal proteins and some unique protective properties we get from vegetable proteins that have cardiovascular and cancer prevention properties.

The most important amino acids that make up these protein sources is leucine. Leucine is a trigger to stimulate the muscle to start fixing itself after hard practices and workouts in the weight room. Globally, the most leucine-rich protein sources are used in formulating post workout recovery beverages and meals. For example, whey protein, egg white protein and soy protein isolates are the big three leucine-rich proteins used in the formulation of recovery beverages and bars targeted at hardworking athletes.

Do you always have to buy a high-leucine recovery product from a health food store? The answer is no. Milk is a great source of leucine-rich recovery protein, as are boiled eggs, so it’s not like you can’t pack along some food to get the job done. Most athletes enjoy cold chocolate milk post lift to fill the gap until they cool down and are ready to eat a meal. I won’t even rule out snack items like beef jerky post workout. Nuts and seeds or peanut butter have some protein in them too; you just have to eat more of them to get the same recovery bang per bite.

Sports RDs like to get athletes to think about hydrating and cooling down before we typically target recovery protein feeding. So, for example, after muscle cools down and rehydrates, it starts to ramp up the recovery machinery more efficiently, so it’s fine to wait on the protein intake until after you get out of the shower. Next stop, hopefully, is a meal with their family that would have animal, dairy and vegetable protein sources for some time-released, diversified protein.

Of course, sleep also comes into play when it comes to fixing damaged muscle. Deep sleep and enough of it, along with a smart distribution of your daily protein intake at meals and recovery snacks, set the stage for efficient recovery. Even a little protein before bed might be smart, too. Something as simple as a casein-rich protein snack like Greek yogurt before bed can help support deep sleep-stimulated muscle recovery. The clock is ticking until the next game, practice or lift; your fueling tactics off the field impact your ability to win on the field the next day.

Periodized Fueling: Active vs. Inactive Days

Sports RDs have to teach athletes how to periodize or change their intake of food for days when they are training (active days) in comparison to off days (inactive days). Your daily protein intake is actually pretty consistent, regardless of your daily activity. We are still fixing our sore muscle for multiple days after invasive workouts, thus hard-working athletes typically get into a routine or daily pattern on protein intake. However, you do have to keep protein sources leaner or lower in fat on inactive days. For example, you could eat skinless chicken (lean), as opposed to skin-on chicken or skin-on chicken that is fried. Sticking with the lean source of that chicken is the key when inactive if you want to stay lean over the course of a long season.

Most of the foods in the first step are high-water foods that don’t tip the scales of total calorie intake enough to necessitate lowering on inactive days. The healthy fats in the first step like olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds are important for our immune health, so while lowering fat from protein sources, you will want to make room for these healthy vegetable fats, even when inactive.

The biggest swing in calories from active to inactive days that you must be aware of comes from the carbs in the second step. Throttling back your simple sugar and total starch intake on inactive days is a key life lesson for athletes. The liberal capacity afforded athletes to dispose of blood sugar that elevates after digestion of sugars and starches diminishes when inactive, and sadly, diminishes with age and as activity declines. This is an important concept for a sport like baseball, compared to a metabolically fatiguing sport like basketball or ice hockey. When you are taking the high-intensity reps, you can be more liberal with your total carb intake from the second step, but when you have a break in training and have historically exhibited a vulnerability to easily gain body fat, you will want to reduce your total carb intake on inactive days.

Reductions of carbs on inactive days could be as simple as dropping sports drinks and any sugar-sweetened beverages or juices (stick with water, tea and fresh fruit). Instead of eating half the food on your plate from slow digesting starch (or two fist-sized servings), go down to a quarter of the food on your plate from the slow digesting starch (or one fist-sized serving). If you did a good job on carb fueling on active days, glycogen stores will be relatively full on inactive days. When your glycogen tanks are topped off in a muscle, running high blood sugars on an inactive day from excess carb intake will set the stage for fat storage. Thus, the concept of periodizing your total intake of sugar, starch and fat (non-protein calories) down on inactive days will pay dividends for life! Keep your protein lean, sugars low and starches moderated when inactive, and you will minimize the body composition vulnerabilities that challenge many baseball athletes.

You should also keep in mind that we periodize efforts in the weight room to train to gain lean mass (offseason) vs. phases of the year where we just hope to hang onto offseason gains (in-season maintenance). So, it is very important that you understand that not every day of the year is a weight gain day. That is an important concept for young males’ athletes focused on gaining weight, muscle and strength. This is not a hard concept for college, Olympic and pro athletes to understand, because they have organized strength and conditioning plans that are periodized over 12 months to achieve individualized and team goals.

The take home point here is that for athletes attempting to gain lean mass (muscle) in the offseason, resistance training is prioritized before exhaustive workouts in the heat, typical of a long day at the ballpark. You are going to be sore for days from some of these workouts so it’s critical that your sleep, diet and lifestyle are buttoned up if you want a big return on these offseason efforts to gain lean mass. The net result of multiple offseason efforts like this is a gradual filling out of your frame from gains in lean mass vs. fat mass. This process is closely monitored for those that go on to compete after high school in order to make sure athletes understand that it’s not just about eating yourself into a number on the scale. It’s about training your way in the offseason into functional gains in form of lean mass.

Smart Supplementation

Offseason efforts to gain lean mass seem to immediately stir the curiosity of many young males to look in the locker of the most muscular athlete on the roster to see what dietary supplements they might be using. As a veteran sports dietitian, I have to warn you, however, that even at the highest levels of sport, we find all kinds of potentially dangerous dietary supplements in their lockers. Often, they come by these products honestly with a well-meaning family member making a recommendation. High profile athletes are frequently targeted by supplement brands that send the unrequested products to the athletes for free in the hopes of those products making it into the top of an athlete’s locker and eventually getting some TV time during an interview.

