Sweet victory or sweet tooth

Many sweet dishes can be strategically used to replenish carbohydrate reserves in athletes and at the same time give them the benefit of not having to be very rigid in their diets.

Sweet potato halwa is a recipe 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 HINDU

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 ryan@quanutrition.com.

SWEET POTATO/SHAKARKANDI HALWA

Ingredients

2 medium to large sweet potatoes (shakarkandi)

4 tbsp sugar or as required, depends on the sweetness of the sweet potatoes

3-4 green cardamoms, crushed or powdered, or 1/2 tsp cardamom (choti elaichi) powder

1 pinch saffron (kesar)

10- 12 cashews (kaju) halved or chopped or kept whole

Directions

Boil the sweet potatoes first.

When warm, peel and mash them.

Heat oil or ghee in a pan.

Fry the cashews. Remove when they become golden and keep aside.

In the same oil, add the mashed sweet potatoes. Stir well and saute for 3-4 minutes.

Add sugar and saute for 4-5 minutes.

Add crushed cardamom and stir.

Add saffron and stir.

Keep stirring and cooking till the oil or ghee starts to leave the sides of the halwa. This will take 10-12 minutes on a low to medium flame.

Lastly, add the fried cashew and stir again.

Serve hot, warm or cold.

WHEY PROTEIN ICE CREAM

Ingredients

1 cup cottage cheese (paneer)

1 big frozen (peeled) banana (tastes and blends better to make ice cream if ice cold)

1/2 cup vanilla whey protein

2 tbsp freeze-dried berries of your flavour of choice, or 4-5 dates finely chopped

Directions

Blend all ingredients together.

Stick it in a big Tupperware vessel.

Freeze for 30-50 minutes.

Take out of freezer and churn (i.e. mix with a spoon or fork).

Stick it back in the freezer for another 30-50 minutes.

Take out and churn again.

Scoop. Eat.

EASY BEETROOT HALWA (VEGAN)

This is super easy to make and is delicious – beetroot is turned into one healthy dessert flavoured with cardamom. This recipe can be done with milk instead of water.

Ingredients

2 medium beetroots

1 and ½ cups + 1/4 water

Small pinch of salt

2 tsp corn starch

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 tsp cardamom powder

Chopped nuts for garnish

Directions

Peel and grate the beetroot and keep aside. Heat oil in a pan and add the grated beetroot. Saute nicely for about 2-3 minutes.

Add 1 and 1/2 cups water, salt and mix well. Cook covered until the beetroot is almost done (10 minutes at least).

Dissolve the corn starch in about 1/4 cup water. Add the corn starch mixture to the pan. Mix well and cook for a further 1 minute or so until the mixture turns glossy.

Add the sugar and cardamom powder, mix well and cook for another 3 minutes. Turn off the flame. Serve with a garnish of chopped/sliced nuts. I use sliced pistachios and almonds. It can be made and stored in batch containers for a whole week.

(Note: If you love extra flavour, you can use ghee or butter instead of oil for sauteing. Do not overcook the beetroot. The beetroot should retain some texture after cooking. The whole cooking process should take place on a medium flame.)

DRY FRUITS LADDOO (No sugar or jaggery)

Ingredients

3 tbsp raisins/dry grapes

1 tbsp ghee/clarified butter

1 cup seedless dates (khajur)

1/4 cup pistachios

1/4 cup cashews

1/2 cup cardamom powder

1/4 cup almonds (1 cup = 255ml)

Directions

In a blender, put 1 cup seedless dates and dry blend for around 4-5 pulses. Blend the dates coarsely. Keep aside.

Finely chop the cashews, pistachios and almonds. Do not powder them as you won’t enjoy the crunchy bites.

Now take a kadai and add 1 tbsp ghee. Add all the dry fruits – raisins, cashews, pistachios and almonds. Fry on a medium flame for 3-4 minutes till they change colour lightly.

Add the coarsely blended dates. Continue to fry on a medium flame smashing the dates with a spatula. This helps them separate out and mix uniformly with the other dry fruits.

Add cardamom powder and continue to saute till the dates start releasing oil.

Turn off the flame and allow to cool for 2 minutes. Immediately start making laddoos. Do not cool completely, else they won’t form. Store in an airtight container.