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Lockdown dilemma: Elite athletes needed maximum guidance on eating right while burning out less

Elite athletes unable to train since lockdown began had to deal with serious issues relating to diet, hydration and a disturbed sleep cycle.

Mail Today spoke to athletes across various disciplines and also a leading sports nutritionist to get a fix on how they dealt with these issues. Fear, anxiety and a disturbed sleep cycle due to lack of training and not working as hard as normal had created problems for even those who have competed for India.

With not all of them staying in the SAI campuses in Patiala and Bengaluru but also in remote locations, the diet dilemma and fear had to be dealt with tactfully.

Speaking to Mail Today, Aradhana Sharma, well known sports nutritionist from Pune, talked of what all counselling had to be done from the first day of lockdown. As one who had practised in the US and also worked with elite institutions like Army Boys Sports Institute, a leading hockey academy in Bhubaneshwar, the Madhya Pradesh government sports academies and other institutes, Aradhana was able to help them out.

Apparently when the lockdown began, athletes started panicking. The fear was of weight gain as they were not training outdoor and level of activity had dropped. Such was the panic, athletes started skipping breakfast or dinner, much against expert advice.

There were some athletes who cut down on water intake while others in panic started drinking more tea and coffee to overcome stress. Aradhana had good advice for all. “The basic nutrition stay the same for everyone. I had told them to have more protein. There is a simple rule to be followed, when activity level goes down, cut on the calorie surplus,” she said.

In the normal course, athletes hit bed by 10pm. With less activity in the daily cycle, they had started staying up till 2am. “”It also lead to a situation where athletes had started skipping the number of meals they consumed. I cannot tell you names of the athletes due to the confidentiality clause. It was tough dealing with them. Now, they have understood how diet alterations can be done easily,” said Aradhana.

In many areas, fresh fruits were not available, so substitution was done with dry fruits like dates, figs, berries and so no. Vitamin C tablets were prescribed to keep the immunity up as well.

In some places, athletes who were used to energy drinks were asked to totally avoid it. “I also noticed athletes had cut on water intake, which was the wrong thing to do. In India, at this point of time, the temperature is high, so water is very essential. Usually, the athletes consumer recovery drinks to take care of their electrolyte balance. But now, with no training, there is no need for this but simply more water,” added Archana.’

With the Sports Authority of India drawing up guidelines for sports training to resume, elite athletes are excited, be it the hockey teams in Bengaluru, track and field stars in Patiala or the weightlifters.

Assuming their activities start, they will again be able to monitor their body composition and makes changes, if necessary. However, what remains of prime concern is they follow all the restrictions and safety guidelines which have been prescribed.

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