Post by Brian McAfee
In the words of an Eric Cressey tweet:
“22 MLB pitchers w/30+IP this year have average fastball velos of 97+mph. Only 3/22 are under 200lbs. If you're sick of throwing 77mph, EAT.”
Eric Cressey trains both of this year’s Cy Young winners. The concept above applies to hitters as well. Although the relationship between mass and “gas” or mass and ability to hit the ball hard is complex, the relationship between gaining strength and gaining weight is more straightforward. If you’re looking to increase your force output and put on lean muscle mass, it makes sense for most people to take on a calorie surplus and gain weight. Trying to gain strength and lose weight is an uphill battle. By increasing lean muscle mass and force output, you give yourself the best possible chance to play at the next level.
Here is an old rule of thumb that was approached with skepticism for years in the health and fitness industry: 3,500 calories in excess/deficit = 1 pound gained/lost. New studies have shown that it isn’t quite this straightforward. For example, if you burned 2,800 per day and consumed 3,300 calories per day, that excess of 3,500 calories each week wouldn’t amount to 52 pounds gained over the course of a year. It isn’t a linear process. However, an average sized person should plan on consuming roughly this many calories more calories than he or she burns if to gain a pound of weight. Add in a stressor (aka lifting progressively heavier weights) and those broken down muscle fibers will rebuild, creating stronger, larger, muscles (lean mass). One way to hold yourself accountable and set some process-oriented goals is to create an excel spreadsheet with a trend line to measure your progress over the long term. While your weight could fluctuate several pounds in either direction from day to day due to hydration, this trend line will give you a good idea of the direction you’re headed and provide a good tool to monitor your true progress. Here’s an example:
The “Pounds per Week” is generated using the “Slope” formula in Excel. If you’d like a template, don’t hesitate to reach out! Or, simply type it up in your iPhone Notes and give it a ballpark estimate.
As a high school athlete, being projected as competitive at the next level requires a huge commitment to adding lean muscle mass. A diagram from Ben Brewster at Tread Athletics helps display this concept:
There are certainly outliers at each level, but as the average pitch velocity and power output from hitters increases, you should gain lean body mass to keep up! Plus, staying on the positive side of the infamous, old school MLB scouting report terms is a good idea. Having “horse-like” legs is usually better than “chicken-legs” (unless you already throw gas).
Now that we’ve established why it’s important to gain weight in the form of lean muscle mass and unveiled part of the mystery behind calorie intake and output, we can discuss some tips for a higher calorie diet. It can be a challenging task to shovel down large amounts of food for various reasons:
All of the above are valid, but they’re also a reason why some people don’t get the opportunity to play at the next level. The goal is to find what quality foods fit in your budget, how to become okay with eating more than is comfortable, and balancing a high calorie intake with decently healthy sources of calories. If you’re thinking you need to plan out each home-cooked meal to an exact specification, you’re probably either going to need a personal chef or you’ll have to live in the kitchen. It’s important to remember you’re just trying to gain strength and mass, not win a nutritional competition. But, you might have to do some meal planning, have snacks ready on the go, and drink whole milk out of the carton. There are numerous resources available with a simple Google search that gives tips on this! I’m going to write about a couple important things to focus on, including one myth that was recently unveiled and published in Scientific American article (hint, it’s awesome and it’s Tip #1).
Tip #1: Eat animal products with lots of fat.
Arguably the biggest misconception in the food industry is that animal fats (usually in the form of saturated fats) are bad for your health. Here’s the link and a quick explanation of why:
Originally conducted 40 years ago and unpublished, this was the largest clinical study of it’s kind, focusing on 9,423 participants, aged 20-97, all living in a controlled setting (nursing homes or mental hospitals). One group got animal fats and margarines and the other got vegetable and corn oils. The group with vegetable oils had lower blood cholesterol levels by 14%, yet significantly higher risk of death and no lower chance of heart attack. Obviously no study is perfect, but these results are compelling. The bottom line: consume bacon, steak, eggs, heavy whipping cream, etc. and don’t feel guilty about it.
Tip #2: Processed food is okay, in moderation.
It’s impossible to have a completely clean diet and sometimes you have to make sacrifices to meet your calorie goals. As a general rule, just try to avoid large quantities of trans-fats, because those do increase your risk of heart disease and strokes, as far as we know.
Tip #3: Plan, Monitor, Assess.
It’s okay to be the person eating like it’s their job. Grab a Costco membership, some ziplock bags, and start bringing snacks on the go to get one in between each meal. Don’t be hungry! Keep a general idea of how you’re feeling, what your weight is, how many calories you’re getting each day, and how your maxes are in the weight room. The more specific and quantitative, the better. MyFitnessPal is a great app to learn how to estimate how many calories you’re getting each day.
Finally, and most importantly, enjoy your time eating as much as you want without any consequences…