IPL 2020: Planning nutrition intake for the Twenty20 League in UAE

It’s going to be a hard two months for my team of nutritionists. Every player working with us is on a WhatsApp food diary and we are constantly advising the players in real time on needful micro-changes.

We have asked Mayank Agarwal to carry some foods like gluten-free whole-grain pasta and noodles with him. These are readily available rice alternatives for glycogen storage and source of energy for training and matches.   -  K. V. S. Giri

The 2020 Indian Premier League (IPL) season is all set to be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with a stringent standard operating procedure in place for the teams’ travel, stay, training and match days.

It will be interesting to see how this season pans out as all the players had a very long layoff and may be rusty and out of form due to almost zero practice. Many of the cricketers that I work with have been working on their nutrition and fitness during the lockdown, and based on my interactions with them, I can say they are super motivated and excited to be out there on the field.

The players travelling to the UAE were in quarantine for six days in their hotel rooms during which they were tested three times for COVID-19 before entering the biosecure bubble.

During their stay in Dubai, the players will need to train within an ecosystem that is restricted to the hotels, gyms and stadiums. Team meetings will be held virtually and players will be allowed to order food directly to the room (with no eyes around, I suspect more cheat meals). Players may be allowed to order from restaurants from outside the hotel. We are planning to review the top restaurants in Dubai and recommend meals based on the permission of the team management. Player safety is paramount and not only from a COVID perspective, but also from that of food allergies or, in the worst case, bad food that puts a player out of commission.

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My advice to the players is to cross-check with the menu of the hotel and pre-select the options. In fact, many teams have separate kitchens for their own teams, which are each of 70-80 individuals. As nutritionists, my team has been interacting with the chefs, trainers and players, who are on a structured nutrition plan. My advice is to order the cuisine they eat at home. The chefs have received guided nutrition plans based on a template of over 300 dishes received from the hotel. From this, our team of nutritionists figured out the daily training regime and practice matches that would happen. We then began customising the diet charts for each player, which will give them a clear picture on what is to be required over the course of the entire IPL.

During the tournament, the players will be tested every fifth day, and they will also have to register their temperature daily and fill health questionnaires. Only if they have a normal temperature and health status would players be allowed to practise and compete.

No handshakes, designated seats in the dugouts, electronic team sheets and individual drink bottles and towels with the players’ names to avoid sharing will be the new norms during the IPL.

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SOP to get the right nutrition

· Do not try anything new before and during the event as the body might not adapt to the changes and this can affect the digestive system. We are not trying any new foods. Reward or cheat meals are being allowed, but we are making sure that if the player has a dairy allergy, then we avoid all desserts that are milk based. For example, since Virat Kohli avoids dairy, we have gone for a banana-chocolate vegan crumble cake or a vegan ice cream.

· Avoid sugary foods, which will lead to sugar spikes and fluctuations in energy levels. While we recommend a normal dessert once or twice a week, we try to be as low as possible on added sugars.

· Eat small frequent meals to meet your energy requirements. We are asking the players to eat late and align their bodies to the late IPL schedules. Breakfast will be post-11a.m. for most players. If they have a 2.30 p.m. match, then we are merging breakfast and lunch into brunch at around 11 a.m. After that, we are doing mini-meals that are cooler and liquid based for faster digestion before the afternoon matches. For example, a berry smoothie or a protein-and-oats shake.

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· Considering the weather in the UAE, players should hydrate well to prevent muscle soreness and electrolyte imbalances. Consume isotonic drinks that help in maintaining electrolyte balance and also prevent muscle cramps. Each of my players is being asked to super-hydrate before a match. This means they will start consuming 500-1,000ml of isotonic hydration beverages one-two hours prior to the game and we ensure that post-game we get a weight check done to see how much fluid loss has occurred.

· Focus on recovery. Cranberry, pineapple, watermelon and yogurt are your best friends. We encourage post-match snacks, shakes and energy bars or fruits. The players should reach the hotel within two hours of the game ending, so we plan dinner as soon as they shower and the meals will be in their rooms by the time they exit the showers. The proteins and carbohydrates are carefully curated to maximise the refuelling of cells in the body. Sleep is also going to help us get that fuel into the cells for rejuvenation. Mayank Agarwal will be having chamomile tea and walnuts to help him get deeper sleep.

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· Consume foods for optimum carbohydrate loading like sweet potato, fruits, sandwiches and cereal-base snacks. Watch Shreyas Iyer this year. We have asked for sweet potato to recharge this dynamic athlete.

· Carry World Anti-Doping Agency-approved nutrition supplements on the basis of your blood parameters. All our players have supplements that have been imported from companies that have tested their products and supplied certificates that they are safe for sports and do not contain any banned substances. Supplements like hydration electrolytes, protein powders, amino acids, vitamins and minerals are top of the list for all these power athletes.

At Qua Nutrition Clinics, we came up with detailed guidelines for our clients participating in the IPL and incorporated them in their nutrition plans.

For Virat Kohli, we have added superfoods with high antioxidants like tomato and watermelon juice to beat the 41° Celsius heat in Dubai. Foods like walnuts and chamomile help in calming him down and getting a good night’s sleep to rock in the next day’s practise or match!

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Turmeric, the most potent antioxidant herb, is one of our key recommendations for Shreyas Iyer. Coconut oil seems to be helping him well in recovery and to bounce back to lead the team!

We have asked Mayank Agarwal to carry some foods like gluten-free whole-grain pasta and noodles with him. These are readily available rice alternatives for glycogen storage and source of energy for training and matches. Berry smoothies will also help him recover from late-night games.

The hot climate can sometimes be taxing for the cricketers. For Shardul Thakur, who plays under the guidance of Captain Cool M. S. Dhoni, we have suggested beetroot juice to keep him cool in the Dubai heat and to improve his performance as it contains a good amount of nitrates. Berries added in his nutrition plan help to support his intensive physical activity and to prevent injury!

Robin Uthappa won the Orange Cap many years ago under my nutritional guidance. This year, Robbie and I chatted before he left for Dubai. He is using the same protocol again. Green tea is one key addition along with BCAA for his one-of-a-kind sports drink combination.

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It’s going to be a hard two months for my team of nutritionists. Every player working with us is on a WhatsApp food diary and we are constantly advising the players in real time on needful micro-changes.

This IPL, expect a lot more hitting power! The world needs this sporting clash. My dinners are going to be quick as the IPL has taken front row.