Energy replenishers and boosters

A list of top 10 foods that are instrumental in peaking a player’s energy and performance.

Cricketer Robin Uthappa loves his eggs in any form, allowing him to lower his weight and get fitter to fine tune his batting prowess!   -  R. Ragu

To perform at any level, an athlete needs energy: energy to play, to think, to recover and to sleep. Food represents the most important link in this.

The human body consumes energy. The food chain helps replenish this lost energy. The first question every athlete asks when he meets the nutrition coach is, ‘Which is the best food for a player?’

Here are my top 10 foods that are instrumental in peaking a player’s energy and performance. The list is random, with no order of merit.

1. Kidney bean

Rajma is the king of beans. Combining rajma and rice gives a complete amino acid profile to a player. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and kidney beans help in the synthesis of muscles. Many players have erratic sugar levels, which lower concentration. Kidney beans help moderate sugar levels with their fibre and amylase inhibitors. Canned beans are safe, and an excellent option for travelling athletes who need a quick, safe and healthy protein snack. Consumed best at breakfast or post workout. To avoid gas, make sure the beans are well boiled in a pressure cooker for at least 15 minutes. Sushil Kumar is king of the mat because of this bean.

2. Chickpea

Channa, both black and white, contains about 19% protein. With a very high folic acid content, chickpeas have the ability to help athletes produce faster red blood cells. Most athletes with high intensity training damage their blood and DNA. Chickpeas everyday help in faster healing and recovery. Hummus is a famous international recipe for a travelling athlete. In India, the famous channa masala is one dish no athlete should turn down. Shikhar goes hunting every season with these power-packed peas.

3. Date

Ancient soldiers marched into battle with dates or khajur. Easy to carry and densely packed with iron, calcium, potassium and other minerals, this tiny fruit means business. The best time to consume 8-10 dates is during long hours of training. Athletes do get hungry and need to munch on a high energy reserve food. When athletes have low haemoglobin or iron levels, which causes fatigue, they need to switch to a high date snacking diet! Manish Rawat cannot do the long 50 km walking session with a booster dosage of dates every day!

4. Sweet potato

While normal potatoes post training really help recharge muscle glycogen, sweet potato is like the Usain Bolt for recovery. Quick to recharge your reserves, sweet potato is often missed out due to bland taste or palatability. With one of the highest Vitamin A servings, an athlete shouldn’t think twice about adding this to his meal. Vitamin A helps in better lung function, boosting the lung capacity as well as jump-starting the athlete’s immune system. My favourite is using sweet potato as a soup base, or mashing it into your parathas. Junior National go-kart champion Yash Aradhya loves the power and endurance his muscles get with this starchy root vegetable.

5. Carrot

Very rarely do I see colour on an athlete’s plate. The orange of carrots contain beta-carotene that helps in recovery. Vitamin K is an important agent that helps in the clotting of blood. Athletes get injured and Vitamin K helps in quick recovery. Cooked carrots are best for absorption of its nutrients. For dessert I advise carrot halwa as an acceptable cheat meal for an athlete. The fibre in carrots helps prevent constipation. Ace golfer Sharmila Nicollet gets longer drives with carrot power, not to mention the flawless skin after training hours in the sun.

6. Banana

This fruit needs no introduction. Small or large, it’s available round the year, and is light on an athlete’s pocket. Besides, it is extremely handy to carry and comes in its own wrapper! Banana can be eaten before, during or after training. Research has shown that dopamine in bananas are able to calm an athlete. When training hard, blood pressure peaks, which does not sometimes allow an athlete to think clearly. Banana helps keep your brains cool and powers your muscles. The fibre in the banana helps increase a certain bacteria in the gut which helps digest all the meals as well as promote efficient bowel movement.

7. Egg 

Packed with six grams of protein within a fragile shell, egg is like an atomic bomb in the field of nutrition. Every athlete should try to add 3-6 eggs a day in his diet. Egg has Vitamin B complex along with a powerful mineral called selenium, which is a key anti-oxidant. Athletes suffer severe microscopic trauma to their muscles on a daily basis. The combination of good quality protein and vitamins help enhance the recovery process. Eggs should always be consumed cooked. Raw eggs do not allow digestion of the Vitamin B complex, and as such makes the protein synthesis in the body drop. Robin Uthappa loves his eggs in any form, allowing him to lower his weight and get fitter to fine tune his batting prowess!

8. Tomato

The red in tomatoes comes from lycopene. Research has shown that lycopene boosts lung function. So eating more of this fruit, commonly known as a vegetable, will enhance your endurance levels in training. I suggest knocking out the seeds. Cooked tomatoes have higher content of lycopene. And a lot of athletes love me as I advise them to have loads of tomato sauce. Lycopene is also known to aid growth hormone and so tomato juice for younger athletes is No. 1 on my prescription list of beverages. Golf champion Shubhankar Sharma does not say no to slices of tomatoes in his plate after 18 holes everyday!

9. Beetroot

Since the London Olympics, I have always been enamoured of this ‘Red Giant’. I love this vegetable because of its nitrate content and its ability to dilate blood vessels. For the athlete this means large blood vessels when exercising — it delivers more oxygen, glucose, amino acids and salts to the muscle whilst removing greater volume of carbon dioxide and lactic acid. Research has shown that exercise exhaustion decreases and the oxygen saturation in the blood increases by supplementing beetroot in the diet. For me, eating two beetroot plain is mandatory. It can be had as chips, cooked, baked or as a juice. Make beetroot in lemonade to ease the harsh taste. 

My personal favourite is beetroot halwa. The best time to have beetroot is three hours prior to practice. Junior swimmer Rahul M swears by beetroot as he aces the lung capacity test every time at the Qua Nutrition clinic.

10. Guava

Amrut is the king of fruits in my book. With Vitamin C levels in supersonic orbit, every athlete should have this to help in recovery and to boost immunity. When athletes are injured, I ask them to eat three guavas a day for faster healing. Also, one of the high protein containing fruits, guava should be eaten with the seeds as they help in better bowel movement. Athletes consume too much of calories via proteins and carbs. However, the system of digestion slows down. Guava ensures clean digestion, not to mention clearer skin for all those brand endorsements. Indian women’s cricket captain Mithali Raj loves guava juice every morning. 

There are dozens of foods that an athlete would require. These, when added to your meals, enhance the ability of your body. Indian red leafy vegetables are my favourite that do not make it to my top-10 list. This is because, like rice, dal and curd, which are considered staple, I add green and red leafy vegetables as key ingredients in an athlete’s daily meal. My sincere advice in 2018 for all warriors in their games: eat with a plan, know your foods and try to get organic as much as possible.