One diet size does not fit all

Success stories in sport often spark a desire in budding athletes to adopt the diets of their favoured athlete from their discipline. It is based on the false notion that if one replicates others’ eating habits, one will succeed like them.

Being physically active allows the mind to de-stress. When the body indulges in physical activity, the mind has an outlet to release negative thoughts.

Being physically active allows the mind to de-stress. When the body indulges in physical activity, the mind has an outlet to release negative thoughts. | Photo Credit: AFP

Success stories in sport often spark a desire in budding athletes to adopt the diets of their favoured athlete from their discipline. It is based on the false notion that if one replicates others’ eating habits, one will succeed like them.

I wish everyone a happy sports day on August 29, the birth anniversary of hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand. This year, the celebrations will be sweet after India’s excellent performance in the recent Commonwealth Games.

A few of my athletes won medals at the Games and I was proud to be a part of their support system as a sports nutritionist.

Success stories in sport often spark a desire in budding athletes to adopt the diets of their favoured athlete from their discipline. It is based on the notion that if one replicates others’ eating habits, one will succeed like them. It’s a false notion. One diet size does not fit all.

Sports nutrition is bio-individual. The secret of athletes’ success is that they have realised over time how their body functions and the way their metabolism reacts, and have accordingly strategised — with the help of a sports nutritionist — a unique nutrition approach to feeding each cell in the body for elite-level performance. It is about taking care of the minutest details, such as deciding whether to eat 20g or 30g of a certain food, whether to eat 30 minutes or 45 minutes before a match, or whether to consume a recovery drink within 20 minutes of finishing training for better recovery and higher energy levels in the next practice session.

The approach to nutrition is customised for each athlete. It is based on their goals, their training schedule, their health status, their sporting disciplines, their medical history, and their diagnostics (eg, blood reports, genetics, omega balance levels, etc.)

One can be inspired by a successful sportsperson and believe that one can succeed, too. However, beyond this, individual convictions are different for different people. And with it comes an individualised approach to training, sleeping, and eating.

While inspiration helps impart belief and motivation, one has to have one’s own customised approach to nutrition for better performance. Take your own self as an example. Do other athletes in your sport train the same way as you do? You might work on particular skill sets based on your strong and weak areas, and your training frequency and time duration might differ from others.

Similarly, just imagine that you know your nutritional strong and weak areas to work on. You can define your own nutrition training regimen with the appropriate frequency, load (when and how much to eat), and time duration (when to eat).

An athlete looking to gain muscular strength will have different nutritional requirements than an athlete looking to lose weight to participate in a certain weight category. Similarly, an athlete who is injury prone will not have the same nutritional requirements as an athlete whose recovery is slow.

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There are other considerations too. An athlete may get all the desired strength and power by consuming dairy, while some other athlete allergic to milk protein may struggle with higher inflammation and slower recovery.

In short, sports nutrition entails constant evaluation and constant examination of the body’s response and feedback. Modifications to athletes’ nutritional strategy may give them that extra edge that they seek.

Array of benefits

Sports day celebrates the hard work of athletes and the laurels they bring to the nation. It acknowledges the work done behind the scenes by coaches, physios, trainers, masseurs, team managers, mind coaches, and nutritionists. Technology gurus behind laptops build strategy and analyse for the teams. Data and technology enable our athletes to compete and win at the international level.

For over two decades, I have worked with thousands of athletes. Some win and some don’t but they all pursue their dreams.

For me, sports days are important because of the intrinsic value of sport. Sport instils behaviour that augments the development of a well-rounded personality. Playing a sport can keep the body active, irrespective of a person’s age. By teaching our children a sport and allowing them to pursue it, we can enable them to improve their focus and self-control to achieve their goals in life.

Moreover, playing sport helps develop strength — of both body and mind. Exercise aids physical fitness, but sport improves mental strength too as children realise how to handle victory and defeat. It helps them build life skills.

Playing sport allows children to exhibit leadership skills and qualities. By leading a team, they understand how to delegate functions, how to keep their focus on the game, how to motivate their team members to win, and how to support playing functions.

Being physically active allows the mind to de-stress. When the body indulges in physical activity, the mind has an outlet to release negative thoughts. Sporting activities enable the body to produce and release endorphins, or happy hormones, which help combat stress and negativity.

I hope to grow old nurturing generations of athletes who bring laurels to our nation.

Happy sports day to all the people of India!

Jai Hind.

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