By Pete Kotz
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By Capt. James Van Thach told to Jonathan Wei
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By Steve Weinstein
Wade Boggs's road to 3000 wasn't an easy one. Despite needing to average about 176 hits per season over 17 years of play, he's also had to keep true to his superstitious chicken diet he chomps on the bird before every game. At the end of this season, he'll have consumed somewhere in the vicinity of 3000 chicken dishes (a chicken per hit, perhaps?). And that figure doesn't include the off-season, when he maintains the same diet.
What's the connection?
By all accounts, the superstition started back in 1982, Boggs's rookie season, when he noticed a correlation between multiple hits and poultry plates. His wife has about 40-plus chicken recipes on hand so as not to upset his stomach, or the many superstitions Boggs follows.
But this breakfast of champions isn't necessarily the best regimen for an elite pro athlete.
"One food does not make a balanced diet," says Nancy Clark, director of Nutrition Services at Sports Medicine of Brookline. "As an athlete, his muscles need carbohydrates for fuel like pasta, potatoes, bread."
Chicken, though a great source of protein and low in fat, has poor energy value.
"And too much protein displaces carbohydrates," Clark says. "If he eats enough vegetables and carbohydrates with the chicken, it'll be okay, but how much protein does someone need?"
Protein gets broken down into amino acids, essentially a muscle builder. If Wade downs a lean bird a few hours before a game, his gastrointestinal tract should be fine, nutritionists say, provided it isn't fried chicken with cream gravy. Fatty foods take longer to digest and can be hard on the stomach during physical stress.
The protein-heavy chicken will break down into amino acids after 40 minutes and flow through his bloodstream. If he happens to tear some muscle tissue, say while diving for a ground ball, the amino acids will go to work right away, repairing the damage.
When Wade steps to the plate, the chicken will not do much for him. If anything, his mouth may feel a little dry. Protein dehydrates.
Twelve to 15 hours later, when Boggs is tucked away in his hotel room, he'll have to make a trip to the bathroom. His amino-heavy bloodstream will want to discharge the molecules. Sometimes, however, amino acids will convert to glucose (sugar) if needed as an energy supplement (that sprint to first base after hitting a ground ball). This could later turn to fat, if not entirely used. But no one could really accuse Boggs of being fat, could they?
Another potential bit of fallout from Boggs's chicken bugaboo is undue exposure to certain pesticides.
"Because you're exposed to the same food all the time," says Sherry Fixelle, a registered dietitian with New York Gracie Square Hospital, "you might also be exposed to the same pesticides all the time. But that's rare."
In the end, it's really more about the superstition than performance enhancement for Boggs (the performance-oriented nutrients he needs probably come from supplements; witness that MET-Rx cap Boggs wore at his press conference following number 3000).
Boggs wraps himself in more than 80 different rituals pre-and postgame from leaving his house at the same time each day (1:47 p.m. for a 7:05 game), to the precise number of ground balls he takes in warm-ups (100), to his after-game snack (two hot dogs and a bag of barbecue potato chips not exactly a well of nutrition either). It's all part of what he calls "the cocoon," a protective shell that keeps all distractions at bay. Chicken is just part of this shell.
"There's something to be said for the power of the mind," Clark says. "If you believe it will make you a better athlete, it probably will."
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