Food is magic: Sunil Chhetri talks nutrition, cheat meals and samosas

With the rapid growth of football at the grassroots level, Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri feels there needs to be better awareness of aspects such as nutrition and rest.

Sunil Chhetri with HZL CFO Swayam Saurabh (right).   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

“You are what you eat,” goes the proverbial phrase. For Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri, it's a mantra he lives by. Known to be prudent with his eating habits and workout regimen, Chhetri has perhaps, much like wine, only become better with age. 

There's rarely ever a time when you'll see him the 34-year-old slack on the pitch. It's almost bizarre to think, at least to immediate memory, that there is just no instance when Chhetri has stood on the pitch with hands on his waist. The man is always moving - either toward the opposition goal or tracking back towards his goal. This begs the question, what is his secret? “Food is magic. In my 17 years of experience, (I realised) food is the main thing. When you change the way you eat and eat what your body needs, magic happens. You become a different person,” he says. 

“Especially in India, we eat whatever we want. We don't think before putting food in our mouth. Broccoli boil karke khaana boring hai na? Dabao samose! (We find it boring to eat boiled broccoli and end  up stuffing ourselves with samosas instead). We don't see what's going in our bodies and that's why we take so much liberty. If we can see what the food does to our body, people will stop eating the way they do right now. You need to have a balanced approach, one that works for you. You can have cheat days, but you need to be mindful. People eat because they are bored. How crazy is that?"

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With football developing rapidly at the grassroots level in the country, Chhetri feels there needs to be better awareness of aspects such as nutrition and rest as well from the beginning. “Grassroots football is good, but not good enough. Where we want to reach is far, it is not good enough yet. Not just football, but in other sports too. We are not good enough in identifying talent and infrastructure and in making sure that they are nourished and that they have common knowledge about nutrition and sleep,” he says.

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Sunil Chhetri is indefatigable when he's on the pitch.   -  K. Murali Kumar

To address this, Chhetri has moulded himself in such a manner that the youngsters in his team have actually adapted to his ways as well. In an earlier interaction, Indian midfield mainstay Anirudh Thapa had told this reporter that Chhetri's work ethic and commitment had spurred a change among all of them. “For kids, it is very important. And that's why people like Anirudh, I love him, he came as a kid to me and I'm a little more strict with him,” he says with a huge smile.  

“For me, the most important thing in your life is how you eat what you eat and your sleep. It makes you happy. Food actually changes your body. How you think and how sharp you are depends on your food,” he adds.

Chhetri, who was visiting Udaipur's Zinc Football Academy, also gave the budding footballers tips on the kind of foods to avoid in a closed-door conversation with them. When quizzed later on, 12-year-old Chetanya, who plays as a striker, said the Indian skipper had told the boys to stay from masalas.  

India's most-capped player, Chhetri was a tad agitated at the constant buzzing of the phones at the press conference. “Please put your phones on silent,” he said at the start. But the phones continued to ring, much to his displeasure. 

He decided to take a harmless dig at the reporters, while also encouraging them to eat clean. “Eat well and sleep well and your life will change. Try this for one month and your life will change. This is free advice, I'm not going to charge you (laughs). Once you start eating right, you will not have your phones ringers on in press conferences,” he said, which was followed by a round of chuckles and sheepish smiles.