A Dietitians' Rookie Season; Spring Training

A glimpse of spring training (ST) started in October when I started working with a very talented young man, Oswaldo Arcia. He was in a unique situation that required him to basically step up or get out. He has worked extremely hard both on and off the field to lock-in his position on the MLB side of the Twins, and for that I am so proud of him!

He was committed to working with me and the MiLB strength coach for the entire off-season to get in shape. He opted out of playing winter ball in his home town in Venezuela and instead became more focused and committed than he ever has before. He made a choice to remove temptations that he thought would often get in the way his healthy lifestyle. Feeling good and performing on the field was the only priority.

We met every week to discuss food and nutrition; his wife and children, the strength coach, even friends and management as they came through town. We made post-workout smoothies, ate lunch together, even went to the grocery store for a full educational tour. Grilling fish and vegetables in the afternoon was no longer a chore but rather family time and seeing veggies in omelets at breakfast became expected.

He had accountability and support on all sides and he truly believed in himself. He prioritized his health and linked it to his success on the field, which is key for athletes when changing habits. I often ask him, how are you feeling and he would reply, better than ever!

Spring training rolled around and he continued to practice his healthy habits. As he embarked on a new season, I wished him the best of luck as he boarded the bus for another season with the MLB team.

Upon arrival of the major league team, I started working with Miguel Sano; built like a football player, a man of pure muscle, with a lifelong dream and natural talent to play baseball.

Here we are one night with his family and friends at the grocery store purchasing food for a healthy, enjoyable Sunday afternoon cookout. At first it was absolute chaos- a type A dietitian, Spanish speaking family members and supportive friends all wandering the grocery store on different missions.

Part of counseling is meeting the client on their level, whatever it may be. Family is important to Miguel, and therefore important to me. We talked about eating while on the road, healthy breakfast, and how his mom can prepare post-game meals at home. Salmon and broccoli are his favorites after a game.

​On a typical day, I coached the athletes during breakfast, lunch and dinner on how to make healthy plates. Food selections are based on their weight and body composition goals which are communicated to them at the beginning of ST. To see results, it’s a daily effort and consistent commitment that’s required by the individual. They have to want it. Many of them do, especially Trevor May with his use of Inside Tracker. I was their accountability, their daily reminder, often a sense of ease and support during difficult decisions or physically and mentally exhausting moments.

Many players, nearly 40%, are international coming from Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Korea, Australia, and from other countries around the world. Some of my trying moments as a dietitian take place when coaching to support the transition into the American culture. Some athletes have never eaten vegetables before in their life, and they really want nothing to do with them. Others gravitate to eating only PB & J sandwiches or orange wedges because it’s all they feel comfortable with. Providing cultural foods that are healthy, performance driven and welcomed by players are key. Meeting them half way is one step in the right direction to optimizing nutrition.

We went through cases of watermelon and pineapple every day. Sometimes I would deliver oranges from the back of a golf cart during afternoon games. They love simple foods like steamed broccoli and turkey chili with brown rice. They also are open to trying new foods like quinoa, farro and beets as long as they know how it will help improve their game. Because it does, and they now know it.

When I wasn’t counseling individuals, you could most likely find me in the kitchen. My days were full of snack prep to ensure constant fuel was accessible and to prevent weight loss amidst double session workouts and games. I made everything from chia seed pudding with raspberries and cinnamon to cups of grapes with cheese and crackers.

I have to say the chia pudding to my surprise was widely accepted. Kurt Suzuki makes his at home with almond milk. He loved to pick my brain, and I his on food and nutrition topics. My goal was to continue to help him improve and extend his career with wholesome eating. He and Brian Dozier are believers at heart, and they practice healthy eating habits daily.

The guys really enjoyed hard-boiled eggs post-workout, and fruit for energy and hydration during hot afternoons. At night yogurt berry parfaits and homemade trail mix were their favorites. On Saint Patrick’s Day I made green smoothies to keep spirits high and the focus on the nutrition {recipe below}.

I also developed a recipe for a homemade whole food sports bar, which I branded the Home Run Bar {or Striker Bar for pitchers}. Ingredients included nut butter, honey, oats, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds. I would prepare them late into the night and bring the bars and fresh fruit over to the weight room every morning for the guys to eat during their workout or after a game. In my humble opinion, the balanced blend of carbs, fat and protein is much better alternative to than a high sugar, processed and packaged protein bars.

The first day of ST I told my boss, “My one goal and bucket list dream is to meet Big Papi. It’s his last season and I’ll literally never have the opportunity again!” Once games started in early March I realized that the former Twins player had no plans of leaving Jet Blue Park. I was a bit bummed because I'm Boston born and raised.

The last day of ST the tables turned. I got a call in the middle of lunch and was informed Papi was in the house! My boss handed me a fresh ST MLB ball and a sharpie and wished me good luck! I grabbed my backpack, lip gloss and phone and sprinted over to batting practice...in heels.

When I arrived, I realized I had just missed him. The guard informed me he was getting ready in the visiting clubhouse. Patiently waiting for my opportunity, I quickly coached the clubhouse guard to be my photog and capture the perfect photo(s) and practiced deep breathing.

Finally he opened the door and I was able to meet Mr. David Ortiz. I manned up and said, "Big Papi! Do you have a moment?" He asked, as he headed down the hall to his final batting practice,"will you walk with me?" I quickly replied, "Absolutely!" We had a very brief conversation that I’ll always cherish.

As I was exercising my deep breathing technique in awe and walked down the hall past the cages he was practicing in, he waved and said, "Best of luck!" {Insert hyperventilation, and feeling of extreme gratitude.}

As if ST couldn't get any better, I was also fortunate enough to spend time with Nancy Clark, the Red Sox Nutritionist. As one of the most influential and inspirational sports dietitian’s in the nation, I've read her Sports Nutrition Guidebook and often reference her when educating players. I toured her through Hammond Stadium and she welcomed me to Jet Blue Park for the first time. We spent time talking about how to educate, fuel and empower young athletes. I asked her who her toughest clients are and she responded with a giggle, "those who know more than me." I was excited to work with her and feel so grateful to have the opportunity to connect with other MLB dietitians. I look forward to attending her workshop this winter and collaborating in the future.

My rookie Spring Training was an absolute ball! The Twins organization continues to impress me with their courageous hearts, open minds and yearning to learn. I encourage the minor league players to focus daily, work hard, stay positive and eat for performance.

Recipe:

TWINS SAINT PATRICK'S DAY SMOOTHIE

{Makes one serving}

Ingredients:

1/2c low-fat milk (protein, calcium, vitamin D; preferably organic otherwise almond or soy are other alternatives)

1/2c plain Greek yogurt (lower in sugar compared to flavored yogurts)

1 frozen banana (frozen provides cool temperature and thick consistency)

1 kiwi, peeled and cut in half (one fruit provides over 100% daily vitamin C)

1 handful of spinach (rich in vitamin A and linked to eye health)

1/4c chia seed pudding (protein, calcium, fiber and helps reduce inflammation!)

¼ English cucumber (for extra hydration and flavor without added calories)

Ice as needed

Directions:

1. Add milk, yogurt to blender, then fruit, vegetables and chia seeds.

2. Blend in blender until liquid.

3. Add ice as needed

4. Pour into glass and enjoy!

#baseball #springtraining #snacks #chiapudding #smoothies #sportsnutrition #Twins #groceryshopping #athlete #MLB

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