Indian athletes consume way too many supplements to meet their nutritional requirements as compared to world-class athletes, which ‘in most cases is not helpful’, Athletics Federation of India’s (AFI) high-performance director Volker Herrmann told The Indian Express on Tuesday.
To wean athletes away from the habit of loading up on supplements, there is a pressing need for a ‘better diet’ at training centres of the Sports Authority of India (SAI), Herrmann, a former high-performance manager at the Olympic Training Centre in Cologne, Germany, said.
“We want to reduce the number of supplements our athletes are taking because it is a bit of an issue right now. In comparison to most of the world- class athletes, I have to say that our athletes are relying too much on supplements, which in most cases are not even helpful. (Supplements can be reduced) if you follow a decent diet, because a natural product is always better than an artificial product. We need a better diet for them at the different national training centres,” he said.
The 34-year-old took over as AFI’s high-performance director in July and is based at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala. He has also visited SAI centres in Bangalore, where middle and long-distance runners train, and Thiruvananthapuram, which is where the elite jumpers are stationed.
The German said that Indian athletes had got into the habit of taking supplements because of a ‘misconception’ about their benefits and added that the need of the hour was for AFI and the coaches to persuade them to make a change.
“Athletes must rely less on supplements and develop an understanding of the food they need,” he said.
Herrmann added that SAI has been ‘willing to listen’ when it came to improving the diet for elite athletes.
“We are in discussions with SAI because we have to improve the food at the training centres. I think it’s a problem which SAI has realised and now they have announced a couple of job opportunities for chefs. SAI is willing to listen and adjust a few things. We are going to introduce fresh fruit juices at the (training) camps and we (will) get organic eggs. In general, the world diet is based on proper levels of carbohydrates and proteins, and we need to educate the athletes as well about what is the healthy stuff and what is the stuff they better avoid,” Herrmann added.
When asked if he feared that excessive use of supplements could also result in inadvertent doping by athletes, Herrmann said: “I do not disagree.”
Indian athletes fall back on supplements to aid them in recovery between training sessions but must realise that there is no substitute for natural nutritious food, the high-performance director said.
“The most important aspect of training is recovery, because if you have better recovery you can have more intense training sessions. The two biggest factors for recovery are actually sleep and nutrition. And we have to definitely improve the diet for our top athletes. And we need to ensure decent amount of vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins from natural sources, because the best way is to get nutrition from natural sources.”
AFI and SAI are in discussions with nutritionists and once they come on board, it is equally important for athletes to understand the importance of a healthy diet.
“We are trying to increase the diet-related education level of our athletes because in the end, the athlete is the one responsible for training and recovery and that includes diet as well. We have to improve the understanding of our athletes on how to improve (in terms of) recovery and, in particular, diet.”
Earlier this month, SAI announced vacancies for nutritionists, chefs, assistant chefs and mess managers for 15 centres spread across India to provide personalised diet to athletes based on the needs of their respective disciplines. Sports minister Kiren Rijiju had admitted to shortcomings in diet at SAI centres. “Different athletes have different diet requirements and deciding on their food intake purely on the basis of whether they are senior or junior was not the right way. It had to be corrected and we have done it,” he had said in a statement.