LSU baseball team feels impact of changed nutrition habits in 2012

The seventh-inning stretch is a popular time for fans in the stands of Alex Box Stadium to get out of their seats, sing a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and get a last-minute refreshment.

But for senior shortstop Austin Nola, the seventh inning is a chance to grab a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the dugout and refuel for the final stretch of the game.

Nola began the ritual this past summer when he started feeling weak in the final innings while playing for the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod League.

“I talked to a doctor, and he said maybe I should try eating something during the game that sticks to your stomach, so I tried a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” Nola said. “It worked; now I feel like I can play another game.”

Nola and many other players on the LSU baseball team have embraced a wave of positive nutritional and fitness changes this season.

Players are practicing better nutritional habits than they did a year ago, making healthier choices and keeping their bodies nourished throughout games. The players and coaches credit the newfound lifestyle to a heightened awareness from the team’s staff, adjustments to team meals and players’ individual efforts.

The No. 3-ranked team has reaped the rewards on the diamond, boasting a 32-9 (12-6 SEC) record with four conference series remaining, surpassing last year’s 24-17 (4-14) mark at the same point.

“There’s definitely been more conversations about nutrition this season,” said Jon Michelini, associate athletic trainer. “The more you talk about it, the more it affects them and their eating choices. The changes have helped us this season and will hopefully help down the line.”

Sophomore catcher Ty Ross and junior pitcher Joey Bourgeois made the greatest transformations from the 2011 to 2012 season. Both players slimmed down in the offseason and are enjoying more productive 2012 campaigns.

Ross and Bourgeois’ individual statistics have been impressive this season, but the team as a whole has also made progress in many statistical categories, especially in late innings.

After six SEC series last season, LSU held a 5-7 record in one-run games and only scored a total of six runs in the ninth inning. This season they are 10-4 in games decided by one run and have scored 13 runs in the ninth inning through six conference series.

“It’s not like we weren’t in good shape last year, but during that last inning we now feel like we’re at the best of our game,” Ross said.

Ross and the other LSU players, are guided by Michelini and two other staff members — Jamie Mascari, coordinator of nutrition, and Jeremy Phillips, strength and conditioning coordinator. The three work closely with the team throughout the season to assist with health and fitness needs.

Michelini and Ross Brezovsky, coordinator of baseball operations, initiated one of the biggest changes in the team’s diets by transforming the team’s traditional pregame meal.

During the 2011 season, team members typically ate a sandwich with a bag of Zapp’s potato chips and a Milky Way candy bar. A typical pregame meal this season consists of a sandwich, a Nature Valley granola bar and a piece of fruit.

“Jon has done a great job changing our eating habits,” Ross said. “He doesn’t let us eat things like candy anymore because it may give you a rush at the beginning of the game, but it wears off at the end.”

Instead of LSU’s pregame meals consisting of greasy potato chips and candy, this season they feature healthy options such as fruit and whole grains.

Ross made drastic changes in his diet in the offseason, shedding 30 pounds since the end of the 2011 campaign.

“The biggest thing for me was changing my diet up,” Ross said. “I’m eating a lot cleaner and eating more meals throughout the day. I’m in a good state of mind, and I feel healthier. It really changed my whole life completely.”

Ross is third on the team with a .307 batting average and 29 RBIs this season, while last season he only batted .223.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri pointed out that numbers don’t tell the full story of Ross’ rise from freshman to sophomore year.

“He hit a triple the other night,” Mainieri said. “He couldn’t have dreamed of hitting a triple last year. Last year he had trouble scoring from second on singles.”

Besides a newfound burst of speed this season, Ross said he’s noticed improved concentration during games.

“It’s a mental thing,” Ross said. “If you know you’re putting the best stuff into your body, you’re also stronger mentally. So when you’re out there on the field, you’re as prepared as you can be.”

Bourgeois, one of the many pitchers Ross catches for behind the plate, also used the offseason to slim down. The 2012 LSU roster lists Bourgeois as 190 pounds, which is 34 pounds lighter than he was during the 2010 season.

The Paulina, La., native, posted a 6.68 ERA with opponents hitting .282 against him in 2010.

This season Bourgeois has a 2.40 ERA with 22 strikeouts, while opponents are only hitting .180 against the right-hander in 17 appearances. He missed the entire 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery on his elbow.

“Those are guys that have changed their diet tremendously,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said about Ross and Bourgeois. “Their body shapes have changed tremendously, and they’ve played better. They’ve really reaped the benefits of getting in shape.”

Besides offseason training, eating habits during the grind of a 56-game season are also a part of the players’ nutritional regime. Many of LSU’s players have unique eating traditions during the season.

“I eat Zoe’s Kitchen every game day,” LSU junior outfielder Raph Rhymes said. “I don’t know what it is, but that’s my deal. I eat the same thing — grilled chicken sandwich.”

Sophomore pitcher Kevin Gausman’s custom is not as health conscious as Rhymes’ ritual.

The Friday night starter eats four powdered donuts between every inning he pitches.

The tradition started in sixth grade when Gausman asked his mom to bring him something to eat during a game, and she showed up with powdered donuts. Gausman ate them throughout the game and ended up having one of the best outings of his young career. Since then, he’s continued the custom through high school and college.

“I always have to be munching on something,” Gausman said. “It calms my nerves, but it also gives me that sugar high.”

Some players like Gausman take it upon themselves to bring food into the dugout, but the LSU training staff does provide various snacks, such as PowerBar products and trail mix, for the team.

Gausman’s choice to satisfy his sweet tooth between innings wouldn’t necessarily be Mascari or Michelini’s recommendation. Four powdered donuts contain 230 calories and 16 grams of sugar.

But the calorie overload hasn’t slowed down the Friday night starter. Gausman leads the team with a 7-1 record and a 3.00 ERA in 69 innings pitched, throwing 88 strikeouts.

Mascari said she tried warning Gausman about his unhealthy habit, but she couldn’t steer him away from his ritual.

In contrast with Gausman’s sugary selection, Nola’s choice of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich during the seventh inning is a more nutritious selection and earns a stamp of approval from the LSU staff.

“In a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you have carbs, healthy fats and some protein,” Mascari said. “That’s a perfect choice.”

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Posted on April 25, 2012, in LSU Baseball. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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