Sports Nutrition: Why Is It Important and What Does It Include?

It’s that time of the year where you were glued to your TV sets every evening because the best few hundred cricketers in the world were plying their trade to win the Indian Premier League again.

Even a global pandemic could not stop India’s greatest two months of cricketing carnival, and we don’t hear or see anyone complaining. However, thanks to COVID -19, we commenced the IPL this year in a month, which is also dedicated globally to further the education and cause of nutrition.

It would seem only fair then to try and help you understand and take you through the athlete’s nutrition, diet and lifestyle, especially when your favourite cricketers are slogging it out in the unpardonable heat of the UAE this year.

1. Why Having Good Nutrition Habits is Important When it Comes to Sports?

Good nutrition habits are imperative for athletes across all disciplines, including cricket. At its very base level, nutrition is the chief provider of the all-important energy source that every sportsman and woman needs to have in abundance to excel at the very top of their game.

The correct time to consume the food along with the ratio of the macros (carbohydrate : protein : fat) consumed at each meal are vital parameter while discussing sports nutrition. In addition to this the times of day that athletes eat also greatly impacts performance levels and the body’s ability to recover after a workout, training session, net practice or even a match.

The food consumed by athletes has a direct impact on their strength, training, performance, and even their recoveries. Playing a sport at the highest level and representing your country is an indescribable honour. As such, an athlete must never be found wanting in terms of nutrition, especially when both medical and sports science is making the kind of leaps and bounds that they are.

2. Sports Nutrition – What is Good and What’s Not?

For an athlete, it goes without saying that anything eaten or consumed has to be clean and nutritious. However, the meals eaten just before and after physical exertion are the meals that one needs to be most careful about.

Most athletes, including your favourite cricketers, usually eat approximately a couple of hours before exercising or playing. The key parameters of these meals are that they need to have a high carbohydrate content, moderate protein content, and of course, as low-fat content as possible. Why?

  • Because carbohydrates are a primary source of instant energy. It powers athletes through their workouts, training sessions,and the actual rigours & pressures of the match. Carb loading is often practiced by sportsmen to disperse their energy levels over the course of play.
  • Protein plays the role of muscle growth and repair. After any physical excursion, it is important to be able to replace the carbohydrate lost. This can be done by including proteins in the post-training and match meals to ensure proper and sufficient muscle recovery. Interestingly a protein and carb consumed together provides better recovery than either one consumed individually.
  • Fats are used to refuel. However these are only the good, unsaturated fats. Calorie to calorie, a gram of fat departs more energy then a gram of protein. Thus consuming a small amount of fat helps the athlete preserve energy over a longer period.

Further reading: Fats – The Good vs the bad

3. What Do Cricketers Eat – A Quick Overview

Elite cricketers tend to have both hectic and strenuous training schedules which can on most days include multiple sessions at different intervals throughout the day. The intensity of these sessions varies from low to very high.

Cricketers, therefore, should ideally establish a daily base of nutrient-dense foods, which are then adjusted to fuel energy and recovery needs after each session.

More often than not, nutrition strategies are individualized based on intensity and goals of each session, body size and types, body composition, and the time interval between training sessions and games.

  • Solids: Whole grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, lean proteins, and vegetarian alternatives are all important foods for cricketers. On heavy training days, athletes include extra snacks like bananas, berries, dates and nuts.

For lower intensity sessions, cricketers opt for higher protein snacks like paneer, tuna, boiled eggs, and vegetable sticks with hummus.

Further Reading: Plant-based foods that celebrities love

  • Fluids: Consumption of fluids depends on the role, playing style and weather conditions largely. It is imperative to monitor fluid losses, especially in places like the UAE, where athletes will sweat a lot more than in colder climates.

Even relatively small fluid losses (~2% body weight) negatively impact bowling accuracy, sprint speed, concentration, and the body’s cooling ability. Warm-up, drinks and meal breaks provide the main opportunities to top up fluid intake during a match.

4. Match Day Meals – What Does it Include?

  • Pre-Match: A pre-match meal is all about feeling just right and not overstuffed. A large meal 2-4 hours before playing will allow enough time for digestion. A carb-rich snack about an hour before the game like a simple sandwich, muesli bar, or fruit is ideal. Carb-rich fluids such as smoothies are also an option (Refer carb loading above).
  • Mid-Innings: If you need a boost of energy while the game is in progress or mid-innings, try small easily digestible carb-rich snacks like dairy-based smoothies or flavoured milk, yoghurt, fruit, healthy trail mix, sandwiches with lean meat or spread, and muffins with jam or honey.
  • Post Match: Post-match meals focus on recovery through carbohydrate, protein and fluids intake. A recovery meal or snack should ideally be consumed soon after a game and include coloured vegetables, wholegrain lean meat and salad sandwiches or wraps, Greek yoghurt with blueberries and muesli, jacket potato, chicken and vegetable stir-fried dishes and brown rice.

To sum up;

In the days gone by, it was not uncommon to see international cricketers tipping the scales on the wrong side. In fact, many of them have gone on to be very successful and even captain their respective countries. Inzamam-Ul-Haq and Arjuna Ranatunga immediately spring to mind.

However, in the age of uber-fit and athletic prowess, international cricketers like Virat Kohli have chosen to completely give up junk food and even go vegan to spur on their abilities. This gives you a distinct idea of how seriously sports nutrition is taken amongst the cricketing universe today.




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