It's no more rice pudding or chocolate cookies for India's best two defenders, Sandeep Singh and V Raghunath, at the national hockey camp being held here ahead of the Olympics qualifying event starting on February 18.
With the overweight pair turning out to be sluggish on the field, they have been put on a high protein and low carb diet to shed the flab they have walked into the camp with.
Even at their peak fitness, India players have struggled to last the full 70 minutes against major opponents and the hosts don't want to leave anything to chance. HT had reported two months ago that the national squad members were not fit to last a full match.
According to an official associated with the camp, the diet will help the players trim down, build stamina and get quicker on their feet. "Extra weight means leaden feet and a straight disadvantage," the official said.
The new regimen has begun to bear fruit. In the past week, Raghunath has lost 2-3 kilos. "He needs to shed at least 2-3 more," officials said, pointing out to the new diet chart prescribed for the players to improve their fitness. Even dragflick expert Sandeep has lost a few kilos in the last few days. "He doesn't need to cut down further," the official said. "He now needs to maintain his weight for the next couple of weeks to give a good performance."
Alongwith the healthier diet, Sandeep and Raghunath have also been asked to follow a specific training regimen, to burn a certain amount of calories every day that would not only raise their fitness levels but will also make sure they do not to add extra flab around the waist. On Friday, while others in the team were given the evening session off, Sandeep sweated it out. "The leaner they become, the more vigorous they'll get," an official said on condition of anonymity.
Last September, when Australian Michael Nobbs took charge as India's chief hockey coach, he had observed that the players needed to build their muscle mass to compete on even keel against the best.
Nobbs, however, acknowledges that the star defenders cannot be grounded just because of their fitness problems. "You can't ignore Sandeep or Raghunath even if they are a bit overweight," says Nobbs.