I always plead with my athletes not to eat restaurant food as much as possible. Sometimes I am met with resistance. “Sir, we are eating rice, roti and dal! What is wrong with that?”
There is so much wrong with the people who prepare food today in restaurants. The question of food safety and hygiene is considered an autocratic enforcement by the management on the cooks and the helpers in the kitchen.
As a nutritionist and food expert I have been consulted by various health food start-ups and kitchens. Everyday in these new age start-up kitchens they produce thousands of low calorie, healthy and nutritionally balanced foods. When the salads were made, they had to be washed in two specialised sinks using food grade tablets that would kill any bacteria in the raw ingredients. This was to prevent stomach bugs.
Even with managers and closed circuit TVs watching the help, I saw shortcuts like the food being cut and loaded for cooking or put into the trays directly. Rice that needed to be washed and then cooked was directly dumped into steamers. Dals were almost never washed. Screaming at the cooks did not do any good to my BP, not to mention the quality of food.
Now take a moment to think. That food has insecticides and chemical fertilisers in it. Rice, potatoes, cauliflowers, grapes, dals; you name the food in any kitchen and mostly likely the caterer or helpers are least bothered about your well-being. You also are thinking, I just need food to fill me up! But what if I said ‘Your food is poison’ because it is not processed properly? Compared to home, the dal and rice from a commercial kitchen may be more toxic in your bloodstream.
In your home the dal or rice is washed up to three times. This removes most of the dirt and chemicals. The food thus cooked has lesser chance of poisoning you and your body needs only less energy to process this good food. This speeds up the recovery process of your body.
Food from restaurants means more energy is lost by your body trying to purify it versus the complete energy got from food handled with care and safety, not to mention love.
So my first and loudest rule for recovery is to always try to go organic in your choices of purchase. Your rice, roti, dal, beans, fruits and veggies should be bought organic. This lessens the load on your kidney and liver to process any chemicals.
Now, when you travel, it is almost impossible to carry your kitchen and foods with you. But with careful planning one can make sure of getting certain homely meals, nutritious and chemical-free. Every parent who walks into our sports nutrition clinic is given a list of purchases for successful sports nutrition. The list is something like this: 1. Rice Cooker. 2. Egg Boiler. 3. Table Weigh Scale. 4. Hand Blender or Nutri-Bullet Mixer. 5. Shaker. 6. Stainless Steel Water Bottles. 7. Fruit Peeler. 8. Zip Lock Bags.
Why I love the rice cooker!
The rice cooker has to be one of the most brilliant inventions on the planet for speed cooking. When players are tired and return to their service apartment, all they need to do is dump washed organic rice, diced vegetables and preboiled eggs or chicken into the vessel, click the button on and go for a shower. 45 minutes later one will have a ready-to-eat hot, safe and nutritious meal. You can do rice dishes. And quinoa, which is a new superfood grain that has a whopping 13% protein, can help athletes meet their muscle-making demands. Oatmeal or muesli can also be cooked. Soups with broths allow a tired athlete to gulp three times the calories as compared to eating a dish. You can even do rice puddings, poached pears and even a chocolate cake in a rice cooker when travelling!
The Egg Boiler
A unique container that can be attached to an electrical outlet. You can put your eggs in, add a little water and like in a little kettle, any type of egg can be done in a few minutes. An egg represents complete food. Its protein and fat content are the best in the range of most foods and easily available anywhere in the world. I always tell my athletes, “If you are stuck on an island, rice and eggs are all you need to survive and train. Buy an egg container online and start using at home. In a few weeks you will learn to make eggs for the day. Once you travel for tournaments, you just have to stop at a local supermarket to pick up your eggs and connect the egg boiler in your hotel room.
The Table Weighing Scale
You know the weight of your dumbbell in the gym. You know the number of repetitions as well as the number of sets you have to do. Do you know how much 200 grams of cooked rice looks like? To get 20 grams of protein you need to eat 100 grams of chicken. What does 100 gms of tandoori chicken look like? If I get butter chicken what does 50 or 250 grams look like? Before you need to know what to eat, I suggest you learn what quantities of each cooked food look like. When you travel, foods to room service can be carefully measured so you know you are not overeating or undereating.
Sathish Kumar, the weightlifting champion, competes in the 77 kg category. His struggle is that his bodyweight goes to 80 kgs during competition. His portions are controlled. But I recently asked him, “Do you know that you should be weighing your food everyday? To learn how much of a portion is there in a bowl?” He readily agreed because he realised his winning chances go up when he does not have to starve himself before competitions.
The nutri-bullet or a hand-blender fruits and curd are easily available. Oats can be crushed in these blenders. Hand held and easy to operate and easy to clean too (all sportspersons are extremely tired or lazy to clean anything other than their equipment!). Making smoothies is the best quick-fix, high energy, supercharged protein way to get an immediate recharge of nutrition in the body. Robin Uthappa, on his weight loss plan, used to sweat with his mini-mixer. It was a part of his kit. His orange cap at the IPL in the recent past was thanks to his strict regime during travel and his trusted smoothies.
Shakers & Stainless Steel Water Bottles
Shakers are useful to mix your emergency protein and carbs snacks. Don’t drink hydration sports drinks from plastic water bottles as plastic is toxic and once you keep those bottles in the sun, you technically turn them into cancer bottles! In steel bottles, the temperature of the liquid is kept cold and that helps you recover faster. Also, glucose ferments at higher temperatures on the ground and most sports drinks will be spoilt in a couple of hours. So it’s best to have then chilled and kept in steel bottles. Make sure you wash these bottles well as they harbour a lot of bacteria by the end of the day. Sterilising tablets and hot water are the best cleaners. Don’t be lazy and put off the washing to the next day. Clean them immediately post training.
The security at airports would look at you quizzically. Why are you carrying a fruit peeler? The same officer should also find your bag with at least two or three fruits. The fruit peeler in my opinion is a must for all athletes as skinning your fruits to remove surface chemicals is the best option.
Zip Lock Bags
Dry fruits in a zip lock bag can be packed at home. Think of them as your own energy packets. Energy bars are convenient, but I believe that you need not be exposed to the preservatives from commercial bars.
Just as training and your equipment are a must, learning about your diet, the quantities and the equipment needed to fuel your needs are mandatory. Most choose to ignore food at their peril. Recovery is not about foam rolling and cold showers only! Nutrition is the new game lever and it’s difficult to master.
* * To receive a list of smoothies and snacks option to carry, or where to buy the above equipments online, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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