Paralympian swimmer Suyash Jadhav has just won the gold in the 50m butterfly at the Asian Games as I write this article. He called and asked if he could have a sweet dish as part of his victory. A sweet victory is part of every athlete’s dream. Every athlete also has a sweet tooth. They burn a lot of carbohydrates, which is sugar, and this is utilized as a primary source of energy to drive all the muscles in the body. Sweet cravings are a result of this immense use of glucose in the cells of the body, and its replenishment can manifest in the form of binging on sweets.
Muscles store their energy in the form of glycogen. One molecule of glycogen is made up of a few dozen strands of glucose molecules. Every molecule of glycogen will bind to three molecules of water. When an athlete exercises, it is this bonded glucose that will be utilised during the rigorous hours of practice and will continue till such time the glucose is exhausted and the body ultimately breaks down muscles (protein) and fats in the body. It is always preferential to burn fat, but most athletes have low fat reserves.
When athletes come to my nutrition clinic, they always want to get the best diet. A lot of time has been spent on this, and the belief that their diet should not include desserts or sweet dishes is the grudging acceptance of most elite athletes. This is far from the truth. In fact, when many athletes come to me, I actually remove a lot of the sweets and desserts as many of these are loaded with sugar. However, there are many sweet dishes that can be strategically used to replenish carbohydrate reserves in an athlete and at the same time give the athletes the benefit of not having to be very rigid in their diets. They can still enjoy a sweet dish or more in a week.
In fact, in my sports nutrition plan I actually gives a reward once a week. This reward is designed to fulfil the psychological satisfaction of an athlete because the monitoring and calling for a strict nutrition plan requires lot of discipline and no deviation from the items of food they eat through the entire day.
I’ve listed four of my favourite recipes that I use to enhance athletes’ performance while also acknowledging the sweet tooth or sugar cravings that help them actually feel good about the snack.
The chief criteria that I talk to my sports athletes about when recommending these dishes is they are not to be consumed before an event (one-two hours prior) as the higher concentration of sugar in the dishes will lead to an insulin spike. This results in a drop in sugar levels suddenly during performance. Any sweet dish or dessert is best had post-training and is used as a recovery agent with the ideology of carb-loading and replenishing the depleted reserves of glucose in the body.
Recently when I was working with an Asian Games swimmer, the calorie content designed in the diet began to taper off closer to the meet. But the swim coach noticed that lactic acid production was not sufficient enough. This is a clear indication that sometimes a low carb diet can actually be detrimental to the performance of an athlete and therefore we decided to increment the calories by increasing the carbohydrate content in the diet in the last two weeks. We got better results. Conventionally, we call this carb-loading, but I like to frame a new terminology called dessert-loading.
For a list of sweet dishes and recipes that can enhance players’ performance, write to me at email@example.com.
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