In 2013, I identified Matt Buschmann as a man with the capability to lead a baseball organization both nutritionally and from a training perspective. My assessment is informed by his devotion to trial and error, willingness to devour new information and apply data. Of course, he is also an elite athlete with the mental strength to grind through years of minor league baseball, hurdle after hurdle. His brain is unlike most pro pitchers. Listen up:
As a professional athlete, finding the optimal nutrition for my body is one of the most important things I can do. Most of the time, I’ve needed to experiment on my own to discover the different ways food and nutrition affect my life. This situation plays out almost identically every time I sit down to breakfast with a friend.
Friend: You put what in your coffee?!
Me: Grass fed butter.
F: How much butter do you use? That can’t be healthy.
Me: 4 tablespoons
F: What?!! So you just crush fat every morning? That’s insane.
Me: Yeah, like 750 calories of fat, and I beg to differ…
I feel like I need a support group. “Hi everyone, my name is Matt Buschmann and I put butter in my coffee.” I also used to eat five eggs with fermented cod liver oil, twenty almonds, 5 Brazil nuts and more grass fed butter right before bed because I read that it was supposed to boost testosterone. Who doesn’t need more testosterone, right?
I came to this point out of a combination of necessity and curiosity. I turned 30 this year and am in the middle of my 8th full season of professional baseball with my fourth organization. That’s a long time to spend in the minor leagues, riding buses, and I’ve been forced to learn a lot.
I went to Vanderbilt University, and it was starting to become a factory for big league talent while I was there. It produced names like Mike Baxter, David Price, Pedro Alvarez, Mike Minor, Ryan Flaherty and Sonny Gray, just to name a few. Our program was vaulted from “have not” status to “have.” We had a brand new locker room, a state of the art weight room and 6 training table meals a week where an awesome chef named Magic designed meals specifically for Vanderbilt athletes. There was an unwritten contract between the players and our coach, Tim Corbin. He asked a lot of us as players and as people, and it wasn’t easy, but our work was rewarded with better facilities, better equipment and better food.
This makes sense. If you’re asking for time and energy out of someone, you have to provide the fuel for your athlete to meet these expectations. If I want to drive my car 300 miles, I have to give it 300 miles worth of gas. This is the kind if logic I took into professional baseball when I was drafted as a senior in 2006. This is not the kind of logic I found in professional baseball. Logic and common sense were nowhere to be found, almost as if both were minor characters in the Game of Thrones, beheaded and shot full of arrows and then burned so they could never rise again.
The minor leagues all suffer from a chronic lack of funding. There are too many priorities and not enough resources. My biggest beef (definitely grass fed!) is with the nutrition. I see feeding and fueling the athletes on the field as an essential function. The powers that be do not. A good food spread, as far as the front office is concerned, does not equate to healthier players or, more importantly, to people in the seats.
This is one thing when you’re in your early 20s. I left college at 6’3”, 195 lbs. and wanted to be 215. I needed calories and didn’t care what form they came in. I’d come in off the field from batting practice at 5pm and eat way more than my share of the enduring icon of the minor leagues, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I was trying to educate myself but never got much further than “protein is important.” I was working hard enough in the weight room to offset any damage I was doing at the dinner table.
Unfortunately, I learned the lesson everyone has to – what works at that age doesn’t give the same results as you get older. The more seasons I played, the more in tune with my body I became. I started to notice slight differences in how I felt every day. I would feel more or less sore in between starts, even though I stuck to a similar routine. Some days, I would have a ton of energy when I woke up, but very little on other days. I knew the importance of sleep, so what else could it be? The only other explanation was my diet.
The off-season for a baseball player is like lab time for a scientist. A player is able to really experiment with and tweak their lifestyle for better results next season. I started to read about nutrition after my 2012 season. I’m not talking about mainstream ideology either; I was searching the fringe. I’ve always felt the edge of mainstream thinking on most subjects is usually where you will find the most up-to-date information. I quickly realized what I thought I knew was really only the tip of the iceberg.
I learned that what we know about nutrition is constantly evolving and evolving quickly. The more we learn about the human body and how it works at a molecular level, the more we understand how food affects it. That means to stay current on all of this information, you have to do your own homework. The carrot that lured me down the rabbit hole? Fat.
Now we come full circle to the butter coffee. Fat is to be avoided, right? Fat makes you fat; it seems like a logical conclusion. Heart disease was on the rise after World War II and we needed something to blame. Obesity was public enemy number one, and what was the cause of obesity? On the basis of a few questionable scientific studies, we decided to strip fat from our diet. It has more calories than carbs and protein, and everyone loved counting calories. Pointing the finger at fat was easy, and it made sense to the average American. The nation bought in; fat intake declined across the board. The food industry bought in, inundating the market with low-fat or non-fat alternatives. For the next half century, people switched from fatty red meat to lean chicken and turkey, from butter to butter substitutes. Everything was being processed to contain less fat.
Decades have gone by and what do we have to show for it? A decline in obesity? A healthier average American? Nope. The exact opposite in fact. We have the dubious honor of being the most obese nation in the world and have gained a type II diabetes epidemic. Marinate on that for a moment. I think it’s safe to say we sentenced the wrong calorie source to prison.
My homework taught me that fat is an essential part of my body, and consuming dietary fat can help to burn off stored body fat. I learned that our brains are about 80% fat, and starving your body of fats starves your mind of fuel. I never would have known this had I not taken it upon myself to do my own research.
My hope in this post was to give some insight into what caused me to ask questions about how my body works and perhaps inspire you to do the same. For me, it was ignited by necessity (one can only take so much peanut butter) and curiosity (how can I use this to become a better pitcher every fifth day). Now it has exploded into a full on passion. The more I uncover, the more I realize the most important part of my day is deciding what to put in my body. I have the ability to control not only my physical state but my mental and emotional states as well.
The relationship between your mind, your body and what you put into it is a powerful one. The type of food you ingest can control the type of person you are. Next time you’re looking to better yourself, maybe pass by the self-help books and the pharmaceuticals that only mask problems and pick up a nutrition book or a science podcast. You may find that simply drinking a big glass of water in the morning can have a more profound effect on your ailments than anything else you have tried.