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  • Sharanya Kannan

What keeps an athlete healthy during the COVID outbreak?

Updated: May 27, 2021

With confinement, competitions and tournaments have got cancelled. Athletes have had to adapt to constantly changing home workouts schedules to stay fit. This fluctuation in behaviour and pattern by itself causes stress to an athlete. It even affects their desire to exercise as most athletes plan their lives around sporting events. This further deepens their feeling of competitive disadvantage. Subsequently all major decisions revolving around their families and career opportunities are also put on hold.

Operating amidst uncertainties, what an athlete can surely do to stay adrift is to eat healthily and stay fit as much as one can from the safe confines of home. This confinement would be the right time to reflect on the importance of nutrition and the measures to not trade-off athletic fitness.

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1. Practice whole nutrition

Sports nutrition not only improves athletic performance but reduces fatigue and the risk of illness. In athletes, it optimizes energy to help them recover faster from injuries. It is a source of energy that also has a great impact on strength, training, endurance and performance levels. Considering the severity of the virus in different individuals, it is safe to assume that immunity plays some role in fighting the pandemic. A nutrition-rich diet by way of anti-inflammatory fruits, citrus fruits, food with antioxidant and anti-infection properties helps improve an athlete’s immunity and thereby their performance.


2. Balance energy

Living in isolation points to the need of balancing energy absorption and consumption. It is imperative that athletes, depending on the intensity of the workout, should alter their nutrition plan to match their body composition. Athletes, to maximize performance, strive to achieve a sport-specific body size body composition and mix of body stores. They are required to manage fat, protein and carbohydrates balances separately. As a rule of thumb, athletes should eat 2 hours before a workout and ensure that this meal is rich in carbohydrates, low in fat and moderate in proteins. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy and powers the workout. It also assists in muscle growth and repair. And on completion of a workout, it advisable to replace the carbohydrates lost and focus on a protein-rich post-workout meal to aid muscle recovery.


3. Avoid junk-eating

This isolation has also brought out an adverse habit of snacking. It is often to beat the stress of the pandemic or the boredom of isolation. But it has led way for many to lose focus on their daily rhythm. Overeating becomes the norm even as most athletes may go in search of ‘comfort food’ or food rich in sugar and fats. These unhealthy habits tend to risk an athlete almost to levels of obesity as it is extremely easy to slip into a pattern when life outside the confines of a home is very unsettling.


4. Keep hydrated

WHO has periodically recommended the importance of drinking hot liquids on a regular basis, more so during this pandemic. And, in a pandemic, while sitting holed up in confinement, it is but natural to not feel the need or thirst for water/fluids. But even without the condition of a pandemic, an athlete is strictly advised to stay hydrated to replace the fluids lost during exercise. Drinking sufficient water also helps in preventing cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Athletes often fail to seriously consider the effects of lack of hydration and the results it will reflect on their athletic performance. Dehydration affects the capacity for work, increases the risk of nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, gastrointestinal problems. The list goes on. Water is involved in strong chemical reactions when it comes to athletic performance. Therefore, athletes are required to stay hydrated especially before, during and after a physical activity of any intensity.


5. Plan small, frequent meals

Another fundamental principle athletes should operate by is to keep their energy levels high by consuming small, frequent meals. Mini portions of food aid with regulating hunger pangs, stabilizing blood sugar levels and allowing a steady flow of nutrients through the day. Most importantly, a healthy diet predominantly maintains a healthy immune system, which is the order of the day. The required prerequisite for nutrients helps serious athletes aid muscle growth and repair. The habit also regulates an efficient metabolism system in the body, as opposed to a slower one arising from long gaps in time without food.

How can you design your meal habit this pandemic? Stocking up on non-perishable eats with long shelf life such as energy and protein bars, nuts, dry-roasted edamame, whole-grain crackers, lentils, beans and ready-to-drink shakes may be a good idea. In addition, canned, frozen, dried or fermented fruits and vegetables remain an alternative source of vitamins and minerals, in case it becomes difficult to buy fresh products. For more variety on such short eats, athletes can plan meals like fresh fruits and vegetables, hardboiled eggs, trail mix, mason jar salads, overnight soaked oats and homemade energy bars. Daily foods like rice, pasta, bread and roots, meat and fish, milk, cheese and yoghurt can constitute regular meals but should be had in smaller portions. They contribute to the physical growth and regeneration of the body.


6. Avoid smoking, alcohol and drugs

The use of alcohol and drugs affects athletic performance. Acute use of alcohol can influence motor skills, hydration levels, aerobic performances and the recovery process in case of an injury. Both short- and long-term habits have acute and chronic effects on performance and general health. Chronic alcohol and drugs make way for difficulties in managing body composition, nutritional difficulties and depressed immune function. It also increases the risk of injury. Similarly, the nicotine and carbon monoxide from smoking tends to make athletes’ blood sticky and arteries narrow. This subsequently reduces the flow of blood to the heart, making the exercise harder. It increases the resting heart rate which weakens the heart. Given the kind of strenuous exercises athletes are required to do, this adds unimaginable strain to the heart resulting in very dire consequences. Smoking and alcohol also damage athletes’ lung capacity. It is absolutely not worth throwing away all that hard work!


7. Do not neglect vitamin D

Finally, yet importantly, never neglect vitamin D. It plays an important role in reducing the risk of respiratory tract infections. Appropriate levels of vitamin D help minimize the risk of acute illnesses, inflammatory injuries, stress fractures and muscle weaknesses. Athletes are required to gain sensible sun exposure (5 to 30 minutes several times a week) other than the regular vitamin D supplementation. This confinement period must see a lot of athletes training indoors. And it is also generally low for athletes during the winter months as well. Thus, supplemental vitamin D in addition to sun exposure whenever possible with a combination of healthy dietary intake is a must.


8. Concentrate on resistance training

Detraining is accompanied often by resting metabolic rate reduction and fat accumulation. Athletes also risk muscle loss during this period of complacency. Resistance training, at least twice a week, enhances cardiovascular health, increases resting metabolic rate, reduces resting blood pressure and promotes bone development.


Abiding by these factors is a tall order for athletes. But it is important to not lose focus on the bigger picture that, post-pandemic, life will and should resume where it was paused. Athletes cannot risk complacency as the sporting world is also highly competitive and requires athletes to be on top of their game at the word, go! These factors cannot relieve the stress of a pandemic or confinement on an athlete but choosing to abide by it, certainly eases some stress off the question, “Where will I start once the pandemic is over?”


Over the period of next week, we at ATIUM will help you with the dos and don’ts during the COVID-19 second lockdown. So that you do not lose shape, focus and your athletic ability to perform when things are back to normal.


You can read our other articles on how to cope with COVID-19 second lockdown here


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You can also get in touch with us directly for any guidance and support regarding the COVID-19 Wellness tracker on our ATIUM app @ hello@atiumsports.com

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