Ditch the protein supplement!

Learn to eat organic. Learn how many calories you burn in a day and then design your nutrition around this value.

A crop of Bok Choy ready to go to the market in China. Bok Choy is a cruciferous vegetable rich in glucosinolates and has anti-inflammatory properties. Chinese and Korean athletes consume a lot of this cabbage-like vegetable.   -  GETTY IMAGES

The quickest way to understand a player’s physique or response to a training session is in the overall energy levels, amount of fatigue in the activity and the recovery time post a gruelling session. In these three areas, I use food to enhance energy levels, prevent fatigue and enable faster recovery.

Food is the main fuel that allows an athlete to battle on. When food does not meet the requirement of energy expenditure, an athlete will tap into fat as well as muscle reserves in the body. Depending on the intensity of the training, the last few meals, the mental state of an athlete and the genes in relationship to metabolism, the athlete may either burn more fat, or in extreme cases, muscle in the session.

With training ranging from four to eight hours per day for most sports, eating within the training span is crucial to recovery. What to eat and when are more important than how much to eat of that food. For example, having a beetroot three hours before a rigorous session will benefit an athlete immensely due to vasodilation which allows for better exercise performance. Eating two to three beetroots may be the key, but having them at any time of the day may not deliver the desired results for performance.

When athletes visit me at the Qua Nutrition signature clinics for their sports nutrition plans, their first question is usually, “Which are the best Protein foods?” Somehow, in the last decade, protein has become the poster boy for an athlete’s be-all and end-all of nutrition. Protein supplements have become a fashion statement. Never mind that you do not know how many calories you burn in a day and how much of carbohydrates you need to replenish yourself, not to mention the good essential fats. Everyone is clamouring for a protein boost!

I would like to ask athletes to ditch the protein suppplement, till such time they understand which foods are crucial to powering their body for sustaining energy levels rather than just muscle building.

In fact, in an athlete the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) of a man or woman would increase triplefold in most cases. Now, focusing on protein, 1.8gm per kg bodyweight may be the right answer. A 70kg athlete may require 5,000 calories a day as an example. If I give the athlete 70kgs x 1.8gm of protein, that is 126gm of protein per day. This 126gm gives only 500 calories. So only 10 per cent of the energy and/or muscle retaining/building requirements! So over 90 per cent focus is on carbohydrates and fats. If you get this picture, then don’t put all your eggs in the protein basket!!! Focus on carbs. Rely on fats.

Below is my list of three foods that I believe are crucial to a player’s performance and I have designed it to benefit both veg and non-veg athletes. This list is best advised for a beginner. When you are elite, you would want to customise this list based on your calories, blood tests that will look for deficiencies or damages, food allergy tests to ascertain whether a certain food recommended by me actually heals or does harm to your body and finally nutrition gene tests to figure out the best fits for foods in this hectic regime.

Lentils, or masoor dal, has the highest anti-oxidant factor (total antioxidant capacity, or TAC, is the measure of the amount of free radicals scavenged by a test solution being used to evaluate the antioxidant capacity of biological samples) in the legumes and beans family. I wish to make it clear that what I am referring to is antioxidant and not protein content.

In silver place is Chickpeas and getting the bronze is Small Red beans.

I use this criteria of TAC as a sports scientist as I want recovery. Anti-oxidants promote recovery and energy top-ups. I know that in a 5000-calorie diet I will easily meet the criteria for required protein. What I really need is higher anti-oxidant potential for quicker recovery.

For example, I recommend that an athlete consume a cup of Masoor dal which has 22 grams of protein. The human body can process 20gm of protein per hour. So in a race to eat 5,000 calories a day or eight meals, this cup of dal is a kingmaker with 400 calories coming from it.

I would like to cheat here and add black kidney beans or rajma also to the list as a fourth place winner. For me, papad made with dals are also a key weapon athletes can carry with them in travel and competition.

A bhaji or subzi of spinach, Chinese cabbage (bok choy) and beetroot leaves is what Superman would eat if he was living in India.

These three vegetables are one of the most powerful ones found on the planet. In fact a cup of spinach alone has 98.7 per cent of vitamin K. This is so crucial in helping in muscle recovery as vitamin D, which is deficient in most of my athletes, is enhanced with vitamin K and this combination of D and K really boosts testosterone.

Bok Choy is a cruciferous vegetable rich in glucosinolates and has anti-inflammatory properties. I started recommending Bok Choy after watching Chinese and Korean athletes consume copious amounts of this humble cabbage-like vegetable. Beetroot greens or their leaves have a high nitrate content which are converted to nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide gives a pump to the muscles, boosting blood delivery with more nutrients and a faster removal of lactic acid. So eating vegetables can make you powerful.


All athletes eat white rice. If you want the superfood version, go in for coloured rice like red, brown or black. In white rice, the milling and polishing destroys 67 per cent of the vitamin B3, 80 per cent of the vitamin B1, 90 per cent of the vitamin B6, half of the manganese, half of the phosphorus, 60 per cent of the iron, all of the dietary fibre as well the essential fatty acids present in the raw variety.

My personal favourite is Red Rice. With its higher vitamin and mineral content, it is able to deliver high calorie carbs for recovery with adequate nutritional punch that helps recovery. Red rice also has higher magnesium levels and this helps relax muscles and keep them softer.

Two cups of cooked rice have 400 calories and five grams of protein. In the race to get eight meals that hit 5,000 calories, rice can be the soldier on the frontlines. The Indian gene has been bred on rice from ancient civilisation. Do not modernise your diet with western guidance that are based on profit lines. Eat Desi! Learn to eat organic. Learn how many calories you burn in a day and then design your nutrition around this value. Do not overtrain. Sleep more than eight hours a day as an athlete. Being veg or non-veg does not determine your superiority. It’s your eating discipline!

The problem is that for centuries eating meat has given people a warrior belief. Ask Sushil Kumar, a two-time Olympic medal winner and a warrior. He is a pure veg athlete. It’s all in the planning.

To successfully plan your diet with carbs, fat and protein, send an email to ryan@quanutrition.com. i would need your height, weight, blood tests and how many calories you burn in a day.

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