We all start the new year with resolutions – some small and some detailed. The most popular resolutions – as per Google search – have to do with exercising and eating. This is also the time when athletes commit to me that they will make the year their most disciplined one. Most athletes, however, give only a lip service to a planned diet.
Here are a few tips to help you stick to your new year resolutions – those related to diet.
When you decide to follow a sports diet plan, first do a blood test. This blood test is like a crystal ball: you can look into your future health by looking at the cholesterol (fat levels) in your blood. The liver and kidney profile tests show how good your digestion is and the types of food you are consuming. We need blood tests for our diet counselling programmes with athletes; without them, there is no data at the start of the programme, preventing us from obtaining quantitative measurements to determine the probability of success or failure.
A body assessment – containing muscle and fat percentages for various regions of the body – and the overall weight are a great quantitative indicator for a sports diet plan. Fat data – data concerning fat around internal organs such as stomach, kidney, liver, heart and lungs – indicate the urgency needed to be shown by the athlete to get rid of the fat. A high fat content has a negative impact on performance and recovery. Every time an athlete steps on a weighing scale during my counselling sessions, I can gauge what may have happened in the last 30 days of following the prescribed diet plan. It is here that the athletes realise that they can’t fake it: if they have not followed the plan, the data shows it. Body assessment allows me to keep track of the athlete, thus enabling a consistent approach to eating over a tracked period.
Many athletes refuse to compromise on their diet. I remember when I was working with Virat Kohli, he displayed an internal compass that demanded the best out of his body. He was careful with the timing of his food and the quantities consumed. Never did he complain of diet fatigue. Athletes need to introspect to determine whom they want to emulate and what they are willing to sacrifice to become great. In seeking greatness, many athletes feel that sleep, training, and diet can be bargained with. Great athletes are never on a diet plan, they are nutrition personified.
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The diet to be followed throughout the year is determined only after the results of various diagnostic tests – blood test, food intolerance test, genetic test, microbiome test, Omega 3 test, lung capacity test, VO2 max test, and resting energy expenditure test – are taken into account. These tests help outline a personalised approach to the diet plan. In my two decades of practice as a nutritionist, I have seen that every diet plan is different, sometimes for the same athlete based on the season. My personalised approach to diet plans makes athletes realise that I’m not just another person coaching them on what to eat, when to eat and how to eat. Testing is needed to arrive at a diet that suits the requirements of the athlete. One size does not fit all.
Integrating science with training and nutrition results in quicker recovery and faster enhancement of sporting performance. Using devices that can be worn during exercise, I can monitor sleep compliance, training load and recovery outcomes daily. I’m also able to compensate for changes within the day-to-day exercise practice and/or off days. For example, if an athlete gets less sleep, his/her heart rate is going to be higher the next day. A higher heart rate leads to greater energy requirements, boosting sugar cravings. These sugar cravings can increase with days or weeks of sleep indiscipline, resulting in fat gains with muscle loss. When I show that fat has been gained due to sleep irregularities, guess what? The athlete goes to bed early. With great sleep, the athlete is disciplined with his/her diet; without it, diet plans are difficult to follow.
Having a sports diet plan in place is the easy part. Following it is difficult. It is difficult because athletes train very hard and feel it is their God-given right to eat whatever they want. It is this thinking that I try to change: if athletes realise that their body is like a sophisticated machine, they will realise that they need to use premium precision fuel to run it flawlessly and win every race.
In 2023, rely on your coaches to guide you to a better version of yourself. Work with your technical coach, strength and conditioning trainer, physiotherapist, mind coach, and nutritionist to raise the bar of your performance.
From my desk, I wish you a very happy 2023. I advise you to write down your goals and pin them up for you to see everyday. Don’t be qualitative in your goals, eg, ‘I want to be the best player’. Instead, prefer quantitative goals: ‘I want to serve at 150 kilometres an hour’ or ‘I want to run two kilometres under eight minutes.’ Make every goal that you set have a number that holds you accountable, and don’t lie to yourself by setting mediocre goals.
One final piece of advice: please read the autobiography of any great sports champion. Read two pages a day. Use an orange highlighter to mark the important points that you think are most important for you on that page. You may become that champion that you read about. All the best in 2023.