For the last decade, I have been working with elite athletes on their nutrition plans to win medals at the international level. Nutrition is key to winning as well as living. Most athletes have a short shelf life, this is because of the rigours of subjecting the body to inhuman volumes of training. As a result, injuries, a lack of stamina and slow recovery are clear early warning signs to the downfall of an athlete. In simple terms, every athlete ages. Old age does creep up on everyone.
Most athletes continue working in their own field and become coaches or entrepreneurs in their domain. This is a passion that becomes a profession. Over the years, I have met many coaches who are former players. When I discuss with coaches the sports nutrition plans required, everyone who was an athlete is quick to jump to the idea of doing this for himself or herself. This immediate quick realisation for a healthier and disciplined nutrition plan is because of the wisdom that comes with experience. Basically, good nutrition equals good results in sports. This common sense is very wisely seen in coaches. In the last one year, at Qua Nutrition where I practice as chief nutritionist, we have seen a tripling of the number of cases of coaches going in for nutrition plans for their health. With nearly 500 days to the next Olympics, I am hoping more athletes realise this wisdom.
Cyrus Poncha, one of my favourite squash coaches and close friend, has always monitored his nutrition on a year-by-year basis. He is one of the many coaches who are on a structured nutrition programme at Qua Nutrition clinics to help:
1. Control weight gain.
2. Address issues such as cholesterol, liver function, kidney function, and the levels of iron, haemoglobin and various vitamins and minerals.
3. Learn how to eat when travelling or on a hectic schedule.
Coaches travel with their athletes, leaving home early morning and getting back late at night, and they are dependent on external sources to provide them the best possible nutrition for their ageing bodies. This is the challenge to get nutritious food — for athlete and coach alike.
Coaches will live longer than non-athlete adults. The reason is that years of training as an athlete have set up the skeletal muscle frames for better adaptation as one grows older. This means that a 70-year-old coach will have more muscle mass than a 70-year-old sedentary person. Some like to call it muscle memory, but I like to call it a return on investment. The younger years of being an athlete confer better health. However, at risk is longevity, as in my experience I have seen coaches as young as thirty experience the side effects of rigorous training in their youth.
My sincere advice to every coach is after your athletic retirement, do a blood test once a year. This is the gold standard to determine your health. I would like to share with you a list of tests that you should do every year so that you can empower your health. The best time to do a blood test is when you have not exercised in the last two or three days and call for the test first thing in the morning. The blood test should be done on an empty stomach, and no tea or coffee should be consumed at that time. Water is permitted. In fact, your last meal should be 12 hours prior to your blood test. So, if you are testing your blood at 8am, the last food entering your system should be at 8pm.
Here is the list of blood tests and why you should do them:
1. Lipid profile: These tests measure cholesterol levels and give a clear indication of heart disease. While most coaches are physically active, high cholesterol levels are common in the Indian population and that make us prone to increased risk of hypertension and blocked blood vessels. Former athletes who are now coaches should be more cautions as they have trained to eat higher volumes in their younger years. This continues even into their middle and older years. Extra calories equal the extra risk of heart disease and obesity.
2. Blood sugar test — HbA1c: The Indian diet is predominently carbohydrate-based. We eat too many starchy foods, and with lesser physical activity, we consume and store surplus of sugar in the human body. By testing your blood every year, you can predict if you are moving into the diabetic zone and do a course correction in your eating behaviour by following a diet that is suited to your current lifestyle as a coach.
3. Vitamins and minerals: Most blood tests check your vitamin B12 and D levels. When I meet a coach, I ask about vitamins and minerals. Just as a coach is able to spot talent, a nutritionist on our team is able to spot nutritional deficiencies resulting in ageing, injury, metabolic diseases and a host of other clinical issues that will render a coach retired hurt. A coach should never have to retire. You are an inspiration to creating more success in society.
4. Urine test: A urine test will enable a clearer indication of kidney function. Most coaches will continue to train and, therefore without knowing at older ages, they will deplete their muscles resulting in accelerated kidney loads. Additionally, every former-athlete coach would have in their life consumed higher than the standard amount of protein every year. This would have put a metabolic strain on the kidneys. Testing every year will ensure a proper balance in dietary intake of protein.
5. Muscle and fat mass check: As a coach ages, he or she will lose muscle mass and gain fat mass. Merely knowing one’s weight is a wrong measure for deciding if you are in the best of health. Modern-day gyms and hospitals are equipped with bioimpedance weight-measuring scales that will accurately determine muscle mass, fat mass, bone mass and water mass in a human. Doing this body assessment once a year throws insights into how a coach can design his exercise programme and diet. For me, coaches are the true souls that create champions. If a coach has great health, he or she can continue their mission to empower their experience into the future generation of athletes. A healthy coach is a motivated coach, a fit coach is an inspirational coach, and a coach eating with discipline is a role model to his or her athletes. This year at Qua Nutrition Clinics we will honour the coaches before Olympics. I am happy to design a complimentary nutrition plan for any coach in our country for, you truly are the crusading champions who deserve to win.