Feeding the brain is the key to victory

Nutrition has two masters: one is energy and the other is recovery. Neither one can be ignored. An athlete will ignore either at his/her own peril. The athlete has to eat for performance during the game and recovery after the game.

Robin Uthappa with the Orange Cap after the final of the 2014 Indian Premier League. “One key secret that we worked on his sports nutrition was calmness of the mind,” says the writer.   -  K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Every athlete practises day in and day out. This training cycle has short periods of rest, but never stops till the athlete decides to retire. An athlete will start as young as nine years of age and go for one to two decades of training to become a champion.

I treat every athlete as a ‘high-end SUV(sports utility vehicle)’. In this case, the vehicle is the human body, and its parts are the brains, muscles and bones. As a nutrition coach, I am the fuelling mechanic.

Every athlete should know this: the mind, the muscles and the exoskeleton work in a finely tuned manner to bring out the best results in an athlete.

Nutrition plays a key role in the fuelling or the energy requirements of both the mind and muscle.

Nutrition has two masters: one is energy and the other is recovery. Neither one can be ignored. An athlete will ignore either at his/her own peril. The athlete has to eat for performance during the game and recovery after the game.

One of the key components of nutrition for the energy system is carbohydrates. Carbs are the fuel givers in the human body. Both the muscles and the brain need carbs to work efficiently.

Rice, millets, wheat, ragi and potatoes come under the list of carbohydrate batteries that can fuel the body. When we eat carbohydrates they are broken down to its basic unit called glucose. Before you think of glucose for muscles, let’s jump into the mind of the athlete. The brain is the centre of all functions.

Think of the brain as the computer centre that sends out all commands to the muscles, and the fuel to run this computer is glucose. Now, if a player does not eat well or has low carbohydrate intake, then the brain does not get enough fuel to process complex decision as well as the motivation required to push the muscles.

 

Take a player who has eaten well and gone for practice an hour later and is able to focus on key mental tasks in the sport to fine tune his/her game.

However, if the same player does not eat at all before practice, glucose reserves will be very low early morning, and this player is physically present but mentally absent. Low glucose leads to lack of mental focus on the field. Coaches push players beyond normal human levels.

This push happens everyday, and if the player is not fuelling with discipline, recovery does not happen. So subsequent training sessions are not at 110% capacity of the athlete’s potential.

The question every player should ask himself is, “Can diet be effecting the way the brain trains? Am I getting enough of fuel for my muscles and my brain?”

Players looking to move to the highest levels of performance need to eat not only for muscle and its recovery, but they also need to look at brain fuelling.

Here are some basic thumb rules for any athlete:

1. All players practise early morning. Therefore they need to rise early and consume a full bowl of porridge or have a mini breakfast to ensure that carbs get recharged in the blood to start their training.

2. During practice, develop the habit of hydrating. The brain is made up of 76% water. Hydration ensures mental focus. If this hydration solution has 6-8% glucose, the absorption of the water into the body is higher ensuring longer focused sessions.

3. Post workout or immediately after training, athletes should have a meal that has at least 60-100 gms of carbohydrate along with 30 gms of protein. Best options include milk and bananas, oatmeal porridge, egg omelette-sandwich or rice and rajma.

4. Finally if an athlete eats well everyday, then the glucose battery in the muscles called glycogen will get a top up and will not get depleted everyday. So, in long tournaments, players are able to sustain higher levels of energy during the course of the competition as they are eating right both during and after their games.

Robin Uthappa and the orange cap at the IPL — Brain secrets

Robin Uthappa scored the highest runs in the 2014 IPL. One key secret that we worked on his sports nutrition was calmness of the mind. The human mind in a player will get agitated when subject to high heart rates. Foods such as green tea, bananas, walnuts and fish oil (high in Omega 3) are foods that ensure calm and efficient brain functioning. For Robin, I worked on his glucose in his sports drink and post his games we ensured that even though matches finished very late, he ate his post match snacks/dinner on time. With almost seven weeks on the road and staying in hotels, we did not deviate from a structured eating schedule.

Many players work hard on off-season training and nutrition. However, it is the match and competition disciplines of diet that ensure a player is able to stay on top of the game.

The brain is a delicate organ. Treat it right and it will deliver consistent performance. Luck is not the only element that makes a great player. It’s consistent eating habits. A lot of this was possible as Robin was extremely focused and disciplined on eating right, and this resulted in the player becoming the highest run-getter.

The writer is an award-winning celebrity sports nutrition coach & Chief Nutritionist at the Qua Nutrition Signature Clinics. He can be reached at [email protected]