In Major League Baseball, the transition to eating healthy food has become more than a movement; it’s a revolution. Jose Altuve, Chris Archer, Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, Mike Trout, and the 16 other star ballplayers featured in The Game of Eating Smart are proof of the positive effect of proper nutrition on athletic performance and overall health.
Eating smart isn’t about calorie-counting and fad diets. It simply means consuming more nourishing food—including leafy greens, lean protein, and fresh fruit—that eventually decreases the desire to make unhealthy choices. The Game of Eating Smart includes insights from today’s top players on their approach to healthy living and performance nutrition, plus more than 80 easy-to-prepare and nutrient-dense recipes inspired by their food philosophies and favorite meals.
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About the Author
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Second Baseman — Houston Astros
5' 6" // 165 lbs.
Full Name: José Carlos Altuve
Born: May 6, 1990, in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela
Position: Second baseman
Signed: As an undrafted free agent on March 6, 2007
Awards and Recognition: 2017 World Series Champion; 6x AL All-Star; 4x AL Silver Slugger; 3x AL Batting Title; 2017 AL MVP, Hank Aaron Award
My motivation for eating smart comes from my family. We are a healthy family that likes to eat right. Also, my dad noticed some of the big league players eating well and playing well, so he recommended that I improve my diet. Since I changed my diet a few years ago, I’ve noticed a big difference in my performance.
I’ve noticed a connection between my eating habits and performance because when I eat right, I not only go out there and play well, I also feel well. I feel better on and off the field, and my recovery is much faster. Once I started eating better, I noticed a 100 percent change. Now I can play all season and I still feel great after it’s over. After the season, I want to still go out there and play baseball. I feel faster, and after a game I sleep better. I feel very healthy.
My breakfast routine starts at about 7:00 a.m. with an omelet of spinach, onions, and tomatoes, and two pieces of wheat bread. I eat some fruit, too, usually pineapple. I also eat bananas and watermelon, and occasionally an apple. I like a mixed fruit salad with strawberries.
In my refrigerator you’ll always find fruit and yogurt. For a midmorning snack, I will eat yogurt and granola. Then later in the day I eat a protein bar or a smoothie for energy—especially on really active days when I need to keep my calories high. My favorite smoothie has a mix of vegetables and fruit. I like spinach with banana and unflavored protein powder. I just add water, mix, and drink.
My biggest meal is lunch and it’s usually two pieces of grilled chicken breast, a cup or half a cup of brown rice, and vegetables. I also eat big salads with lettuce, tomatoes, and all kinds of vegetables. And then for dinner, I usually have more protein and vegetables, but fewer carbohydrates than at breakfast or lunch. I find that eating this way works best for my body and helps my performance on the field. I feel strong and energized. But I also know that I need to maintain a certain level of body fat and not get too lean because it can affect my power. I know when I’m hitting well and I know when I’m not, and sometimes it is as simple as needing to balance my intake of carbohydrates.
I recently discovered that I like fish, and will usually choose salmon and sea bass. Yesterday I had red snapper. I put it in the oven with just a little olive oil. But once a week I just eat whatever I feel like eating. A once-a-week treat is good for my mind and my body.
I got some great wellness advice from my teammate Carlos Correa. He showed up to training camp one year in really good physical shape. At the time, I was trying to get to the same place because I wanted to become a better player. So Carlos gave me some great advice: “You have to eat well. If you eat well, you’re going to look good and feel good, and you’re going to go out there and play well.” Even though it seems like obvious advice, I always remembered it.
Simple Scrambled Eggs
Serves: 1 // Prep: 15 minutes // Cook: 5 minutes
This is a no-fuss alternative to José Altuve’s everyday omelet that is reminiscent of his Venezuelan roots. The added vegetables give these eggs a delicious and healthy boost.
2 large eggs
11/2 teaspoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon finely diced onion
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
2 cups chopped baby spinach
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1.In a small bowl, whisk the eggs. In a small skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and cook the onion and garlic, stirring frequently, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently, for about 30 seconds.
