Recently, two great personalities in sport — Roger Federer and Robin Uthappa — announced their retirement.
Both Federer and Uthappa had their fair share of injuries but managed to extend their playing careers through discipline in fitness and nutrition.
Nutrition plays a significant role in prolonging one’s sports career. To see how that happens, we need to understand the science of body and food.
The body is a complex machine and a single nutrition-related change can create a domino effect. This may help athletes get to the performance they desire or vice-versa. In worst cases, it may even cause injury or damage to cells. Therefore, the relationship between nutrition and athletic performance is transactional. INPUT = OUTPUT.
Athletes come to me for nutrition consultations and when I suggest changes to their dietary habits for long and successful careers, the typical response is: “But Ryan, I have always been eating like this and manage to perform.”
This is a common thought process by which we justify our eating habits based on past laurels and achievements. We need to understand that the human body is naturally programmed to deteriorate as we age. You may be able to get the performance out of your body when young, but with age and without nutritional care, the body may lose its capacity for it. It can give you results only when you start taking care of it.
ALSO READ - Food for thought: One diet size does not fit all
Food is the reason behind the greatness of every cell in your body. To get 20 years of service out of your athletic body, please begin to eat scientifically. A sports nutrition plan is that insurance policy that will align with and complement your blood markers, genetics, training and recovery cycle.
When you structure and plan your nutrition, it caters to your ever-evolving needs. To play longer and stronger, here are a few anti-aging molecules that help in your longevity.
Resveratrol attenuates oxidative stress, reduces inflammatory response, enhances mitochondrial function, and controls apoptosis. For the prevention and treatment of aging and age-related disorders, resveratrol may be a reliable and secure substance.
Resveratrol is found in the skin of grapes. Wine does contain a very high level of it. However, alcohol should be strictly avoided by an athlete in training and so I recommend 300 to 500mg of it in capsule or powder form. It can be added to your post-workout smoothie.
Vitamin A (retinol) and its derivates (retinaldehyde and tretinoin) are also a group of agents with antioxidant effects. They can also induce the biosynthesis of collagen. Sweet potato has one of the highest contents of Vitamin A and it is a great post-workout Glycogen (Muscle glucose) replenishment aid.
Curcumin is the main active compound in turmeric. It has been shown to possess powerful cellular-protective properties which are attributed to its potent antioxidant effects. Research demonstrates that curcumin activates certain proteins that help delay cellular senescence and promote longevity. Adding haldi milk or haldi chamomile tea to my athletes’ last beverage before they go to sleep has helped them last longer.
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)
EGCG is a well-known polyphenol compound concentrated in green tea. It offers impressive health benefits and may promote longevity and protect against age-related disease. EGCG may work by restoring mitochondrial function in cells and by acting on pathways involved in aging. It also induces autophagy, the process by which your body removes damaged cellular material.
ECGC is found in green tea. One of my favourite recommendations to athletes having a high percentage of body fat is to make a green tea lemonade or green tea nimbu pani with salt as an isotonic solution.
Collagen is a popular dietary supplement that may help prevent aging by boosting collagen levels in your skin. Collagen helps the skin, the soft tissue, and the bones. A lot of my athletes age due to soft-tissue damage.
You need raw materials to heal your body daily. For many of my athletes, the collagen production is low and the COL1A1 gene is defective. Such athletes may be vegetarian and may not be getting the right amino acids from their protein. The body needs to scavenge these amino acids to produce ample quantities of collagen after training which enables the healing process.
Deficiency of collagen in the diet may lead to the degeneration of the tissue. Collagen cannot be vegetarian. Vegetarian athletes should look for foods high in proline and hydroxyproline to compensate for the lack of collagen (source is fish and bovine).
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant that your body produces. It plays an essential role in the production of energy and protects against cell damage. Research suggests that the levels of CoQ10 decline as you age. Supplementing it has shown to improve certain aspects of health and performance. This supplement is best advised by a sports nutritionist based on the sport and age of the athlete.
Besides the supplements, I believe that dark chocolates (with no sugar or cocoa beans in them) have a very high antioxidant potential.
If I were Robin Uthappa in my younger years, I would consume mint and walnut chutney, both of which have amazing healing power, everyday. If I were Roger Federer, I would consume raisins and hot chocolate.
Food, too, has tremendous potential to enhance short-term and long-term recovery. What you put on your plate everyday determines your destiny. Decide where you will be 10 years from now. On the podium with a gold or retiring too early!