Rounding the bases, not the bellies

Rounding the bases, not the bellies

A number of years ago, I was speaking to a doctor about some research he was doing regarding the relative fitness of professional athletes. At the time, I remember being somewhat surprised by his conclusion that baseball players were, on average, no more fit than sedentary college-aged males.

Could it be true that by following the Frat Boy Fitness Plan (cold pizza and 12 ounce curls) you too could have the body of a pro? Not likely -- at least not these days, according to Dr. George Blackburn, director of the Center for the Study of Nutrition and Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and S. Daniel Abraham, associate professor of nutrition at Harvard Medical School.

"If you want optimal performance, you have optimal training, diet and lifestyle," stated Blackburn. "Along with workout routines, most teams at the top of their game are incorporating nutritional advice, stress reduction techniques and even lifestyle coaching in order to maximize the performance of their players."

Many of us, it seems, are heading in the opposite direction. Those sedentary college-aged males are now leaving a bigger imprint -- on the couch.

"In the last 20 years, the population has gained about 20 pounds. Most of us need to make changes, but it's not something that's likely to happen overnight," Blackburn said.

For an athlete, the motivation to get -- and stay -- in shape is clear. Their livelihood depends upon it. With few exceptions, a thick waistline is not often equated with a thick wallet. For you and me, the payoff is a bit different.

"We all want to watch our cholesterol levels. And the connection between obesity and diabetes is undeniable," said Liz Trimarchi, a registered dietitian at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "There are so many benefits to a healthier lifestyle."

Education is key. Know what your body needs and know what you're putting in it. Go for lean meats like chicken, turkey or fish over beef. Choose low-fat dairy products and Trimarchi suggests that you follow Mom's advice: eat those fruits and vegetables.

"I like to tell my patients to eat the rainbow. Eat as many different colors of fruits and vegetables as you can," Trimarchi said. "It's not all about subtracting things that you like. It's about finding good choices to add instead."

Perhaps Blackburn's best advice is never to bite off more than you can chew, especially when setting goals.

"If you don't like to cook, don't kid yourself. You can find wonderful, healthy choices when it comes to prepared foods or on many restaurant menus," Blackburn advised. "And please don't try to crash correct. Start with small changes."

Such as, doctor?

"Well, I'm doing this interview standing up rather than sitting. I'm fidgeting around a bit, so that means I'm burning 50 percent more calories than I would if I were sitting," he said. "It all adds up. Your body will be so happy it will reward you. You'll sleep better, you'll breathe better, your clothes will fit better."

Excuse me for a minute. I'm trying to type standing up. A few hundred more stories and it just might add up to erasing that 20 pounds.

Gary Gillis is a contributor to MLB.com. The BID Injury Report is a regular column on RedSox.com. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.