Dietary Guidelines for Touring Players
When a Sportsperson, cricketer or tennis, hockey, badminton players, tour out side India for over 3-4 weeks we have observed marked changes in his, her nutritional status, health and fitness. This ultimately affects ones overall performance and therefore must be given serious thought and consideration.
Iron deficiency anemia is one of the world’s greatest deficiency problems and one that affects a player very seriously. Endurance and stamina are directly related to your oxygen supply from the blood. Iron has to be consumed in the diet and this builds heamoglobin (Hb) in the blood. Heamoglobin is the oxygen lorry that carries oxygen from the lungs to the whole body. If your iron intake is low then the Hb count drops. Players must have a Hb count above 15 for boys and men and above 12 for girls and women. If yours is say 13.5 mg/dl, then it is like saying you have only 13,500 lorries to supply your oxygen instead of 15,000 lorries. You will get tired very fast and struggle to complete with another player whose Hb is 15 or 16 even though you may actually be more talented than them.
Fish, liver and beef are the richest sources of iron. But in the Indian diet we do not consume so much non-veg and usually even if we eat it we don’t do so daily. However those of us who eat wheat and dhal or pulses (channa) daily have a good iron supply through these. Please note, palak/greens have a rich iron content but recent research shows that the body is unable to absorb the iron from greens.
As Sports Nutrition Consultant to the National Cricket Academy, we have observed that when Indians travel abroad their staple food becomes rice and pasta and both these have a very poor iron content. They are unable to get chapatti and dhal easily and the existing iron store in their body may last for 2-3 weeks, but after that they feel weak and rundown. The second leading cause for anemia is missing meals. Due to tension or tight schedules, many miss their meals or eat just a sandwich or just fruit or just a glass of milk at some meals. If this happens regularly for 2-3 weeks, we will definitely see a Hb drop.
One more leading cause for iron deficiency is worm infestation. All games involving contact with soil from the ball or bat, racket, etc., can lead to players getting worms into their bodies. Worms feed on our blood and this results in a Hb drop.
All players must have their Hb tested with a simple blood test before going on a tour. If the level is low it cannot be raised only by diet. An iron supplement has to be taken for at least the next 3 months.
Some players may be genetically prone to low Hb levels- they must make sure that they carry iron supplements whenever they are into a series of matches and away from home for a 2-3 week period.
Deworming must be done once in 4 or 6 months regularly and finger nails must always be kept trimmed.
Make a conscious effort never to skip a meal and always eat properly balanced meals with both carbohydrate and protein in each meal.
Eat plenty of fresh fruits and salad whenever possible as vitamin B & C helps in increasing iron absorption into the body. Dried dates and raisins are also a good source of iron and easy to carry, so snack on these whenever possible.
Specifically ask for whole wheat bread and whole cereals like corn flakes or wheat flakes for breakfast along with milk and egg whites. Add a fruit to this. White bread and rice items are very poor in iron content.
At lunch try to eat chapatti but if not available eat rice but make sure there is dhal with it and if possible fish. Make sure you eat some vegetable, salad and fruit as B and C vitamins help to increase the iron absorption. If eating sandwiches ask for them to be made with whole wheat bread and filled with cheese, egg or chicken. Definitely eat some salad or fruit with the sandwich.
At dinner again try to get chapatti but if not possible eat whole wheat bread or whole-wheat pasta which is brown in colour. Try to eat dhal or channa (called chick pea abroad) with the chapatti or ask for a lentil soup. Eat plenty of boiled vegetables and salad with dinner and try to eat fruits as dessert rather than fatty sweets. Non-fat yogurt may be eaten both with lunch and dinner.