Small changes that can make Indian hockey great again

The Indian players do not have their diet and sports nutrition plan properly charted out. Here are some tips to take India to glorious victory.

Bhubaneswar is known for its high humidity, and you can expect players to sweat a lot.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Hockey. A sport that has brought India the most number of gold medals in the history of the Olympics, though the last one was 38 years ago. Has the game changed, or the requisite skills? Have the abilities of the athletes become redundant, and technology and the playing surface taken over? According to me, it’s the Indian diet and a lack of discipline, along with a lack of focus on eating for performance.

In the last 10 years, there has slowly been a realisation in India that food plays an important role in an athlete’s performance. I now have individual hockey players coming to me and asking for customised sports nutrition advice in a personal capacity. In team sports, individual brilliance as a few players focus on their diet and supplements may not help lift a team’s performance to the best possible levels. Here comes in the management’s responsibility to ensure that sports nutrition planning is the key driver of the team winning.

The Indian national hockey team needs to be ready to take on the world in its own backyard in Bhubaneswar. Our players will have an advantage in terms of familiarity with our own weather, our own water, our own food and playing conditions. This is a strategic advantage over the other countries participating. However, the Indian players, to the best of my knowledge, do not have their diet and sports nutrition plan charted out. I wish to offer them some tips in this article, hoping that small changes may help take India to glorious victory in this World Cup. (Disclaimer: It takes 180 days for a sports diet to work on exercise performance.)

Hydration

Bhubaneswar, the host of this World Cup, is known for its high humidity, and you can expect players to sweat a lot. The average hockey player in India will lose anywhere between 1.5 and 4 litres of water depending on his sweat rates. I suggest the players weigh themselves before and after practice, and calculate the weight lost. This is the first thumb rule for replenishment of fluids during training and matches. I also recommend an electrolyte blood test to measure the loss of electrolytes. Once the players have this data, it will be nice for them to have their own personalised sports nutrition water bottle. This will enable exact delivery of fluids to each player and a predictive assessment of compliance of hydrating scientifically.

Carbohydrate loading

Carbohydrates are the primary food source for any athlete. When a player practices for three-four days and does not eat correctly, there is bound to be complete depletion of glycogen resources — the main energy battery of an athlete — in the muscle. One simple sports nutrition tip is to carb-load. This means taking anywhere between 80gm and 200gm of carbohydrates in a meal after any physical training. If this can be repeated once or twice again during the day, it will ensure that the player is sufficiently fuelled up. If the player sticks to good food, then the protein requirements will be automatically met as they are pursuing higher carbohydrate loads from the food. Please note this is above the standard three meals a day. My recommendations for hockey players would be sweet potato, tapioca chips, salted moong dal, popcorn, beetroot halwa, sweet potato halwa or a lot of potatoes. The timing of these foods and their consumption is never before training or matches.

Organic

I believe players from the West have far more energy than Indian players due to the quality of food they get in their respective countries. Indian hockey players must have correct nutritional advice or the mental calibre to understand the differences between good, bad and performance food. For me, organic is the key in our country as most of our food products — grains, dals, pulses, fruits and vegetables — are tainted with chemicals in the form of insecticides and pesticides and this will have a catastrophic effect on recovery and the stability of energy in the human body. Most caterers and hotels provide meals to our players, and they will not consider this when procuring raw materials for meal preparation. I sincerely advise that the team management should focus on this when our players are training.

Supplements

1. Sports hydration drinks: While food represents most import positioning in sports nutrition, its supplementation represents an additional boost to the performance and recovery of players. It is advisable to do a blood test and a food allergy test before recommending the correct supplement for an individual. There are a lot of food supplements that can be consumed by athletes. For example, my first choice would be a good sports rehydration solution. The team has to ensure a 6-8 per cent glucose/maltodextrin solution with electrolytes, sodium, potassium and chloride, and consumption of at least 1 litre during the day would be advisable. In addition, we need to measure how much the players sweat, and design the solution and quantities for the match.

2. Branched chain amino acids:

Three amino acids — leucine, isoleucine and valine — make up 35 per cent of the players’ muscle. Adding 5-10gm BCAA in the sports solution will significantly help in endurance levels during games. BCAA is known to boost mental focus, and since hockey requires attention to team plays and strategy, I believe you can have a more aggressive focus by tweaking this supplement.

3. Protein supplements: Consuming 25-30gm of protein supplements in the form of a whey- or vegan plant-based protein powder will help in muscle recovery and reduction of muscle soreness and damage. It is best to consume this protein with 80-200gm of carbohydrates to achieve the best recovery results. My advice is to continue with your protein shake supplement with a good meal within half an hour of finishing your training or match. Any delay will result in slower recovery.

4. Vitamin D: Every hockey player should have a blood test done to check for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. For some, vitamin D is linked to immunity and good testosterone production. Latest research also points to improved immunity. If players are frequently plagued with coughs, colds and fevers, the team doctor may want to check for low levels of vitamin D. You cannot have a sick player even with a minor cold playing. It means you’re not in the highest zone. Something is depleted. Think nutrition.

Any hockey player who needs any nutrition advice can contact me at my personal website www.ryanfernando.in. I look forward to a successful tournament for the country, and I will be rooting for our boys with the Indian tricolour in my hand. Jai Hind!