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Understanding the importance of diet

 

The human body is composed of water, bones, muscles and fat. The proper and perfect balance of all these components will give an athlete the edge when playing his game. If you are not at the right weight your performance will suffer.

Sushil Kumar with the bronze medal he won in the 66kg freestyle at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Sushil had a natural fighting weight of 72kg but wanted to spar in the 66kg category. “We worked on his body weight, that is, his muscles and fat percentage. We focused mostly on fat loss over 19 days prior to the Olympics,” says the columnist who helped the Indian wrestler to stay in shape for the bouts.   –  AP

Every athlete needs the perfect bodyweight to perfect his game. The human body is composed of water, bones, muscles and fat. The proper and perfect balance of all these components will give an athlete the edge when playing his game. If you are not at the right weight your performance will suffer.

I have seen athletes lose out in selections because of their heavier, pudgier look. As a nutrition coach I am constantly looking to enhance the performance of the sportsperson by trying to enable the best muscle-to-fat ratio in the body. Too much fat is like carrying a heavy boulder; it affects speed, agility and endurance. Only in the case of a sumo wrestler fat is useful in terms of weight.

Take sport such as boxing, wrestling, judo and karate, which are dependent on weight category, and even sport like cricket, hockey, football, tennis, squash and every other competition, they need an athlete to push the body which actually requires more muscle and less fat.

As I evaluate teenage athletes, I notice one startling fact. All sport, all ages and all genders will focus on equipment, coaching and trainers, but when it comes to food, everybody slacks off on the meals or nutrition.

Everything for an athlete is so strict and disciplined. From waking up to multiple sessions and then having no social life, there is so much rigid structure. Food is the only way to escape — to allow the body to relax, to allow cheating from a very disciplined life.

This has to change. If you want a better muscle and fat structure that ensures you can have the highest level of performance, day in and day out, you need to really get disciplined with food, right from the moment you open your eyes to the end of the day when your tired body hits the bed.

 

Here are the reasons why you gain more fat, which slows you down as an athlete:

1. You eat too much food.

2. You eat at the wrong time.

3. You eat the wrong food.

4. You don’t eat at all, and your calorie-burn does not match your intake and so you set off the body’s alarm clock — release a hormone called cortisol that says, let’s store more fat from each little meal you take as you are now in starvation mode.

5. Your vitamins and minerals are deficient, making you sluggish and altering your metabolism.

6. You think you are getting enough protein. Are you, or are you not? Who told you or calculated your protein requirement? And are you sticking to it on a daily basis?

7. You have a genetic or hormonal or metabolic issue. You hope that exercise may solve it in the long run.

8. You sleep too little. Ideal time is eight hours-plus for a sportsperson. Afternoon naps are advisable for recovery.

The best way to lose fat is to first not allow it to accumulate in your body. The next is to ensure you utilise your exercise to help you cut into that flab and use that as an alternate battery for your energy. Your primary battery is glucose.

 

There are some quick tips to ensure that you get to your perfect body weight.

1. Ensure that your protein is approximately 1-1.5 grams per kg of your body weight. Now split that requirement into six solid meals over the day. Approximately 15-20 grams per meal.

2. Ensure that after any training session of more than one hour, you get 20 grams of protein along with 80-100 grams of carbohydrates post workout. Chocolate milkshake with a sandwich, or an oats porridge with lots of dry fruits and some cheese or egg.

3. As soon as you wake up, you consume a solid meal to ensure you start your day as a sportsperson fully charged.

4. Hydrate well. Less water means a sluggish metabolism. A player in any sport in India should get 100ml per kg of their body weight per day. This means food, water, juices and any beverage, inclusive of water.

5. Get a blood test done to see that your liver, kidney, haemoglobin and micro minerals, and vitamins levels are in check.

 

Sushil Kumar and the Olympic bronze at Beijing 2008

Sushil Kumar had a natural fighting weight of 72kg. For the Beijing Olympics he wanted to spar in the 66kg category. Now normally most athletes resort to extreme dehydration, low calorie diet, wearing raincoats and running in the sun, and eating food so little that even a bird may not survive on. It’s easy to lose 5-6kg this way.

Post the weigh-in, the athletes rapidly rehydrate and eat to gain back strength in under 12-18 hours before they compete.

With Sushil, I changed the mantra of weight loss via the dehydration and starvation method. We worked on his body weight, that is, his muscles and fat percentage.

We focused mostly on fat loss over 19 days prior to the Olympics. His entire portion of eating was reduced to near basal metabolic rate whilst keeping his protein high to preserve muscle. In the end, Sushil weighed exactly 66kg that day.

He then went on to gain weight through the night, as we rapidly recharged his muscle glycogen with high-carb foods.

That evening he went on to win a bronze medal and thus started his tryst with sports nutrition.

Ever noticed that Sushil was one of the first wrestlers to have a six-pack?

Whilst wrestling akhadas across the country propagate ghee, I was met with much resistance from other wrestlers. Sushil, having been to Cuba and trained there, understood the importance of diet. From there on, there was no looking back, and he won a silver medal at the London Olympics in 2012.

If there is one direction I can give any athlete, it is: ‘Eat with a plan, eat with discipline and eat scientifically, not culturally!’

 

The writer is an award-winning celebrity sports nutrition coach & Chief Nutritionist at Qua Nutrition Signature Clinics.

 

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