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Pirates finding their (circadian) rhythm

By Rob Biertempfel, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, May 8, 2011

When it comes to sleeping, Pirates right-hander Ross Ohlendorf is a night owl. That can be great when he pitches in a late game on the West Coast but not so much when he starts an afternoon game at PNC Park.

“I tend to not want to go to bed early, and I don’t want to get up (early),” Ohlendorf said. “If I sleep 7 1/2 hours, I usually feel pretty good. Nine, I usually feel better.” The turnaround from a night game to a day game is quick, robbing players of sleep. Travel also disrupts players’ sleeping habits. A two- or three-city road trip usually involves switching at least one time zone, which throws off a person’s internal clock. Making matters worse, teams tend to fly overnight and arrive in the next city in the wee hours.

“Going coast to coast, it definitely messes with your sleep patterns,” Ohlendorf said. To help manage their sleep routines, the Pirates this year hired Bill Sirois, senior vice president of Circadian, a firm specializing in 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions.

The Massachusetts-based company advises construction workers who toil on the graveyard shift as well as globe-trotting CEOs. Sirois’ firm consults the Cleveland Indians and three NFL teams that he declined to identify. “We’re hard-wired to be daytime creatures,” Sirois said. “But now we work, play and do so much else at night, and that can be difficult. It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

Even a small change to a sleep pattern can be disruptive, Sirois said. He cited a study that showed auto accidents increase by 8 percent the day when Daylight Savings Time begins.

“Just an hour’s shift or loss of sleep can have an impact,” Sirois said. “Translate to finely tuned athletes, and you can understand why a guy will hit three home runs one night then strike out four times the next.”

That could explain why Ohlendorf’s career stats in day games are slightly worse than those in night games.

Last year, the Pirates as a team hit better in night games (.245 batting average, .683 OPS) than day games (.234, .663).

Perhaps Sirois is having an effect. The Pirates just took four of six games on a swing through Denver and San Diego. They are 5-2 in day games on the road. Just five weeks into the season, the Pirates already have won more road series (five) than they did all of last season (four). They are 11-8 on the road after winning just 17 of 81 road games last season.

Pirates head conditioning coordinator Frank Velasquez figures that in order to become winners again, the team must first become the Slumber Company. “Not everyone has to lift weights, but everyone has to sleep,” Velasquez said. “So why not improve our quality of sleep, especially considering how much we travel?” Last season, the Pirates went 2-11 in the Western time zone, 3-3 in the Mountain zone and 8-28 in the Central zone. Velasquez puzzled over that awful road record all winter.

“We’ve researched different areas of recovery,” Velasquez said. “We do cold tanks, we do hydration and nutrition, and we stretch these guys out to keep them feeling good for as long as we can. One area we’d really never covered was sleep.” Sirois addressed the players and coaches in January at the Pirates’ minicamp in Bradenton, Fla. He continues to work closely with Velasquez, charting the players’ travel routines and their sleep patterns at home and on the road. Researchers have identified several different sleep personalities based on factors such as when a person falls asleep and wakes up without prompting and the number of hours slept. The extremes are what Sirois calls “morning larks” (early risers) and “night owls” (those who sleep in past 9 a.m.). Most people are “robins,” meaning they usually awaken around 7:30 a.m. Sirois wants players to remain on their natural sleep patterns as much as possible when traveling. On the Pirates’ recently completed Western swing, Velasquez charted game start and end times and time spent in transit. He also tried to track how each player behaved: Did he go to bed right away or stay up until what would’ve been 6 a.m. on the East Coast? “When we go from home to the West Coast, usually the second and third days are the toughest,” second baseman Neil Walker said. “Your body starts to adjust, but you’re fighting it. By the sixth inning of that second game, it’s 8:30 p.m. but you’re working on 11:30 p.m. in your brain.”

Sirois told the players to adjust to Pacific Time by going to sleep at a “normal” time (around 1 a.m. after a game that ends around 11 p.m.) and not setting the alarm clock.

There’s a bigger challenge when the Pirates return from California because the time zone change costs them three hours. The effects of jet lag can be more severe the first few days in Pittsburgh than they were in San Diego, Sirois said.

“Traveling west to east, you’re going against the grain of your biology,” he said. “The strategy is to get to bed an hour early if you can and wake up early, get some sunlight in the morning, then try to squeeze in a 20-minute nap in the mid afternoon.”

It’s too early to say whether Sirois’ program will produce tangible, long-term results. But the early returns are favorable.

“We tried to reconstruct their road routines, which can make a difference,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “You can fall into ruts and routines that are completely different than they are at home. We’re trying to keep them fresh, keep them simulated and really just play good baseball.”

