Learning to eat during exercise

You have to learn to push your digestive system, almost to its sensitive edge, so that you can squeeze a few more grams of proteins, carbs and fats into the system to balance out the huge calorie requirements. This is a finely-tuned act in understanding when, which and how much food can be guided to enable a stronger athlete.

Dinaz Vervatwala receives the Guinness Book of World Records certificate from the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, K. Rosaiah, in Hyderabad in 2010. Dinaz had performed a world record non-stop aerobics for 26 hours.   -  Nagara Gopal

Any sport is built around muscle endurance. Even archery, chess and golf require the muscles to perform over long hours of training. As a nutrition coach, the most challenging experience of fuelling an athlete was for an aerobics instructor, Ms. Dinaz Vervatwala, who wanted to break the Guinness world record of non-stop aerobics for 26 hours. This meant that she had to guide an aerobics class and workout herself over 26 hours with a five-minute break every hour.

For every athlete, this record should serve as inspiration to push the boundaries of human performance. For this record we had to fuel both the muscles and the brain, and sustain those levels for 26 hours to break the mark. The previous record was held by a Colombian man, who exercised for 24 hours. This is not a feat attempted with two weeks of training; we started out a year in advance.

Before we started out for the event, the doctors did the complete fitness and medical evaluations. A doctor commented to the athlete that the only way she would not complete the record is if she cramped in her muscles whilst attempting the record. If that happened, no medical or physical or nutritional intervention at that moment would help, and we would lose.

So to break this record, I, as a nutrition coach, made a check-list of what we needed to do to push the brains and the muscles for a straight 26 hours.

1. How do we lower the athlete’s heart rate with foods that do better vasodilation and blood thinning?

2. How do we get her muscles to process lactic acid and not feel the burn or fatigue?

3. How do we get her lungs stronger so that she is not winded?

4. How do we get her to fuel (eat and drink) whilst exercising so that reserves never drop lower?

The secret for a good player is to learn how to eat and play. Learn how to eat before play; learn to eat whilst playing and, most important of all, to learn how to eat post workout. The digestive system shuts down when you play. As a nutrition coach, I have cheat codes wherein we use foods that are quick to digest or do not require much digestion and are available for immediate absorption in 10-20 minutes of consumption.

An example would be rice. It is a complex carbohydrate. Rice takes time to break down to glucose and then be absorbed, say 40 minutes. Glucose, the basic molecule of energy, can be delivered via a sports drink under 10 minutes as it is completely digested.

The secret to this record can be summarised as, “You need to learn to eat — before, during and post training.” Except in this record there was no end, and so she had to train the stomach to learn to accept food, digest it and absorb it all, whilst working out and conducting the aerobics class.

As nutrition scientists, we know there are three batteries in the athlete that are the sources of energy. They are: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. All three were being summoned in this record and all three had to be carefully used to enable uninterrupted muscle firing over 26 hours. The secrets that athletes need to learn are:

1. At low intensity and low heart rate, fat is your primary fuel source.

2. At moderate intensities, mainly carbs are your fuel source.

3. At very high intensities, carbs and muscle catabolism will use protein as an energy source.

4. You need minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride and magnesium to help fire the muscles. These at low levels in a dehydrated athlete will result in catastrophic shut-down of muscles via cramping.

Most players are too scared to eat, as they feel like puking. In the worst case, they vomit during a session of training. You have to learn to push your digestive system, almost to its sensitive edge, so that you can squeeze a few more grams of proteins, carbs and fats into the system to balance out the huge calorie requirements. This is a finely-tuned act in understanding when, which and how much food can be guided to enable a stronger athlete. This science is called Sports Nutrition.

Over the years, I have used strategies from this record to help athletes go the long haul. Shikhar Dhawan, on his Test debut, went on to score 187. Nitin Rawat, the Olympic marathon runner, recreational runners at the Comrades Marathon, tennis players who play 35 weeks of the year on the road... endurance is the name of the game. Some of it is muscle and some of it is mind. Both require the digestive system to constantly be on its toes.

SECRET FOODS AND SUPPLEMENTS USED IN THE GUINESS WORLD RECORD

1. Branched Chain Amino Acids( BCAA)

2. Glutamine 

3. Whey Protein 

4. Multivitamin 

5. Vitamin B Complex 

6. Magnesium 

7. Beetroot 

8. Oats 

9. Rice 

10. Eggs 

11. Pasta 

12. Broccoli 

13. Alkaline Water 

14. 6% glucose sports solution with 5:1 sodium-potassium mineral ratio 

15. Coffee 

16. Probiotics 

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