Better at the Plate

March 6, 2018

Looking to maximize player performance throughout its minor and major league teams, the Texas Rangers have adopted a hands-on approach to sports nutrition.

The five-year agreement signed in December 2016 between Major League Baseball and its players association requires teams to upgrade their nutritional offerings and advice to players. The Texas Rangers have been a step ahead.

In early 2016, Stephanie Fernandes, MS, RD, LDN, was hired by the Rangers as Performance Dietitian, as reported SportsDay from the Dallas News reports. Rather than simply constructing meal plans, Fernandes has a hands-on approach that includes taking players grocery shopping and showing them how to prepare meals.

“We are trying to maximize player performance through good nutrition,” Matt Vinnola, Director of Operations for the Texas Rangers, said. “It may be something hard to get measurable on it, but we are trying to improve nutrition and recovery so that maybe we can reduce DL days and increase performance. Maybe a guy gets 30 starts instead of 27, maybe he gets 500 plate appearances instead of 450. We won’t say we have it all figured out, but we are trying to create something.”

When she first came on board, Fernandes had meeting with all 110 players in the Rangers’ organization. Taking into account their position demands, body types, past injuries, and metabolism rates, she constructed nutrition plans for each. Players have responded with interest and enthusiasm.

“I never really thought about what I ate before,” said pitcher Chi Chi Gonzalez. “I ate because I was hungry. Now there is all this knowledge available to us that helps us prepare and create a routine. You know, if you create a routine for yourself in how you prepare as a  player, you believe in it and you take the field with more confidence. It’s the same thing with food.”

Instead of keeping the focus on just the major leaguers, the Rangers are spreading the work that Fernandes does to all of the team’s minor league affiliates. Fernandes is working with the Rangers’ youngest players to develop nutrition plans that account for their separate needs, habits, and environments.

“If we aren’t fitting the nutrition to their individual needs, then we are missing out on the next level of maximizing performance,” Fernandes said. “It starts with the younger players. We want them to get a good foundation of knowledge so they know what works for them.”

An extra meal service has also been added for the minor league affiliates with the team. In the full season, that adds about 125 extra meals each day—even when the team doesn’t play. In other words, that gives players fewer reasons to stop for fast food as they’re on their way into the ballpark and some extra meal money when they’re on the road.

“We were looking for areas to invest,” Vinnola said. “The investment is significant, but the ROI [return on investment] can be very high.”

One reason is because the younger players may be more willing to adopt new habits. Many of the minor league players are having their first experiences living on their own; the hope is that this type of support will help impact their future habits and lifestyle.

“We want this to be part of our organizational philosophy,” Vinnola said. “Established major leaguers are going to do what they are going to do. We are trying to help create good habits before they ever get there.

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