The caveman diet and survival

To win, we need not an overhaul of our sport system. That is almost perfect in today’s day and age. We actually need a mind shift in our belief in food and how we have to flush our taste buds down the drain.

"Our hockey boys are fit. But they are not fitter than the other teams. Many blame genetics. I will blame the food available as well as the indiscipline in sports nutrition by the players.," says the author.   -  AP

In ancient times, foods were used to help the warriors march on with high endurance, and these battles lasted for months, if not years. Successful armies marched with thousands of cattle and livestock and immense quantities of grain, and in plundering and raiding they accumulated more food reserves than those of gold and precious items. It is obvious that one cannot eat gold, but a powerful army is one that marches on a full stomach.

In the modern-day warfare of sports, two elements are required: a killer spirit or a will to win, and muscles that are fuelled supremely.

Recently, I watched the Indian hockey team play at the World Cup. Our boys are fit. But they are not fitter than the other teams. Many blame genetics. I will blame the food available as well as the indiscipline in sports nutrition by the players.

When players in India train and play very hard, they use food as a psychological reward system to their belief centres of survival. If we were living in ancient times and they had to win the battle or lose their lives, then I believe our eating will be for survival and ultimately winning the battle. In today’s world, as I meet with players and their support staff, I do not see the urgency to align eating strategies with sports nutrition. This is the death of the athlete and why we fail to finish victorious.

I believe senior athletes have mindsets that are now set in concrete. They are not ready to evolve in terms of exploring the burden of eating right. Therefore, any drive for our country and its pride should be the drive to educate the younger athletes. When our children display a keen sense of wanting to pursue a sport, we parents immediately go out and buy the equipment required. But what if I told you that the kid needs an education in eating scientifically. A child needs food to grow. Metabolic requirements to increase tissue are of paramount importance.

By teaching a kid to eat correctly, one can enhance the growth signals, resulting in a more powerful kid who practises sport. In simple terms, forget the expensive equipment for the first three years. Focus on food and its science. Learn with a nutrition coach.

Here are a few questions that need to be answered:

1. What do I need to eat? How many calories do I need? How much of this is protein for muscle, skin, hormones and bones? How many carbohydrates are needed to fuel the body’s cells and brain performance? What types of fat and how much fat should be consumed for optimal growth?

2. How much should I eat? Children can under-eat or overeat. The overriding principle is that we eat out of love and culture. None of that is scientific. So the predisposition to choosing one food is based on one’s tastebuds and what my mum decides. Wrenching this away from a teenager and young adult athlete in later years is where the battlelines are drawn between the desire to eat and the need to eat.

3. When should you eat? When a kid athlete learns to eat at the right time, growth can be enhanced. Once children start playing for a sport with a lot of passion and commit to gruelling hours of work, it’s difficult to keep the stomach on a clock. However, with sports nutrition training, the ingestion of the right foods be the difference in recovery as well as growth. Otherwise, with a starved or illogical timing of food, only muscle tissue recovery will work. Growth will be stunted.

For the last decade, I have worked with some of the most elite athletes in this country. Every day, more of them walk into my clinic. With just over 500 days to the next Olympics in Tokyo, the trickle has stopped.

Why?

Athletes believe that they can win a medal in three-six months of hard training. They also believe that nutrition done in the last cycle can help them. The belief in supplements is engorged beyond actuality. In short, there is a blind belief that some magic diet and diet pills will get them a gold medal.

When they don’t win, as happened in the Rio Olympics, their take on diet and supplementation changes to: “It’s not worth the sacrifice.”

When working with sponsored athletes, the excuses are even greater than non-compliance. In fact, many athletes believe that they can convince their sponsors that a nutritionist is actually not helping them due to the stringent demands of diet and timing, all of which require herculean discipline. Something I believe is that the Indian athlete has too much of a democracy in the decision-making when being sponsored by organisations or government.

If one is to observe the Chinese team, the support staff is merciless in their pursuit of pushing athletes to their supreme levels. Nutrition in the Chinese Olympic team follows military discipline. I have heard that the Chinese athletes are never seen at the fast food joints in the Games Villages.

So, if our boys are to win a hockey World Cup in 2030, the need is to start with those of them that are not men and not indisciplined. That goes for every sport.

To win, we need not an overhaul of our sport system. That is almost perfect in today’s day and age. We actually need a mind shift in our belief in food and how we have to flush our taste buds down the drain.

Athletes have no taste buds! Those that don’t will win the battle for gold.

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