Awaken the giant in you

In the interest of improving the efficiency of athletes to raise competitive standards, the author breaks down Sports Nutrition into five areas that any parent, coach, administrator or athlete can use as a ready reckoner.

Olympic superstars like Sushil Kumar (in pic) and Nitin Rawat would have to spend upwards of Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 30,000 per month on supplements alone.   -  Sushil Kumar Verma

At a recent lecture at the International conclave of sports medicine held at the Guwahati Medical College, a worried coach walked up to me asking some diet tips for his 12-year-old talented swimmer. Like sports, nutrition or planning of a sports diet requires accuracy and precision. I went on to have a 10-minute conversation explaining to this coach why one needs to feed the athlete scientifically for the sport. 

A lot of advice in eating for performance is cursory, obtained via the ecosystem that exists around the athlete, or the latest is the power of the search engine — Google.

In the interest of improving the efficiency of athletes to raise competitive standards, I want to break down Sports Nutrition into five areas that any parent, coach, administrator or athlete can use as a ready reckoner.

1. BODY MEASUREMENTS

The human body is firstly divided by gender. Calorie requirements differ from men to women. Therefore both cannot eat the same amount of food. The athlete has to define weight and this weight can identify the approximate calorie load a person needs to consume per day. However, weight is old school measurement and modern day sports nutrition planning takes into perspective muscle and fat percentages in the human system. A 75kg person with 15% body fat has a greater metabolism and calorie demand than the same 75kg with 35% body fat.

Ask these questions. Can my diet be planned around to meet my weight goals? Can I sustain this weight with my hectic training?

2. BLOOD MEASUREMENTS

Whilst the human structure is being evaluated, it’s important to dwell deeper into the biochemistry of the blood. This gives a clear indication of how systems are working and whether any imbalance exists because of a pre-condition or merely that training has an adverse impact on the body. These blips in a blood test can go a long way to improving blood health and, in tandem, raising the efficiency of the athlete, not to mention insuring to a certain degree the prevention of tissue injury. A key example would be Vitamin D and Calcium which gives me an indicator why an international footballer could break his leg in a simple tackle or a low haemoglobin level in a female athlete could mean lower oxygen carrying capacity, hence fatigue.

Ask this question. Can my diet be planned for a better blood health?

3. PHYSICAL ACTIVITY TRACKING

Every game is different. A chess player utilises more glucose at the brain level than a tennis player. The physical inactivity of chess requires calculations, hence the calorie expenditure, as compared to that of a tennis player. A sprint swimmer requires different calories as compared to an endurance swimmer. Recently, I had a few of my swimming clients strap on exercise wearables to monitor calorie burning during and after training as well as heart rates. The calorie requirement far exceeded calculations based on number of hours training via METS (A unit of energy expenditure). As a Sports Nutritionist I was shocked to see that the athletes in everyday sessions pushed a little harder and the lack of about 3500 calories plus per week meant greater cortisol release and thereby attack on muscle. Effectively, if a sports nutritionist does not keep up to the training via food, the player moves into a starvation mode even if eating on an assumption that “I am full”. So, if I can compare an athlete to a Super Car, you need to know how far you would be driving and how fast you would be going to know your fuel consumption and accordingly plan to fuel before the drive and during the drive. We do it for our vehicles! Why not for our bodies?

Ask this question. Can my diet be planned for meeting or exceeding my calorie goals?

4. CULTURAL and SOCIO-ECONOMIC background

At every seminar I scream out “Athletes should not have taste buds, you eat for performance not for taste!”. From a young age parents feed their children, who play sports. This feeding is based on love and culture. Over time this ‘pattern of choices of food’ is hardwired into the brains of athletes. Now, if you chose to be a local athlete this is cool. If you are preparing for the GLOCAL journey to travel pan India and the world, your taste buds are going to be in for a rude shock. When a north Indian travels to south India or vice versa, the feeling of emptiness in the tummy is seen on the face. A psychological battle ensues, which has been preconditioned. A good sports nutrition coach will start with an athlete at a young age. As young as 8-9 years of age is good to expose athletes to a global palate or ability to eat foods of global cuisines. 

Another factor is, eating as a sports person is expensive. An average sports person requires 6-8 meals a day. The average protein consumption is 50% higher than that of a normal person. If normal persons spend Rs. 100 on their diet a day, a sportsperson can spend anywhere from Rs. 180 up to Rs. 400 per day aligning for the same food and costs. Supplements also can make a huge dent in your pocket. Olympic superstars like Sushil Kumar and Nitin Rawat would have to spend upwards of Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 30,000 per month on supplements alone.

Taking all these factors like culture, affordability and availability of food into consideration, and also including the likes and dislikes of food one has to ensure meeting calories requirement from homely food when possible.

Ask this question. Can my diet be planned within my culture, travel, budgetary constraints and sports goals?

5. DIET & SUPPLEMENT PLANNING

Preparation of a sports diet involves customising to all of the above parameters. The key criteria is the calories and the balancing of the protein, carbohydrates and fats. The micro nutrients are a concern as the soil in which our food is grown is sometimes deficient in minerals and that may have an unbalancing effect on a meticulously planned chart. A good nutrition plan also takes inputs from coaches and trainers who better understand load factors on the athlete. Even physiotherapists play a crucial role in the recovery process by indicating to the sports nutritionist the extent of injury and its rehabilitation and thus the inclusion of various food aids that may speed up the healing and recovery process.

I am truly excited as a Sports Nutrition Coach as we have a Sports Minister who is a former athlete, an Olympic medal winner and an army man. This, truly, is an exciting combination to have as an administrator. 

Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, I hope that sports diet and investment in better nutrition and supplements come to the forefront for many sports bodies in our country under your sharpshooter gaze!

Bottom line: If you eat with a plan you are more likely to reap the benefits of performance and enhanced recovery. Otherwise, your success is dependent on how long your luck and your body holds out.

The writer is an award-winning celebrity sports nutrition coach & Chief Nutritionist at Qua Nutrition Signature Clinics. He can be reached at [email protected]