The genesis of eating for performance

It is important to note that the nutrition for an athlete has to be ‘bang on’, and one cannot expect to eat well for one part of the week and then slack off.

When Shikhar Dhawan scored close to a double century (187) on his Test debut, he batted with focus for over 250 minutes. His secret was hydrating himself more frequently, not with plain water but with a sports electrolyte drink and munching on a few dry fruits in between water breaks. This ensured that his brain was hydrated so that he could focus.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

The human body is a machine. When a machine is operated at full strength, it needs the right fuel, the

right maintenance and care. Similarly, when an athlete plays a sport he operates in the realm of highest effort day in and day out. This reaches a peak during matches and competitions. So the right rest, the right training and ultimately the right fuel results in a better performing individual.

The human body is designed to be put through the grind. However, modern day athletes have gruelling, if not killing, schedules that pound the body into submission, which results in injury or no form.

When working with serious athletes, Olympic champions and record breakers, I see that their food or meals are driven by love or culture at home. Unfortunately, most players do not realise that their requirement of calories and nutrients such as protein, carbohydrate and fats, not to mention vitamins and minerals, may not reach the optimum levels on a daily basis. It is important to note that the nutrition for an athlete has to be ‘bang on’, and one cannot expect to eat well for one part of the week and then slack off

on other days.

It’s a gruelling discipline. First learn what is your calorie burn/calorie expenditure through the day. Then understand your food — what foods have protein, carbohydrate and fat component — and how much of that food you need to consume over a period of 6-8 meals in a day.

The basics are carbohydrates, which are the primary source of energy or fuel in the human body. One gram of carbohydrate will give you four calories. If you eat a bowl of 100 grams of rice you get 400 calories.

Now if you run for one hour at a slow pace, you burn approximately 400 calories. So knowing your burn rate or calorie expenditure and then planning your calorie intake via the carbohydrates is crucial to your energy levels.

Proteins are the building blocks of muscles. To grow, to maintain muscle mass, an athlete requires 1.2 to 2 grams per kg of bodyweight. For example, an athlete weighing 60 kg needs 90 grams (60x1.5 grams) of protein. This needs to be split over six meals in a day. Therefore, one needs 15 grams of protein in each meal of the day.

The fat, a topic of controversy, is making a huge comeback in sports. No longer is this ignored or

asked to be reduced. One gram of fat gives an athlete nine calories, and in conditioned sportspersons, nearly 30% of a day’s total calories can come from fat. For example, if you need 3000 calories per day, then 30% of that will be 900 calories or 100 grams of fat in the diet over the six meals in a day.

The key to sports nutrition is knowing your output and then getting a nutrition coach to work with

you to design your input requirements. I see athletes investing in the best of equipment that adorns their body or their game. However, their own body’s functions are treated with little or no understanding of how to eat for performance.

The principal lesson here is to learn about different carb, protein and fat based food. Learn how much you need to eat and when is the best time to eat that food.

For example, a chocolate milkshake is a perfect recovery drink. It should not be had before training. The best time is immediately within 15 minutes of finishing your training or game.

Secrets of the champions

When Shikhar Dhawan scored close to a double century (187) on his Test debut, he batted with focus for over 250 minutes. It was the fastest century by a batsman on debut.

Dhawan’s secret was hydrating himself more frequently, not with plain water but with a sports electrolyte drink and allowing himself to munch

on a few dry fruits in between water breaks. This ensured that his brain was hydrated so that he could focus. His muscles received the much-needed glucose, because after playing for two hours your energy reserves drop and this forces human error due to lack of focus. The key is to convince your muscles to get some nutrition — not too much and not little.

Most athletes forget to hydrate themselves. You are made up of water more than 60%. When you effectively learn how to feed your muscles and brains, you allow your body to go the extra mile. Shikhar Dhawan today knows hydrating is the key to a long innings. This practice is not only for matches but even in practice and at the gym.

Finally, a well hydrated muscle will be less prone to injury.

The writer is an award-winning celebrity sports nutrition coach and Chief Nutritionist at the Qua Nutrition Signature Clinics