How nutrition played a major role in Cubs pitcher Adbert Alzolay’s growth as a player
Alzolay didn’t always know what to eat, but with a little help from his wife, Diana Inzunza, he figured out nutrition could push him to new heights.
Every couple has something that brings them closer together. For some, it’s a hobby, a TV show or music. But for Cubs right-hander Adbert Alzolay and his wife, Diana Inzunza, it’s food.
That also has helped Alzolay get himself into the best shape of his career in the process.
‘‘She taught me how to eat,’’ Alzolay told the Sun-Times. ‘‘That’s a game-changer right there. She knows what she’s doing, and she’s been on me.’’
Alzolay, 26, finally is getting a chance to show what he can do in the big leagues after years of flashing potential. This season, he’s beginning to show why he might be one answer to the many questions about the Cubs’ lack of homegrown pitching.
Alzolay’s journey to the majors has been as much about health as talent. He battled injuries throughout his time in the minors, calling his durability into question. For the last few years, the organization has worked with him to get his body stronger in an effort to keep it from breaking down.
But Alzolay had to do some of that work away from the park, and he soon would find out that what he put into his body was just as important as the hours he spent in the weight room. Fortunately for him, he had a little help.
‘‘I had worked with athletes before, so that wasn’t new,’’ Inzunza said. ‘‘A lot of athletes have this mindset of, ‘I’m going to eat whatever I want,’ right? That’s just how they think, so it wasn’t a sit-down conversation. But I controlled the kitchen. So he had to eat what I was making, and I went about it indirectly. After he got hurt, he was focusing on recovery and focusing on everything he had to do to kind of rebuild his body.’’
After Alzolay suffered a strained lat in 2018, Inzunza — a certified nutritionist — had to find a way to get him to start learning new habits.
‘‘I put my body on a nutritional program with Diana,’’ Alzolay said. ‘‘She was my girlfriend at that time, and we did it during the offseason. After I got hurt in ’18 was when I dove more into nutrition and changed everything.’’
‘‘I think that’s when he realized that what you put in your body can really help with your recovery,’’ she said.
The science of nutrition was new to Alzolay, whose focus for most of his life had been on being the best baseball player he could be. But he soon realized that also meant knowing what was going into his body. Once he started to understand, the light went off. He started making changes, even going vegetarian for six months.
‘‘I didn’t have a diet,’’ Alzolay said, breaking into a grin. ‘‘I’d eat whatever each day or whatever we had at the field. Then after the game, I used to eat a lot of McDonald’s. Growing up back home in Venezuela, we used to eat a lot of red meat. I was eating red meat at least five times a week. So when I decided to go back to eating meat, we started eating white meat, like fish or chicken.’’
‘‘That was bonding for us because we were both suffering,’’ Inzunza said with a laugh. ‘‘We both did it together because I had gone vegetarian the year before, and it’s really hard when you do it by yourself. Because then I had to cook two meals, so I stopped. The following year, when he saw ‘The Game Changers’ documentary [about the benefits of plant-based eating], he wanted to try it out.
‘‘It was fun for me because it challenged me to create new recipes. Every single day I just couldn’t wait for him to get home to show him what I had made, so that he didn’t think that being vegetarian was just eating salads.’’
The lesson Alzolay had to learn was one many young players have had to figure out while in the minors. While some have the benefit of larger signing bonuses and can afford to eat better food, most have to eat what they can afford, which in many cases becomes fast food.
Alzolay and Inzunza were married last year. And while they’re now in lockstep in terms of nutrition, both admit they still enjoy cheat meals every once in a while.
Still, the last three years have been a learning experience for Alzolay. He thinks if he stays consistent in the weight room and in the kitchen, the on-field results will take care of themselves.
‘‘I feel so good,’’ Alzolay said. ‘‘My body has been feeling really good, and I think the way that you eat, you will see it here on the field, too. We play 162 games for six months. If you don’t take care of your body, you won’t be able to be here for that long.’’