2.Pour in the eggs and continue to stir the mixture with a rubber spatula until the eggs begin to scramble, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat and add the spinach. Cover to allow the spinach to wilt, about 30 seconds. Fold in the spinach and season with salt and pepper to taste.
with Baked Acorn Squash and Escarole
Serves: 2 // Prep: 20 minutes // Cook: 1 hour 10 minutes
José Altuve knows a thing or two about big hits on the field—now here is one off the field! The roasted spiced acorn squash is what makes this entire recipe sing. Sometimes snapper is hard to find; striped bass works really well too.
2 snapper or striped bass fillets (4 ounces each), with skin
1 small (about 11/4 pounds) acorn squash, halved and seeds removed
3 teaspoons coconut oil, melted
4 small garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 small shallots, peeled and quartered
4 cups chopped escarole or watercress
1.Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2.Holding a sharp knife at a 45-degree angle, score just the skin of the snapper, making a crosshatch pattern to prevent curling while cooking. Set aside.
3.Rub the flesh side of the acorn squash with 1 teaspoon of the oil and place it on a large baking sheet, cut-side up. Bake for 30 minutes. Place 2 of the garlic cloves in each squash half and season with the cumin, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue baking for 30 to 40 minutes, until the squash and the garlic are fork tender and can be easily mashed.
4.While the squash is still baking, toss the shallots in a small bowl with salt and pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of the coconut oil. Lay the shallots cut-side down on the baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, until carmelized. Reserve the shallots.
5.Scoop the flesh from the squash into a large bowl, discarding the skin, and mash it with the garlic until almost smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cover to keep warm.
6.In a nonstick medium skillet, heat the remaining 11/2 teaspoons oil over medium-high heat, until hot but not smoking. Place the fish in the pan skin-side down. Using an offset spatula to hold the fish flat for a few minutes to further prevent curling, cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the skin is golden brown. Flip the fish and continue to cook about 2 minutes more, until the fish is just cooked through.
7.Transfer the fish to a plate and cover to keep warm. Add the escarole to the same skillet with a couple drops of water and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds, until just wilted. Remove from the heat and stir in the reserved shallots. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the fish with the squash and escarole alongside.
Coconut Mango Protein Bars
Serves: 12 // Prep: 10 minutes
The chewy goodness of all-natural sweetness in every bite is why you won’t be able to eat just one bar. Make a big batch and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to three months so you can enjoy them to your heart’s content.
1 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup raw whole almonds
1 cup pitted dates
1 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup chopped dried mango
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1.In a food processor, blend all ingredients for 2 to 3 minutes, until well combined and sticky. On a baking sheet, shape the mixture into a rectangle 81/2 x 4 x 3/4 inches and refrigerate, covered, for at least 1 hour.
2.Cut into 12 bars. The bars will keep in the refrigerator, wrapped in wax paper in a sealed plastic bag or airtight container, for about 3 months.
Serves: 8 (2 per serving) // Prep: 5 minutes // Cook: 20 minutes
Granola is a go-to topping for coconut yogurt or gluten-free oatmeal, but it also makes for a great snack on its own. These super-tasty and fuss-free granola bars are easy to make and the perfect pick-me-ups for any time of day. Keep a jarful on hand for a quick snack. Rotating the pan halfway through the baking time is key to achieving a crunchy texture.
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons mini dark chocolate chips
3 tablespoons almond butter
3 tablespoons honey
1.Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2.In a medium bowl, combine the oats, coconut, seeds, and chocolate chips. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the almond butter and honey. Remove from the heat and fold the dry ingredients into the wet.
3.Scrape the mixture onto a sheet pan lined with a nonstick silicone mat. Using a rubber spatula, shape into a 5-inch square.
4.Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until golden brown. Let cool before cutting into 16 pieces. Granola bites will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.
Starting Pitcher — Pittsburgh Pirates
6' 2" // 195 lbs.
