By Steven Ellis, former Chicago Cubs pitching pro
There are three parts to a complete baseball pitcher's training program: workouts, nutrition, and rest. Each of these components has equal importance. A pitcher cannot train at maximum intensity if he is not properly fueled or properly rested.
For the most complete and up-to-date program for conditioning the pitcher available today, check out The TUFFCUFF Strength and Conditioning Manual for Baseball Pitchers. It contains training calendars, nutrition charts and food recommendations to help you eat well, so that you play to the best of your ability.
Recent studies show protein can improve baseball pitching performance because it's loaded with amino acids, and amino acids help to repair and build muscle.
But while all proteins are the building blocks of muscle, the body does not absorb them all at the same rate which is why it's important know some basic protein facts so you can get the most out of the protein consumption in your diet.
The three types of protein are whey, casein and soy.
About whey protein
Whey protein is a naturally occurring by-product of the dairy cheese-making process. Whey isolate, the highest quality form of whey protein is extracted, purified, and dried, forming the whey protein used in protein powders.
Studies show that whey protein supplementation leads to significant improvements in peak muscle torque and lean tissue mass. Whey protein is quickly absorbed in the stomach making it an excellent protein source immediately after exercise when your muscles need protein replenishment the most. Plus, whey protein is loaded with amino acids and is inexpensive.
There are 2 kinds of whey protein on the market today (concentrate and isolate) and it's important to read the label to know exactly what you are buying. Whey concentrate is comprised of 80% whey protein per gram. The more expensive isolates contain 92-96% whey protein per gram. If you want the best and don't mind paying 50% more per gram of protein, whey isolate should be the first ingerdient listed on the nutrition label of your protein powder. If value is what you are looking for, whey concentrate is an excellent and inexpensive way to add whey protein to your diet.
About casein protein
Casein protein is also a derivative of milk, but unlike whey protein, casein protein is typically in the form of a salt and is added to other ingredients of a diet to increase its protein content (100% whey protein can be ingested by itself).
Casein may benefit pitchers by helping to increase strength during resistance training. Researchers in Boston reported that compared to whey protein, casein protein leads to a greater increase of strength of the chest, abdominals and legs. Casein is digested more slowly than whey or soy so it's an excellent source of protein to consume during your last meal of the night when the body fasts until breakfast 8 hours later the next morning. (Notice how the meal we eat first thing in the morning is called "break"-fast). By taking casein protein later in the day, the body rebuilds itself overnight because of the slow release of amino acids in the body.
Cottage cheese is an excellent low-fat source of casein protein in a whole food source. You can also buy casein protein powders at you local health foods store. (Remember, because casein is in the form of a salt, casein typically is not taken alone in powder form but rather as part of a protein powder blend. Look for casein protein to be listed as one of the first 3 ingredients on the nutrition label if you're looking for an excellent protein shake to be taken before bedtime.)
About soy protein
Soy protein is a vegetable protein derived from legumes (soybeans, navy beans, kidney beans, string beans, black beans, pinto beans, lentils, and peanuts). Soy is the single best vegetable protein available which is why it is the primary source of protein in a Vegetarian's diet.
Soy protein protects against exercise induced muscle tissue breakdown and stress. Soy protein contains large amounts of the branched chain amino acid Arginine and Glutamine. Researchers think Arginine and Glutamine impart some of soy's performance benefits. Soy protein is an excellent protein source to take in the morning because it will prevent excessive muscle atrophy during your rigorous baseball activities throughout the day.
So what should you do to add protein to your diet? Try to consume all three proteins throughout the day! Try including a balance of all three proteins in your diet to reap the greatest benefit. Take soy in the morning, whey all day long, and casein before bed to be stronger and better than ever!
Additional information about protein
Any time you can use protein supplements in the form of a powder or liquid, you should, as the body more rapidly and fully utilizes these forms. Nevertheless, don’t disregard protein bars since they are probably the most convenient means of adding protein to your diet since you can throw a couple in your baseball bag to eat at the ball park or after a game.
The protein requirement for the average individual is approximately 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day. But baseball pitchers generally need 1.5 grams per kilogram.
Scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas have shown that taking in higher levels of protein, up to 2.1 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, increases muscle mass in response to weight training. Individuals in bed rest studies consuming high levels of protein were able to maintain their muscle mass, while individuals who consumed less lost muscle mass.
Muscle growth occurs with the supplementation of protein only when the protein contains essential amino acids (amino acids that must be consumed in the diet because the body doesn't make them). Also, taking the amino acids with carbohydrates speeds protein synthesis in individuals training with weights.
Protein timing may be important. Consuming a protein supplement before weight training speeds the rate of protein synthesis after exercise. The scientists concluded that a higher protein intake (more than 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day) may provide athletes with a slight advantage.
(Journal Sports Sci, 22: 65-79,2004)
High-protein foods are common in today’s baseball players' daily diets. As suggested, pitchers generally need to consume around 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. Timing of these protein meals are just as important. Eating extra protein before or after training helps boosts protein synthesis. Baseball players seem to prefer their protein from animal sources. However, these foods are often high in saturated fats, which can help promote heart disease.
Plant protein (soy) have many health benefits but are less beneficial to athletes because plant protein doesn’t preserve muscle mass as well as other sources during intense exercise. Also, they contain chemicals that can mimic the action of estrogens. Advances in food processing have provided refined sources of protein. These include whey, casein, and soy. Casein supports protein synthesis best over a prolonged period. Whey protein promotes more rapid protein synthesis, which is better for post-exercise restoration and repair. A combination of casein and whey proteins may be best for baseball pitchers because they would support immediate and long-term nutritional needs.
(Journal Sports Sci Med, 3: 118-130, 2004)
Feeling sluggish in the afternoon for baseball practices? If you’re an individual who faces an afternoon slump, British nutritionists found that people who ate lunches high in sugar were more likely to feel sluggish during the afternoons. The body releases large amounts of insulin when high-sugar meals are consumed. Individuals need more protein with their meals. Gluconeogenesis occurs when the liver breaks down Amino acids from proteins. Higher levels of energy were maintained all day long when protein acts as a blood sugar timed-release capsule. The message: include some protein with meals.
(BBC News, Oct. 9, 2002)
Eat well to play well. Work on it.
Related Pitching Materials
Want to learn more about baseball nutrition and supplements? Arm yourself with the most innovative and up-to-date baseball pitching training available. These related pitching materials from former Chicago Cubs pitching pro Steven Ellis are guaranteed to help you or the players you coach pitch better and reach the next level faster!