A crowd full of fans or a top-notch coach may be enough incentive to bring out the champion performance of professional athletes most of the time, but Howie Clark has found that it’s dedication to his sport during the other hours of the day that really counts.
Although Howie entered professional baseball in 1992, it wasn’t until 11 years later, a year after his MLB debut with the Baltimore Orioles, that he started to pay attention to nutrition. Surgery has a way of getting people’s attention, and it was while recovering from shoulder surgery that Howie began to consider how nutrition might affect his ability to recover. Till then, he’d never cooked. Almost all his meals were cheap take-out. Once he began eliminating foods that impaired his healing, he quickly discovered the difference that “clean eating” could make to how he felt and how he performed.
Fast forward a few years later to 2007
Now with the Toronto Blue Jays after a few seasons in the minor leagues and looking to improve his game, Howie met strength and conditioning consultant Scot Prohaska. Howie had always trained in the off-season and was no stranger to working hard. And since his surgery, he was doing much better with eating. But since that first day when he started sport-specific training with Scot and was exposed to the principles of Precision Nutrition, Howie felt like he’d found his baseball fountain of youth. As he describes it:
“I am stronger, faster, more explosive and leaner now than when I was 25 years old. I move better on the baseball diamond and have just as much energy as kids 10 years younger. I got back to the big leagues for a couple of weeks in 2008 and by August when most people were starting to get run down, I felt as strong and energetic as I did at the beginning of the season.”
Howie’s training protocols and focus change depending on the time of year. Off-season training volume and intensity is much higher than spring and regular season play, when recovery is the priority. During the first three months in the off-season, Howie lifts weights a few mornings a week, followed by hitting, throwing, and sprinting sessions. In January he switches his weight training to the afternoon.
Once spring training and regular season play begins, Howie’s workouts and schedules shift again. This year, Howie was fortunate to have Eric Cressey of Cressey Performance develop some of his in-season training protocols. Now, any training question that comes up can be answered by either Scot or Eric with a simple phone call to the coaches’ HQs.
On a typical day, Howie is up at 6 am
He whips up a quick shake of protein powder, a little yogurt, Fiber One, flax seeds and blueberries in the Magic Bullet blender. Then he’s off to the field for an early weight training session. Depending on his game schedule, Howie sometimes splits up his workout to finish it at the end of the day.
During training, Howie drinks a protein and carbohydrate shake, followed by whole foods shortly after his workout. He always packs and totes some kind of lean protein (tuna, turkey, or chicken) just in case eggs aren’t on the team menu that day, and pairs this with some oatmeal and berries. On the days where he isn’t training in the weight room, Howie skips the oatmeal in favor of broccoli or asparagus, and nuts or avocado. Though he once avoided fat for fear of getting fat, now avocados are one of Howie’s favorite performance-enhancing foods. He’s found that increasing his fat intake results in higher, more sustained energy levels.
At 8:30 am early work begins
Players practice a little extra defense or hitting. Team stretch is around 9 or 9:30 am, and then it’s on to drills, team defense and batting practice.
During the two and a half hour period of field training, Howie sips on BCAAs to fuel his performance. He prefers to stay away from a typical team lunch of sandwiches, and instead digs into his cooler for lean protein, veggies and some kind of good fat. Afternoon games can last up to 3 hours; Howie once again relies on BCAAs during the event, and then eats a healthy post-game meal of protein, veggies and fats.
Nutrition made simple
During the season Howie stays away from anything too nutritionally complicated. He just tries to eat foods that are easy to prepare and that he can take with him when there may not be food choices that suit his performance objectives. Howie’s eating plan is simple: he only eats starchy carbs post workout; other meals are made up of protein, veggies and nuts. He sticks to PN’s 90% adherence rule and prefers to use all his 10% meals up on the weekend.
Howie gets a lot of questions from young baseball players: What is he eating? What are BCAAs? He tries to explain why he eats what he does and how his body responds to the food he’s eating.
“I think young athletes are beginning to realize how important training is for their particular sports. I know a lot of the younger athletes have trainers in the off season. I think the nutrition part is more difficult for them to understand.”
“If I had to give nutritional and training advice to a young athlete, first I would tell them to get Precision Nutrition. It has all the information for any athlete who wants to gain muscle, lose fat and be healthy while doing so. Nutrition is the foundation for everything we do in the weight room and on the baseball field.”
After two years of the Precision Nutrition system, Howie now knows that it makes him feel and perform at a higher level. He sleeps better, and thus his recovery is better.
“It’s actually quite simple. During a minor league baseball season we play 144 games in 150 days. In the big leagues it’s 162 games in 180 days. So as you can see, the name of the game is recovery. The baseball season is a grind but I’ve found that if I can manage my nutrition I feel much better over the course of the season.”
Though Howie has found a system that works for him, he still has some nutritional challenges. During the off-season, there is nothing more tempting than Mexican food, and Howie generally saves up a non-compliant meal or two to enjoy his favourite food. During the season, eating on the road can be tough to manage. At home, there are no excuses for not eating properly. But on the road, in a city that he may not know, it can be difficult at times. Howie manages this by always carrying almonds and walnuts, so that if he’s stuck, he can get a chicken breast and eat some nuts.
Whatever the challenge, Howie’s found that the best way to get through nutritional tough times is to stay focused on the bigger goal. For Howie, this is playing in the Major Leagues again, which means he needs to be at his physical and mental best every day. Howie is convinced that this is impossible without sound nutrition.
From nutritional advice to training, working with Scot every day has been invaluable for Howie. Scot’s made Howie want to train like a champion and given him the tools to do it.
“I don’t know if I’m there yet, but it is something that I take pride in and that I am conscious of. That means having the same dedication to my profession the 22 to 23 hours I’m away from the gym when no one is there to watch me. “
Howie’s 2009 season is getting started in Las Vegas. If dedication counts for something, he’ll be back in Toronto soon to prove that most goals are achieved off the field.
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