In the first week of April, 70 nations will descend on the Gold Coast in Australia for the Commonwealth Games. 225 athletes will represent India in 14 disciplines at the Games, which will have 275 medals up for grabs.
The athletes are shifting into aggressive training mode before they taper off about a week into the Games. As always, I will emphasise the importance of nutrition in winning a medal.
In my last article I talked about athletes learning to eat without being slaves to their taste buds. In fact, any athlete should be able to eat any food and focus on only the goal — to win a medal. Many of the Indian athletes leaving for the Commonwealth Games have not even had the basic sports nutrition guidance. Proteins, carbohydrates and fats are eaten with approximation. This approximation is the reason why many of them qualified, but it is not enough to sustain these athletes under competitive pressure to win a medal.
Before these athletes leave, I would like to list many nutrition hacks they can give their bodies ahead of the Games. Again, guided sports nutrition advice is best, but doing some amount of nutrition is always better than none.
1. Amaranth, quinoa and brown rice are the best grains before the Commonwealth Games
Quinoa has about 13 grams of protein per 100 grams. Amaranth has 16 grams of protein per 100 grams. Brown rice has 7 grams of protein per 100 grams. Quinoa has mineral contents of magnesium and manganese at very high levels, which is extremely beneficial for better haemoglobin production. For athletes this means better blood, better oxygenation of the blood and hence faster recovery. While all athletes consume white rice, I ask how can we supercharge the grain an athlete is eating? Simple! Change to these alternatives.
2. Fresh tomato juice or soup
Tomatoes have a red pigment called Lycopene. Research has shown that Lycopene boosts lung function. This means that athletes will have a better oxygen uptake whilst training. The effects of Lycopene can take up to 6 weeks. So tomatoes should be part of your everyday training life. I always recommend tomato juice early morning on an empty stomach.
3. Figs, dates, almonds and walnuts
Whatever your sport, if you are not eating 5 numbers of each everyday, then you are losing out on the health and energy benefits of these power-packed foods. They are easy to carry. They do not get spoiled and can be eaten at any time of the day. For athletes who get extremely nervous, I recommend walnuts at night for a good sleep. Start three weeks in advance.
4. Whole eggs
If you are not a vegetarian, I always insist that eggs become part of your training. Up to 4 whole eggs a day and additional egg whites can be consumed to meet your protein requirements. The protein requirement for a hard training athlete is anywhere from 1.2 to 2 grams per kilogram of their body weight.
Olympic weightlifter Sathish Kumar competes in the 77 kg category. I keep his protein intake above 130 grams per day. Eggs represent an important part of his diet. Don’t go for raw eggs, they contain Avidin, which will reduce absorption of B-Complex, which further hinders protein absorption. Also one may get sick with contaminated raw eggs. Cooking them is the best option. Refer to my previous article on using an egg boiler.
5. Supplement: Glutamine
Glutamine is an amino acid. One of the basic units of protein, Glutamine makes up 60% of an athlete’s muscles. So when you are training very hard, you are breaking down muscles. You need to repair and heal for the next hardcore training session. For women’s squash champion Joshna Chinappa, I recommend 5 grams of Glutamine early morning on an empty stomach, apart from 5 grams mixed in her hydration drink during play. Glutamine serves the muscle and the immune system. So when an athlete over-strains, the Glutamine reserves drop. It is good to start on Glutamine about 6 weeks before a competition as it protects against lowered immunity, which results in cold or fever that ruins an athlete’s performance. If you do catch a cold or have cough, 5 grams of Glutamine in a glass of fresh orange juice thrice a day will reduce the infection and speed up recovery.
Beetroot is known for its power-boosting properties. A compound called nitrates in beetroot helps vasodilation, which means your blood vessels are able to expand to a larger size carrying more blood and oxygen to the exercising muscles whilst removing more carbon dioxide and lactic acid. Beetroot juice is an everyday task. I ask my athletes to prepare beetroot halwa , which can be stored for up to a week in the fridge. This way, having 3 spoons of beetroot everyday is not a crying moment for your taste buds! Beetroot takes about 6 weeks to sufficiently impact exercise capacity and the ability to sustain physical training. The time to start is now. Do not be startled if your urine or stools are pink or red in colour. It’s the normal red pigment in the beetroot which does that.
7. Supplement: Phosphatidyl Serine
Last year our team at Qua Nutrition had researched a good brain enhancement food supplement for older people. Whilst reviewing research we found new scientific papers that document an increase of up to 30% in aerobic capacity. Now for an athlete this is significant gains in the warm-up aggressive training that is 6 weeks before the competition. Also athletes involved in sports that require super-human reflexes and quick thinking, need a super-brain food. The natural sources are soya, sunflower seeds and eggs. However, the best dosages are at 500 mg in a capsule form that is a combination of both Phosphatidyl Serine and Phosphatidyl Choline. As a supplement, it is best had post breakfast. Look for a company with best nutrition practices and buy Indian as the stock will be fresh. Make sure you do not buy combinations with other molecules such as omega-3 or green tea. Phosphatidyl Serine is safe and not on the banned substances list for athletes.
Finally, athletes will be moving to a time zone that is east when they travel to Australia. They need to acclimatise and, in my opinion, need about two weeks at the minimum to live and stay at the Gold Coast to accomplish this body clock adjustment. The weightlifting federation is doing the wisest preparation by sending their athletes a month in advance. The lifters get to adjust their body clocks, get used to the foods, make arrangements with any Indian caterers for their soul food on the weekend, and above all get their nerves relaxed before the competition. Everything to winning is in the planning. Nutrition needs the most planning.