Full Name: Christopher Alan Archer
Born: September 26, 1988, Raleigh, NC
Draft: Drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 5th round of the 2006 MLB Draft
High School: Clayton High School (Clayton, NC)
Awards and Recognition: 2x All-Star; AL Most Starts in 2015, 2017; on-air talent for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight
The person who motivated me to eat smart was my assistant football coach when I was a senior in high school. He was a former NFL player and knew more about healthy eating than anyone I have ever met. At the time, fast food was a big part of my diet. So when my coach noticed my car parked every day at a fast-food restaurant, he decided to teach me how to eat like a professional athlete. Back then I didn’t have any money, and my small-town grocery store didn’t have organic products, but my coach planted the seed in my mind. Two years later, I started researching nutrition and began to think of ways I could maximize my abilities and distinguish myself from other athletes with similar talent and potential. I began to look at the connections between proper sleep, working out, and nutrition.
I sleep between eight and ten hours a night. My goal is ten, but I’ll never sleep less than eight hours. Our schedules are demanding, but there’s always enough time to get adequate sleep. Working out without allowing yourself to get enough sleep and without putting the proper nutrients back in your body is counterproductive because your body needs to recover from exercise. I think proper nutrition and quality of sleep are often overlooked.
When it comes to nutrition I’m conscious of what I put in my body, but I’m not perfect by any means. I still like pizza and chicken wings, but I’m very selective. I like to read and educate myself on a variety of ways to keep me healthy, including how proper nutrition can help prevent illness and reduce the need for taking a lot of medications.
My breakfast this morning consisted of three scrambled organic free-range eggs. But if I’m on the road, I always get poached eggs. It’s the healthier way to eat eggs when you don’t cook them yourself, and you don’t know how they’re being prepared. I also had some of yesterday’s leftover green beans because I needed some greens, along with a handful of blueberries and raspberries. Usually, I have a carbohydrate in the morning, but I knew I was going to be eating carbs for lunch in four hours, and I didn’t want to overload on them.
For lunch today, I had a six-ounce grilled salmon fillet with a brown rice and quinoa blend and sautéed kale. I have a variation of the same breakfast and lunch every day. And I always try to eat wild fish, organic produce, organic free-range chicken, and grass-fed meat. I try to avoid dairy and gluten because they can cause inflammation in the body.
During games, I always have a bag of mixed organic nuts and berries on hand for an energy boost. The nuts have good fats you can burn off quickly after a lot of intense physical activity. And when I need help speeding muscle recovery after a tough workout I’ll just eat a handful of berries—I love blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries.
My favorite green vegetables are spinach, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and zucchini. I go through phases, though. I prefer eating my vegetables steamed and plain with maybe a little bit of Himalayan salt, but no butter. I know grass-fed butter and ghee are considered healthy right now, but I don’t like the taste of butter at all.
My favorite smoothie is one with almond butter and half a banana. Usually, I don’t eat dairy because it is inflammatory, but occasionally I add in a little Greek yogurt for extra calories when I have a hard time maintaining weight. I’ll also add a vegetable protein, so I am not consuming so much dairy or animal product.
When I am on the road with the team I find a health food store and get some basic things to eat like fish, chicken, quinoa, and kale salads. I always try to make the best possible choices since I can’t prepare anything myself. You’ll always find water, almond milk, fruit, maybe some guacamole, and nuts in my refrigerator at home.
Eating smart is definitely a process of changing your palate, especially when you’re used to the richness of certain foods. I’ve started adding coconut oil to a lot of meals and snacks. A decent snack for me is almond butter and coconut oil on gluten-free bread. It’s a healthy treat, but you have good fats, and you have a more sustainable carbohydrate.
Playing professional baseball motivates me to eat well, but the main reason I’m so conscious of nutrition is for long-term quality of life. I just try to make the best possible choices I can about eating well. I want to delay taking any medications for as long as I can. If I live eighty years, I want to live eighty quality years.
The same way we feed our bodies, we should be feeding our minds, which is why I always try to read and educate myself. I’m extremely spiritual in the sense that I believe everything is happening for you; not to you or against you. You just have to open your eyes and recognize that the world is not out to get you. It’s especially important to remember that during tough moments. I try to learn from every situation and understand what the universe is trying to teach me about myself so I can become the best human being possible.