You can stop telling Mookie Betts to eat a steak.
When Betts put up sub-par numbers (by his standards) during an injury-riddled 2021 season and got off to a slow start this season, fans went back to his Instagram posts last April and made a connection. Betts’ vegan diet was sapping his baseball skills.
“You can tell them – I do eat steak,” Betts said recently. “Now what’s the next excuse when I do not hit?”
Betts’ vegan diet became such accepted wisdom around baseball that Angels pitcher Noah Syndergaard supposedly referenced it when comparing the Angels and Dodgers lineups.
“Yeah, he did,” Betts said. “He just said, ‘We’re not scared of those guys. Their leadoff hitter is vegan and ours is Babe Ruth. ‘ I do not know. I’ve never actually said anything to Noah except ‘What up?’ I do not know why I get attacked so much. But hey it is what it is. ”
Syndergaard has denied the quote attributed to him that circulated online, posting on his Twitter account “I agree – Shohei (Ohtani) is Babe Ruth. … And Mookie Betts can eat whatever the hell he wants, he’s a beast. ”
Betts is eating whatever he wants – to a point. He says the vegan eating only lasted a couple of months last year and was prompted by high cholesterol numbers and a family history of related health issues.
“I have not been vegan for a long time,” he said. “It was not just for the hell of it. It was for health purposes.
“So those people who say that (he needs to eat more), if I want to live with high cholesterol and all that (stuff) – then, okay, why not?”
Betts said sticking to the vegan diet was “super hard” and he lost a significant amount of weight, dropping to 160 pounds from his previous 173. It wasn’t just fans who were concerned about Betts losing strength. He said his mother wasn’t totally on board with the vegan diet either.
“My mom was real concerned,” he said. “’You need to eat. You need to eat. ‘ Of course. But it was just to get the (cholesterol) numbers down. I’m okay with suffering a couple months to get my health better for the long term. That’s all it was. ”
Betts said his weight has rebounded and hovers in the 168- to 172-pound range. He has stuck with a largely dairy-free diet now to keep his cholesterol in check.
“It really came from dairy and egg yolks. So I do not do either of those, ”he said.
“It’s real. I do not know why people freak out. I do not think steak had anything to do with me hitting but call it whatever you want to call it. … It’s just good that I’m healthy. “
As the Dodgers’ manager of performance nutrition, it’s Tyrone Hall’s job to make sure of that. That requires satisfying and supporting a variety of diets in the Dodgers’ clubhouse.
“Over the years, we’ve had a variety of dietary restrictions come through and you accommodate them as best you can,” Hall said. “On a day-to-day basis, we take a shotgun approach because you can not make everybody happy all the time. Give them options. You always have two choices of proteins. You always have some carbohydrates like rice or potatoes. We always have veggies. It’s rare that we cook anything with butter or cheese. It’s rare that we cook anything with a lot of flour.
“And if there’s something very specific, then we’ll start tailoring as needed.”
Different focuses come and go, Hall said. For example, when Chase Utley was finishing up his playing career in LA – “Shout out to Chase Utley,” Hall said – he convinced a number of players to go dairy-free.
Justin Turner was one of them. He cut out dairy while recovering from a broken wrist he suffered late in spring training of 2018.
“When I broke my wrist, I kind of joked that Chase forced me to go off dairy until I came back. But I did, ”Turner said. “For two months, I did not do any dairy because of the inflammation and trying to recover faster. It really did not feel like it was that hard for me so I just continued on with it.
“It’s just a lifestyle that nowadays in 2022 you can go to a Target and there’s plenty of options to eat every meal of the day and do it without dairy.”
Turner took it even farther before last season. He and his wife, Kourtney, dove into the Whole 30 program. Turner reported to camp in 2021 leaner, having cut down his weight. Not coincidentally, he tied a career-high, playing 151 games last season and did not make a trip to the injured list after visiting it three of the previous four years.
The 37-year-old Turner was sold on the dietary change, which he believes has helped him “tremendously.”
“To be able to get down to the weight that I’m at – 192-195 range – I think has taken a huge burden off of what I’ve been labeled as having bad knees and the shots and all that stuff,” he said. “I think being down at this weight has taken a ton of stress and weight – no pun intended or I guess pun intended – off of them and allowed me to just feel better, recover better, just be available more.
“I’m not a big believer in personal goals, like, ‘I want to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs.’ Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. My goal every year is to be available for as many games as possible and let those guys decide when they want to give me a day or when they want to put me in or whatever. … I’d rather set a goal of being available, being healthy, being capable of being on the field and then all the other stuff will kind of take care of itself. ”
In his job, Hall says he supports anything that leads an athlete toward “a healthier mix” and “a better perspective on their nutritional needs.”
Sometimes, though, a higher law applies – you do not mess with a winning streak.
“Guys that are already in their groove, sometimes I ask ‘What has hits in it?'” Hall said. “And it, ‘Oh, I had a cheeseburger yesterday. I got a hit. I got two knocks. I’m eating a cheeseburger today. ‘ You do not mess it up. I’m not going to question it. I’m going to give you what you need. Then if something goes wrong, we’ll re-adjust from there. ”