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Bird Food: The New Nutrition Focus Of The St. Louis Cardinals

The facilities at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida will soon be welcoming back an entire flock of players as the Cardinals’ Spring Training venue comes to life for 2011. Like last year, players should not only be expecting coaching on their baseball skills, but also a renewed team focus on the importance of nutrition as part of an athletic training program.

In 2010 the Cardinals implemented an organization-wide mandate to bring nutrition to the forefront of their baseball training program. Everything from team meals to vending machine options in the clubhouse was overhauled in support of this new focus on healthy food choices.

Towards the end of the 2010 season, I had the opportunity to meet with Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, Pete Prinzi, and visit with him about the specifics of the team’s nutrition program, including how the players felt about such drastic changes to their food supply.

Many thanks to Pete for giving us an inside look at how he helps the Cardinals maximize their performance through nutrition. What follows is part one of the transcript of our interview.


Last year in Spring Training, Matthew Leach of mlb.com wrote an article describing the Cardinal’s new focus on nutrition in which GM John Mozeliak was quoted saying “We have emphasized nutrition, and we’re going to make a very strong effort to push that this year.”

Erika Lynn, I-70 Baseball: Before this new focus on nutrition how did the clubhouse food and players’ diets differ from today?

Pete Prinzi: The food provided was not geared towards optimizing performance on the field.

I-70: Was the food unhealthy?

Prinzi: In some cases it was not healthy and at other times it was just not the right food at that time of the day.

I-70: Were the players’ diets really that bad?

Prinzi: Some of the player’s diets were bad only because they made the wrong choices.

I-70: Was it frustrating for you, as someone with an interest in health and nutrition to see these professional athletes not doing their best to eat right and fuel their bodies in the best way possible?

Prinzi: My education and experience taught me the right way to fuel the body for competition, so I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t a priority if we were looking for the edge in competition.

I-70: What do you think inspired the club’s focus on nutrition?

Prinzi: Originally, our minor league system was the focal point. The nutrition program was initiated by Jeff Luhnow, our Farm Director. John Mozeliak, our GM, then thought the nutrition program should be uniform throughout our organization to include the Major League team. A top down approach to nutrition.

I-70: Is this a league-wide initiative or did it come from within the organization?

Prinzi: Some organizations incorporate a nutrition program, but it’s still a growing phenomenon in baseball.

I-70: In Spring Training, doughnuts, cereal, candy and sugar sodas were removed and replaced by healthier options. Is this still the case?

Prinzi: No candy or sugar sodas, but better cereal choices are available for the players.

I-70: Did players complain about the changes?

Prinzi: Some complained, but as they became educated, they came to appreciate the benefits.

I-70: Which players were the most vocal opponents of those changes?

Prinzi: The guys who could eat anything thing they wanted without gaining a pound.

I-70: The plan used by players such as David Freese and Kyle McClellan during the offseason was termed the “Prinzi Plan”. What is the Prinzi Plan?

Prinzi: The Prinzi Plan is just a nutritionally sound approach to eating that yields the desired results. For example, between batting practice and before the games we provide fruits, lean meats, whole grains, beans and pastas in low fat sauces.

I-70: Do the players adhere to a nutrition plan during the entire baseball season or do they lose interest/motivation.

Prinzi: Many of the players continue to practice the basic outlines of the plan through a change in eating habits.

I-70: Do the Cardinals employ a chef to prepare meals for the players?

Prinzi: Yes, Chuck Rowan and Simon Lusky.

I-70: How many meals do players typically eat at the clubhouse during a homestand?

Prinzi: 2-3 meals plus snacks.

I-70: What types of foods are available to them during practices, games, etc?

Prinzi: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy, and lean meats.

I-70: Before the 2010 season, David Freese made a dedicated effort during the off season to lose weight without sacrificing strength. Many casual athletes are trying to accomplish the same goal. What tools did you use with David that fans at home could use to achieve similar results?

Prinzi: David did make a great effort to follow the plan laid out for him. His discipline was one of the main reasons for his success. I used sound and proven nutrition techniques with David and he followed them consistently.

I-70: What distinct diet habits would you consider to be the most important changes players can make in order to optimize their performance on the field?

Prinzi: Eat breakfast! Sounds rather simplistic, but it really is the most important meal. Stay away from candies and high glycemic foods prior to performance which could lead to a crash in blood sugar. Hydration is also one of the most neglected diet habits that can effect on field performance.

Thanks again to Pete Prinzi! And if you would like to learn more about the specific principles of nutrition programs such as the one developed for the Cardinals by Sports Nutrition Consultant Dave Ellis you can visit http://www.fuelingtactics.com/

Erika Lynn is a contributor for i70baseball.com, BaseballDigest.com and writes about the Cardinals at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You can also find her on Twitter: @Erika4stlcards.

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