For a guy who earns his paycheck doing physical labor, Gio Gonzalez spends a lot of time sitting around waiting. The left-handed starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals works hard on game day to shake off the idleness that can overtake hurlers between starts by following a set and stringent program that prepares both his muscles and mind to lead the Nats when he's asked to take the mound.
Athletes may break into the bigs because of talent, but they stay there because of consistency. Designing a program – even one that is limited to game day – is the key to staying productive and healthy. Gonzalez has averaged more than 17 wins and 200 innings since 2010 – and, with a 7-3 record and a 3.03 earned run average through the first half of this season, he looks primed for another good year. This consistency, he says, is the result of his well-honed routine, which begins the moment he wakes up.
Clean Pate, Full Plate
Before Gonzalez unwinds his arm, he clears his head. To do that, he has to look right. "I try my best to get a haircut before [every game]," he says. "It's almost a ritual, a routine that I have to do." A clean-shaven face and a tight trim won’t strike fear into a batter, but Gonzalez insists that “a loose mind means a loose body." He's conditioned himself to associate the barber with winning, giving himself a psychological edge through positive reinforcement.
Gonzalez needs to take care of his gut as well as his mind – the two are intimately linked – so he embraces hunger, waiting until 2 p.m. on game days to eat his first meal – usually pasta. "That energy has to keep with you throughout the whole day," Gio explains. "I only have one meal." This diet keeps him from feeling full and content on the mound. With his hair managed and his stomach full, but far from bursting, Gio feels trim and ready to go.
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