IPL 2019: For the love of food, players go the extra mile
At the IPL, which features players from across the world, team nutritionists are flooded with a variety of food requests—local bacon won’t cut it for most overseas players, and organic, free-range eggs are popular.Updated: May 05, 2019, 08:19 IST
What fuels a sportsperson? A love for the game, of course, but also what he or she eats.
At the IPL, which features players from across the world, team nutritionists are flooded with a variety of food requests—local bacon won’t cut it for most overseas players, and organic, free-range eggs are popular.
“Coconut water first thing in the morning is the main request for many of the guys,” says John Gloster, ex-Indian cricket team physiotherapist now working with the Rajasthan Royals. “Fresh berries is the other one, and macademia nuts are popular.”
English players have a thing for organic farm produce, says Sumeshen Moodley, the South African head of medical at DC, but there are other demands that he struggles to meet.
“In Delhi Capitals we have guys from South Africa, New Zealand. They don’t get good quality red meat in India, so that’s a little bit of a downer. They crave steaks, but in India you won’t get beef. For them lamb is a sort of forced substitute.”
While meat is the preferred source of protein for most, there are some vegetarian exceptions, and the experts agree that there is no such thing as a standard ‘good’ diet.
“India did not become the No. 1 Test nation by eating poorly. Rather than blindly following what the overseas players are having, one should stick with what’s working for them,” Moodley says.
“Like Shikhar Dhawan. He has been around for a long time. As a young player he didn’t care about what he ate as long as he was performing well. As he got more mature and thought of prolonging his career he started following a strict diet, training seriously, and became a vegetarian. We had a conversation recently and his muscle mass is returning to what it was when he was eating meat. It’s because his body has adjusted to the new diet. He is getting the proper amount of protein from sources other than meat.”
The work of a modern sports nutritionist is to carefully tailor dietary needs according to the sport as well as the athlete. No single size fits all.
“T20 cricket is quick, short, it requires high intensity,” says Badrinath Prathi, head physiotherapist at the Delhi and District Cricket Association. “Speed is important. So, good fat, good carbohydrate, low oil, high protein diet. Top teams now do nutritional profiling, plus blood tests, to determine the individual need and allergic profile of a player.”
With matches in the IPL crammed into a tight schedule, recovery becomes trickier than it already is in elite sports, and nutrition plays a critical role here.
“Match-day nutrition is divided into three parts—before, during, after. The basic quality of a match day meal is that it should be easily digestable—non-spicy, non-oily—it helps the body absorb the nutrients easily and release energy during the match,” says Prathi, who has worked with Indian women’s cricket team as well as the Indian football team.
A typical breakfast features wholemeal bread, eggs, and complex cereals (like granola or muesli), to give the body a energy bank.
“A player on an average burns about 3000-4000 calorie while a normal person may burn 2000 calories,” Prathi says. “Also, hydration with high water content fruit and electrolyte rich drinks in the morning as during the day or evening matches they tend to lose a lot of water.”
Gloster added that he prefers that players have their pre-match meal at least three hours before the game, with a focus on good carbohydrates and high protein with little or no sugar.
“I don’t tell the players anything specific to have other than the normal food on a match day,” Gloster says. “For me how the food is prepared is more important. We don’t cook the foods in poly unsaturated vegetable oils. All foods are cooked in either saturated or mono unsaturated fats.”
DC’s Moodley elaborates on ‘good carbohydrates’—minimally processed, slow-releasing starches like brown rice, brown pasta, and potatoes.
“When you are playing or training with high intensity, there is a breakdown of tissue,” Moodley says. So, internally, we need to repair cells and tissues. Protein and mineral rich foods like fish, leafy vegetables, eggs, meat, and whole grains is advised post match or training.”
Keeping away from sugar is the one directive followed by all teams, even when it comes to hydration.
“Sugar is inflammatory,” Gloster explains. “The players’ systems are going to be inflammed due to training, playing, travelling, cortisol that is released because of excitement or stress. We don’t use sugar-based energy drink or sugar in any form. We use drinks which are electrolyte based.
Though non-match days are less restrictive, players are expected to follow some basic guidelines.
“You don’t get results from proper nutrition just by following a strict diet on match days,” Prathi says. “Players have the liberty to go out and eat on break days but they have become far more cautious now. Some prefer five meals on non-match days to fill the tanks but the basic target of a non-match day meal is not different from a match day. The protein intake is in a greater quantity to aid in the recovery process.” Prathi said.
Sometimes, it is important to trick the mind to stick to the nutrition plan.
“Players work in a high stress environment, and under stress, people often eat more,” Prathi says. “Sometimes we give players smaller plates and cutlery to curb that. The right diet requires behavioural efforts too.”