Preparing for match day superiority!

Every sports client today has issues about the diet, especially during travel and tournaments.

I remember reading Andre Agassi’s autobiography a few years ago and one page is etched in my memory. He wrote how in the heat of the Las Vegas desert, where he used to practice, he used to hyper hydrate. Agassi used to actually consume over 1 litre of a specially designed sports drink even before he went to train. 

What resulted was his ability to dehydrate much later in practice and this resulted in him developing demon like endurance at all Grand Slams.

Every sports client today has issues about the diet, especially during travel and tournaments. The discipline to eat correctly, plus logistics of arranging this food represented a double edged sword that very few elite athletes are able to master. As a nutrition coach I counsel the athletes on what best to eat at a hotel, when travelling, how to hydrate and when to hydrate in training and match scenarios. 

I recently started working with world class squash player Joshna Chinappa. Joshna has been on the circuit for many years now and is expecting to pull a few more hard years there. As you age, your body recovers slower. That is why many bow out because of injuries. Advanced sports nutrition helps in preventing injuries and this stems from pre-planned strategies based on your sports genes and nutrition genes. Increasing Joshna’s shelf life is my top priority. In phase II we plan to aggressively work on match endurance and the ability to sustain a gruelling draw to reach the finals more often.

So from my book of learnings and on the ground experience with athletes from various sports I construed a simple formula to excel.

Sleep cannot be eaten

It will be reduced due to indiscipline or travel issues. Eight hours or more is mandated for any recovery. At our clinics we work on sleep with various foods. Chamomile tea, banana and walnuts a few hours before sleeping really help the athlete move into the slumber zone. I ask all my athlete to move to aeroplane mode on their cell phones by 9 pm. Electronic gadget severely deplete an athlete of deep sleep or REM sleep which causes release of many recovery hormones. If you don’t dream it means your sleep is not deep enough.

Pack wise

Learn to plan what you will carry to eat or what you will order. Every athlete may carry light food. You will book your hotel and flights in advance. It is even more important to try and acquire the food menu from the hotel or pack what you need to get the right nutrition into your cells.

Tank up

The recent debate in the sports nutrition world is on post workout protein shake or anabolic window of recovery. The new school of thought is pre-workout nutrition that seems to be more beneficial to the athlete. Every athlete gets up early in the morning and rushes to train within one hour of waking. On match days, players choose to sleep in late and sometimes rush to games with almost no food in their belly. This philosophy of winging the energy levels in my body needs to change. You need to think of yourself as a high-end SUV. Before you set out, you need to fill up your tanks. In this case even the types of fuels you use; Protein, carbohydrates and fat have specific fuelling ratios to create match-based supremacy.

Customised nutrition

It’s time for you to pack your glucose, amino acids and omega 3 foods diligently. Players are superstitious on how they pack their gear. Equipment in racket sports is so important. Even the tension on the gut strings is controlled and every player has a preference. When I ask a player to consumer 30 gms of protein and 100 grams of carbohydrates within an hour of play, there is a very chilled out approach. The era of custom sports nutrition has arrived but Indian players are still stuck on their home made snacks!

Athletes have no taste buds

When you travel for your sport, you will be taken away from the shores of your mother’s kitchen and your culture. Athletes who accept multicuisine food will be less home-sick and eat to survive for recovery. When Joshna recently played in China, all she was instructed to see was protein, carbs and fat. The food preparation was bland. 

Fly right

Book your flights wisely. Not economically. Many athletes fly by airlines that do not provide healthy food on long hauls. I believe that before landing at an international tournament 3-4 days of acclimatiastion is required for your sleep cycle, your body clock and digestive system re-alignment. During this travel, which ideally should be scheduled for a week advance, the food an athlete eats can align the body clock. Orange juice and high protein meals with fibre from carrots or beetroot serve to get your body into shape in 72 hours. Don’t arrive in a country and play within 24 hours. For those travelling locally in India, pack from a healthy place. Train and flight food are either too unsafe or too un-nutritious!

Proper balance

When calories exceed 5000 in training days, your stomach has a memory to eat the same amount on a non-training day. A match day will have lower amount of calories and the athlete may end up eating more than the body requires. Feeling heavy and playing on the ultimate day is a sin for many players.

Beetroot three hours before an event improves oxygen utilisation capacity in the blood with decrease in exercise exertion. 2 medium beetroots, juice, raw or in a halwa does its magic. Six weeks to see a result. Not an instant pill.

Chia seeds help sustain water hydration through long games. Mixed into your sports drink, a whacky mouth feel can be expected.

Whole eggs. Research shows that the yolks improve endurance whilst the protein from eggs will sustain energy levels reducing muscle breakdown.

Have 500ml of sports drink customised to your sports gene, two hours before your match to hyper hydrate.

Tart cherries are the new power pills. Apparently they reduce muscle soreness. Most tournaments go on for six straight days. You lose because you get tired or sore.