Strength, energy and quick recovery are key for performance in T20 format: Swati Bathwal, Celebrity Sports Nutritionist

After engaging in a back-to-back bilateral contest, Team India is currently participating in a grueling Asia Cup 2022 in United Arab of Emirates. Rigorous training sessions and highly competitive opponents are couple of consistent sources of pressure for the players but soaring weather (40 plus deg Celsius) in Dubai has added more woes to it.

Diet are the fuels which are keeping the players relevant amidst such high-pressure contests and sports dietitian have a huge responsibility to keep the warriors up on their toes. The Quotes took an opportunity to talk to Swati Bathwal, celebrity nutritionist whose resume includes clients like Virendra Sehwag’s cricket academy, Vani Kapoor, renowned India Golfer to name a few, FIT India Ambassador and Consultant with Ramji Srinivasan, to understand the importance of diets while playing in a challenging weather conditions and lot other aspects. Excerpts of the conversation.

As a prominent dietitian of the country, kindly help our readers understand what kind of diets and fluid are stressed upon when players play in country like UAE. Also kindly explain the science behind keeping the body hydrated?

Recovery is the key while playing T20 cricket. There needs to be a well-designed nutrition plan for recovery and hydration. The science shows that even 1- 2 per cent dehydration can impact the players performance and we must not forget that players don’t get much time for recovery as matches are being scheduled quite frequently. So, a dietitian ensures that there are enough glycogen stores in the muscles and in the liver for the next game otherwise chance of fatigue will be more. Players are also provided proper diet and then adequate amount of training in order to replace lost fluid, electrolytes, and to repair the worn-out tissues.  While playing in such a competitive tournament, there is a huge possibility that trainings and diets can be skipped. 

A carbohydrate rich meal with snacks rich in protein, carb and fluid for three to four hours after the match works wonders.

A simple example is use of milk-based shakes, smoothies or sometimes even just having a lemonade with salt and sugar helps. The drinks should be palatable and at the right temperature to consume. Dehydration will not only cause fatigue but increase cramps, concentration and the player may find it difficult to run in between the wickets or bowl or field. We have to remember that we can’t calculate that this player needs more liquid because he sweats more than the other because, sweat loss varies from player to player. The core body temperature (the internal body temperature of a player) can be higher to the one who doesn’t sweat.  

According to you what are the basic aspects a dietitian keeps in mind while prescribing diets to cricketers at the highest level. And how it differs from cricketer’s role in the game?

It is a very interesting question, thanks for asking. Firstly, as clinicians who specialize in sports nutrition, we prioritize the demand of the players. No meal plan is the same, even if it’s within the siblings or twins. So, we ensure to rectify any deficiencies through the plan or supplement where it is required. For example: low vitamin b12 levels can increase fatigue, impact nerve health, low magnesium and dehydration will cause cramps, low iron in female cricketers is a common issue.

Second, we look at the position of the players, is he a fast bowler or a wicket keeper? If he is an opening batsman, how long he has played the game etc., These aspects help us to decide the recovery process as well. For example: let me explain a fast bowler requires more protein, carbohydrates for energy when compared to a wicket keeper, but a wicket keeper may require more hydration. Fast bowlers can cover up to 20kms in a day in one day and test matches. 

T20 format is about power, energy and quick recoveries whereas Test matches demand endurance, and hydration for longevity in the match.

So, players workload, format of game, and location of the match are few aspect which we consider befor penning down any diet plan. For instance, IPL schedules are during the summers when its warm, hot and humid in India but players from South Africa and Australia travel from cold region to the scroching head of India. Acclimatization makes a lot of difference to the players initially. Even in India, weather varies as per the geography and makes it really difficult for players and staff to constantly stay relevant. Weather conditions and availability of food are two major reasons which a dietian keeps in mind when players are travelling frequently.

In one of your blogs, you mentioned how some cricketers perform better on a high protein, high fat intake where others bring their best on high carbohydrate diet. Could you elaborate your observation in simple language and how one can identify his diet factor to perform best.

If we look at cricket, we have players from different parts of the world who have their own genetic make-up and dietary preferences. Many players perform better when their diet is rich in protein (50%), fat (30%) and carbohydrates (20%). These things depends on various aspects like from athletes’ gut (due to intolerances of carbohydrates), allergies or the way their body uses fat and proteins for energy, ignoring carbohydrates. But this is only short term because we do need carbohydrates for recovery. During Test matches, high carbohydrate meals are added in the plate and high fat diet are excluded.

We need refueling of glycogen immediately after the game, for example 1gm /kg body weight every hour for CHO in first 4 hours during test match where the players have a series of days to play or even in T20 when the matches are scheduled back-to-back. If there is more muscle damage the requirements are higher and if the muscle damage is less the requirement of carbs are low. Most of the hydrating drinks also contain quick acting sugars to provide energies. So, the concept of a high protein and high fat diet is only prior to the tournament. Many players when they travel to different countries, they are limited in food choices due to cultural factors.

Several players have expressed being overburdened due to back-to-back matches at the international level. Does one’s diet play any sorts of role in reducing mental pressure and helps them to cope up with depression?

Certainly, diet is a term for non-athletes and non-players, but “fuel” is a term for the players and athletes. It is more about right balance of nutrients for enhanced performance. There is definitely a lot of mental pressure to the players. By watching on the screen or sitting in the stadium we can’t judge if this player is more stressed than the other. We have to understand mental health at the physiological level as well. We all know that exercise makes us happy and overcome depression or mental fatigue and so does vitamin D levels but still players who train all day and play in the sun feel the mental fatigue. It has a lot to do with the gut health.

Out 90 per cent of happy hormones which produces in our body are located in our gut well. So, eating nutritious foods not only helps in better absorption of nutrients, but also uplifts our mood and conveys good messages to the brain. Our gut communicates to the brain through a nerve, it is a channel where most of the communication is passed. 

Adding mood enhancers or adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, turmeric and anti-inflammatory foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, nuts along with probiotics helps the players recover physically and mentally both.

Cricketers at the top level can afford all sorts of diet consultation to stay relevant in the game. Kindly state an advice for all those aspiring cricketers who are yet at the initial stage and wants to prepare themselves for highest standard.

This gets me emotional. My hometown is in Ranchi and I have seen many aspiring cricketers. Like other rural cities or even urban cities many players do not have access to fancy foods and nutrition plans. There is lack of right information at the amateur level due to which at times players hustle. I would like to state the fact that it is not necessary that by eating fancy meals, you will perform better. Local Indian foods and herbs provide abundant of nutrition which will help you.

Green leafy vegetables provide abundant of nutrients, if you do not have protein powder supplements, consume sattu and other local protein rich foods.

Protein supplements and powders are another topic to discuss in sports nutrition. Boys and girls at the initial stage must do a thorough research before consuming any substance. They can go to both local and international government website, like IOC website, government sporting associations website, FIT India movement website etc. I strongly encourage involvement of nutritionist or dietitians during training workshops or online webinars so that players can get the right information and learn as well.

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