The burden of eating right

Eating for your pleasure is no longer accepted. Coaches and players alike need to get their act together. Food is more important than any other sports science performance parameter.

Food bought and cooked at home has another story. For example, the fried rice made in my home is prepared with organic basmati rice costing ₹178 per kilogramme. The eggs, vegetables and chicken are all sourced from vendors who have the best quality stuff, mostly free of pesticides.   -  M. Periasamy

I just delivered a lecture to some of India’s best athletes at the Lakshya Annual Awards. Boxers, archers, tennis players, racecar drives and chess players all congregated in one room to understand how nutrition can help them win gold medals. However, I did not give them any advice on what to eat. Instead, I started my lecture on what not to eat. The human body responds to good nutrition. I believe it responds in double measure when you feed your body wrongly. In the current day and age, both parents and athletes believe they can settle for food that has been procured from restaurants.

For what I am about to advise, I may become the most hated nutritionist for all players. Do not eat outside food! Do not order from Swiggy or Zomato. Do not use your phone to order any food. Every player at the nutrition seminar looked at me very perplexed. What should we order and eat then? No, you don’t order anything. You plan. You carry. You eat.

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For argument sake, let’s say you and me decide to launch a restaurant. To make a profitable restaurant with very high profit margins, as the owner of the place, wouldn’t I buy raw material for the most expensive order at the cheapest prices so I can maximise my profit?

But food bought and cooked at home has another story. For example the fried rice made in my home is prepared with organic basmati rice costing ₹178 per kilogramme. The eggs, vegetables and chicken are all sourced from vendors who have the best quality stuff, mostly free of pesticides. Why? This is because I believe in eating the healthiest version of that dish. It’s then cooked in my home with love. When you read research on quantum healing and how the energy matrix in the universe actually works, it is logical that food prepared at home and at the hands of a loved one will have a better taste, quality and energy pattern than the foods that athletes source from eateries, local dhabas or start-ups that claim to serve healthy food. Outside food lacks love and the quality necessary for winning a medal.

Parents today find it easier to given into their kid athletes’ demands. The kids say that everybody else eats out and it’s fashionable, so give me money to eat out. To both parents and kids, I want to say this: “Get your tiffin box out, pack it at home. No more ordering from out.” If you don’t have time to do a daily regime, then do batch cooking where you cook rice, dal, beans and eggs in massive large quantities and pack them into meal size portions and store them in the freezer for the entire week. When you are off to practice, just carry the ice-cold food and in four-five hours it’s ready to be reheated at your academy. If you have a car, you have a battery option heater. Or buy a tiffin box that has a ready-made heater, find a plug point and 30 minutes prior to your meal time get it connected.

I remember one of my junior athletes complaining to me on how he was called tiffin boy at the academy. Ultimately, he is the one winning medals as the food helps him recover faster.

Imagine that fried rice from your local vendor. The rice is the cheapest rice, the vegetables probably have pesticides and the cook at the restaurant will not bother to wash either the rice or the vegetables, not to mention his hands. The chicken or eggs added to this fried rice is of the cheapest quality. They may not be fresh or are contaminated with pesticides and have other issues. Put all of this together and you may have a very tasty fried rice and that is because of the sauces, taste-makers and monosodium glutamate (MSG). None of these agents have any nutritional contribution to the athlete’s recovery or energy. So why would you order it? It’s convenient. Yes, it is. However, winning a medal has never been a convenient or easy path. Food needs effort if it is to be nutritiously sustaining.

For argument sake, if an athlete eats out, he or she asks how does it matter. How will you know if you are not getting the food right? Or how do you know if it is affecting my body? How do we identify that an athlete is damaging his or her body?

For what I am about to advise, I may become the most hated nutritionist for all players. Do not eat outside food!   -  AFP

 

A blood test that looks into erythrocyte sedimentation rate, C-reactive protein, alkaline phosphatase, bilirubin and many other liver markers can indicate cellular damage. One can also measure damage in the body by testing the resting heart rate as soon as you wake in the morning. If an athlete displays a heart rate normally higher than their daily average heart rate, then you know there is no recovery and the food could have been not aiding in recovery. A simple experiment is to eat street restaurant food for three days and measure your heart rate every morning. Then eat home-cooked food for three days and check your heart rate. You will be surprised to find that heart rates under home-cooked food are lower, and this indicates a quicker recovery with home food.

My athletes work with me on a WhatsApp food diary. Every day they will post pictures of their heart rate early morning as well as what foods they consume during the day. Whenever we meet for our nutrition sessions, we explore what they did right and what went wrong in their food choices. The art of counselling will allow nutrition coaching to happen in the athletes’ mind. Over multiple counselling sessions, the subconscious message begins to imprint. This message ultimately alters behaviour in the athletes. Like coaching, so is nutrition counselling a process. There is huge burden on the athlete to get it right lifelong. Eating for your pleasure is no longer accepted. Coaches and players alike need to get their act together. Food is more important than any other sports science performance parameter.

Ryan Fernando is the chief Nutritionist at Qua Nutrition Clinics. For a list of recipes to cook foods at home for an athlete, get in touch at www.ryanfernando.in.