The take home message is that just because the person in the locker next you look like Tarzan, that hardly qualifies the dietary supplements in their locker as being well-researched or safe. Sports RDs spend a great deal of time tracking the research behind product formulations and the safety records of the dietary supplement brands. If fact, Sports RDs are trained to NOT bring in any dietary supplements to a team that have not been certified to be free of banned substances by organizations like NSF. The number of bad actors in the dietary supplement manufacturing space has made it too big a risk to trust that dietary supplements are free of banned substances that could cause a positive doping test for drug tested athletes. It’s that bad.

Sports RDs are certainly going to have a sports drink around for athletes to get through hard workouts in the offseason when training to gain lean mass. And we are certainly going to have a post workout recovery beverage that delivers some high-quality leucine-rich protein to trigger the recovery of that hardworking muscle. If an athlete chooses to use a recovery beverage that is a dietary supplement, the only source we bring in would have to be NSF Certified for Sport to ensure that it is free of any adulterants that could cause a positive doping outcome or adverse health event. The number of dietary supplements that are determined to contain drugs, on a weekly basis by the FDA only accounts for a fraction of what is actually adulterated in the dietary supplement marketplace. So, my advice is simple:

• Do not have a cavalier attitude about using any dietary supplements, even with something as simple as a multivitamin.

• Only move forward on selecting a dietary supplement after consulting with a health professional like a Sports RD to determine if you are a qualified candidate based on an assessment of your current diet quality and daily intake pattern.

• With the help of your Sports RD, identify only NSF Certified for Sport dietary supplements by going to www.nsfsport.com or downloading the NSF App free of charge for your mobile devices.

Sports Drink vs. Energy Drink

Sports drinks with a dilute amount of carbs in the formulation and electrolytes like salt and potassium to replace what is lost in sweat, by design, typically do not contain any kind of stimulant. The reason sports drinks are formulated with a dilute carb delivery is to make sure they empty from the stomach in a rapid fashion during activity, compared to something as concentrated as a soft drink. It’s very important you understand how quickly you can get behind on your fluid intake when competing or training in a hot, humid environment. Our wiring that stimulates our drive to drink lags behind the rate that we sweat, so you have to push yourself to drink when exercising. Dry mouth, dry eyes, dark urine, slow reaction time and poor endurance are all signs that you are behind schedule on your fluid intake.

Positions like catchers and starting pitchers are possibly the most vulnerable athletes on the baseball field to fall behind on their fluid intake. Hyper-hydrating (building up fluids) before a game for our biggest sweaters is probably a good idea to be safe. Sports RDs often feed athletes more liberal, high-electrolyte foods before events where they have to compete under hot, humid conditions (salty snacks, soups, high water foods like fruit and vegetables with liberal salt). Water and sports drinks should always be available before, during and after activity. Low sugar sports drinks that contain the electrolytes with low to no carb content might be a good fit for athletes who are not playing (pitchers in a rotation) but still exposed to the heat. Just make sure you don’t get sports drinks confused with energy drinks when attempting to combat fluid loss in the heat.

Energy drinks approach “energy” not from a carb profile, but primarily from a stimulant profile like caffeine or caffeine plus multiple stimulant sources in some cases. You absolutely cannot get sports drinks and energy drinks confused when it comes to striving to stay hydrated during the hot months of competition. The combination of dehydration, stimulant use, high blood pressure and exercising in the heat has a history of causing some severe heat related injuries. In some cases, the combination may have caused death in athletes with enlarged hearts.

The latest evidence shows that stimulants do allow athletes to do more work, partially by lowering the athlete’s perception of exertion, but that comes with a price. Doing a lot of stressful work in the heat can set you up for some exertional vulnerability where muscle can break down (rhabdomyolysis) and cause life-threatening organ damage. The bottom line is that stimulant-fueled muscle can’t dissipate heat as rapidly as the work being done requires and may well help explain the record number of emergency room visits being documented related to a cavalier energy drink or pre-workout supplement consumption (heart and heat-related emergencies).

Because professional athletes have such a challenging in-season travel schedule that often leaves them playing catch-up on sleep, NSF has allowed some energy drinks go through NSF Certified for Sport verification. The ceiling on caffeine per serving via NSF is a 200 mg of caffeine per serving limit, and they DO NOT certify any energy shots. Most Sports RDs prefer a simple cup of coffee or tea for some caffeine to ramp up after a short night rest. Sadly, the FDA is starting to identify some stimulant doping in coffees and teas, labeled as foods and marketed for “energy, focus and slimming” benefits. Typically, these kinds of products are sold in places like convenience stores and gas stations as beverages, shots or powders, so be careful; supplements or foods that make these kinds of claims that are NOT NSF Certified for Sport should be avoided at all cost.

These are the same precautions our MLB athletes have to take that are all part of a “Pro” Routine. If you want to keep up with the latest fueling news as it breaks on these topics, search #fuelingtactics on your favorite social media platform.

Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS is a veteran Sports RD with over three decades of experiencing working at the highest level of sports. Dave was the first president of the Collegiate and Professional Sports RDs Association (CPSDA) and is currently CPSDA’s Ambassador over all matter Food and Supplement Security related, as well as the President of Sports Alliance Inc. and creator of the Fueling Tactics System. Dave is also the Consulting Registered Dietitian for MLB/MLBPA and USA Baseball.