 

Creating Good Sleep/Recovery Habits on the Road

Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS, PBSCCS Advisory Board Member, Colorado Springs CO

Dave Ellis is an accomplished Sports Dietitian and President of Sports Alliance, which provides consulting services to athletics and the food industry.  Dave has earned a reputation as a pioneer and leader in the field of applied sports nutrition and is celebrating his 25th year of practice athletics in 2006.   As the Director of Performance Nutrition support services at the collegiate level (20 years combined – Nebraska and Wisconsin Universities), Ellis orchestrated the most highly evolved performance nutrition and body composition support service models in the country.  Dave also Chairs the Nutrition, Metabolism & Body Composition Special Interest Group of the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) and is an advisor to the Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning Coaches Society (PBSCCS) Advisory Board, USADA and the Taylor Hooton Foundation.-ed

After spring training is over and you hopefully came out healthy and with your baseball skills sharpened, the long march towards the divisional championships begin.  Now at the big leagues some long trips await the teams who live in cold climates as they try to avoid bad weather that potentially awaits them back home.  It’s a tough way to start off the season after the relative comfort of day trips during spring training.  Without a doubt travel is over-rated when it comes to sports.

One of the biggest problems is the lack of quality rest that occurs on the road.  For many athletes not sleeping in their own beds can slow recovery as the quantity and quality of their rest is compromised.  When we get to the deepest phases of rest (called non-REM sleep) some valuable recovery occurs as we naturally pulse growth hormone.  Every time these athletes compromise the quality of their rest by 90 minutes they miss a cycle of growth hormone induced recovery that in time takes it’s toll as this sleep-recovery debt accumulates.

It’s a good idea to try and bank sleep when traveling.  We do this by going to bed early knowing that the stresses of travel itself along with the grind of the hours on the field will demand extra rest.  That means setting the stage for sleep by knocking down stimuli in the hour leading up to lights out.

• Pass on any caffeine sources after 4 PM or earlier if you are very sensitive.  This includes soft drinks and chocolate.

• For most athletes this means turning off the video games or checking out of the card game that can have you adrenaline pumping and leave you staring at the ceiling.

• Dim the lights and start dialing down high tempo music for soft melodic tunes, designed to induce relaxation.  You can find dozens of these types of DVD’s in any good book or music store.

• It’s not a bad time to read or journal just before bed.  If you journal reflect on things that you did that support immune health, energy and recovery:

-Rate the quality of your rest (1-5 w/ 5 being the best) from the night before and how you felt when you woke up and how long it took to clear your head and get your motor skills on point when you got to the park.

-Did you eat every four hours and did the meals contain fresh produce for immune health, fiber rich starch for energy and diverse sources of protein (animal, dairy and vegetable) to facilitate tissue remodeling?

-Did you drink 3-4 liters of water/sports drink over the course of the day’s activity?

-Reflect on your performance and competitive drive on the field for the day and your mood when dealing with teammates and coaches.

In time you will start to connect the dots with poor rest, diet, hydration and poorly focused-slow starts, dead legs and sluggish finishes.  You might get away with one reckless day, but two in a row will takes it toll and when alcohol or drugs are involved you can bet one day will put you in the tank.  So be honest in keeping track of how often you use alcohol and how it impacted you mind, body and spirit.  Choose the company you keep carefully if you see a trend where recovery is compromised.  Running with the pack might seem like the thing to do, but when the pack is ridding pine, sick, injured or cut, the pack will not amount to a hill of beans.

Sleeping on planes, buses and in vans is rarely as refreshing as when we are in a quiet room in a good bed so plan on being on your best behavior from a life style and diet stand point.  The stresses of travel demand that you give something back that improves recovery, not add to the stress with an undisciplined social life where those around you dictate everything from your rest to your diet.

Certainly this is easier said then done on the road.  It gets even tougher when you are in the minor leagues and trying to rest on long bus rides and survive on some very limited visiting club house spreads and daily per-diems that only fit the budget at the drive through.  Some teams will work hard to make the best of a bad situation when traveling by designating someone (typically trainer or strength coach) to travel with a portable food supply that athlete can fall back on when the cheap white bagels and cream cheese are the only breakfast items or a vending machine is the only PM snack.

In the end if you just wander through your athletic career living off caffeine in the AM and binge eating when your stomach starts growling after batting practice and again after the game, your baseball career is going to be short lived.  Soon you will look in the mirror and see the body of the guy next door who mowed his yard in his Bermuda shorts and on a boiler hanging over his belt, sweating like he had dynamite strapped to his body.  Sad to say there is not shortage of these old man bodies in the sport of baseball.  I will let you guess at what position we see more of these bad bodies.  So don’t let in-season travel get the best of you this season.  Being average won’t get you much when it comes to travel.

Article provided by Performance Conditioning Baseball/Softball www.performancecondition.com/baseballsoftball the Official Publication of the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society