Fueling Champions: An Exclusive Interview with Sports Nutritionist Geetha Ghaliyavar

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An acclaimed sports nutritionist, high-performance dietitian with PG diploma in sports Nutrition from International Olympic Committee, UK , registered dietitian, diabetes educator, IBS expert, lecturer, university first ranker, award winner, gold medallist with 20 years in Bangalore, India. Personally mentoring elite, state, national level, international athletes, Olympians, Paralympians by offering sports nutrition plans, holistic nutrition counseling based on latest scientific, research evidence. Currently works with eminent sports academies, educates athletes, coaches, parents regarding latest sports-nutrition practices. Is passionate about dietary practices to peak athletic performance. 

Apart from being a guest faculty for SAI (Sports Authority of India – sports nutrition certification program), she conducts a sports nutrition certification program as a guest faculty and lecturer for several colleges and universities. She consulted FSSAI and was selected to travel with the IPL cricket team Delhi Capitals and work with RCB in 2021. She also conducts educational seminars, and sports nutrition workshops for premier sports academies educating athletes, coaches, and parents on the correct practices of sports nutrition. Also she is a nutrition columnist for health and wellness for print and electronic media.

Lets dive deeper to know more about her..!

So how do you think the sports industry now overall is shaping up in India? Do you see the times are changing now for good?

I think I will be very biased in perhaps holding this down very proudly into sports nutrition. Yes, I think sports Cricket in India is always a cricket crazy country. Yes, of course. But apart from that it’s lovely to see how the medal or the medal tally has been increasing. And I think the effort that is taken by the government to recognize how the support system needs to change around the athletes, and particularly even in nutrition, I think not only in context to offering support. Also the passion for pursuing sports nutrition at an academic level. I think today, this particular aspect of sports science is really picking up momentum. And the way the way we like exactly said and I’m very fortunate now that I have a couple of Olympians I worked with and Paralympians and no one in fact or from you know, the Asian Games Now currently, I think that I do work with a bunch of swimmers, so Asian, or national championship that’s going on the national game, National Games is on go. 

So I think it’s amazing to see how we are able to bring about changes and you know, there are national records being mainly you know, bettering the time from just the last year which was ended with so it’s so wonderful to see how as sports nutrition is taking shape, and we are able to come to the fore as any other support staff were in the past perhaps dietitians or sports nutritionists when not given the prominence of adding value to an athlete’s ecosystem, very low diet itself was on nutritional guidance was offered by say XYZ.

Whereas today, we have come to a point where thankfully, you know, from Sports Authority of India was really been quite expanding expensive in terms of having personalized sports nutritionist on board, from having given a chef to cater to, you know, the foods, I think now the top ski which is again helping athletes to you know, look at purely Olympic representation to the metals that seem to be, you know, going, so definitely I think, of course, last I actually said I will be very biased being a sports nutritionist or dietitian that yes, I think for over 20 years that I have been doing this, it is but natural for me to be, you know, favorable and partial to my domain. So yes, there’s a lot of scope. And of course, it’s a learning experience for us to not have completed my PhD until late. I wonder where I could enroll? Sadly, now, I don’t know if you know, it’s still possible. But yes, I think every day is learning and you know, you keep upskilling. So now that we know everything, but just the desire to keep improving, definitely can help. And I think that is the vision for myself and for this subject going forward.

You have dealt with a number of such athletes and parents, what could be the right time for athletes to decide some of these areas?

I often get inquiry calls, parents do ask us that. My child is only eight years, 10 years, 11 years, preteens 12 years. So should we look at considering a formal or a professional collaboration? And I would, I would definitely say yes. I mean, if you’re looking at pursuing this, as you know, not for passion, but you want to compete and play professionally, if you want to hone your game, and you want to definitely, you know, be top notch. The earlier you start the better. I’ve had kids as young as eight years and today they’re all budding athletes. The reason being that, you know, there’s a lot of misconception about food, which is very interesting and very dynamic. So India being so vast and varied and the food habits and to you today with all the confusing noise on the internet, there is very, a lot of misguidance around what to do and what not to do. 

So if an athlete is very sure to pursue sports, and for that matter, even if they don’t want to be elite. I think there’s a very classic difference like the ways that even in my son’s case to from being just a recreational athlete, just playing a sport for passion to it. Truly, you know, picking it up as a career. And many times I also see athletes who play professionally for the reason that they also get into universities based on sports. Because you like sports, unlike our days where we did not have sports as a subject, but today, luckily they do. So in many ways, yes, it can be value addition. So, to reiterate, what I set out to say was that even if a person wants to be healthy, and you you don’t want to have injuries, getting a sports nutrition program, to make sure that you are not only eating well, if you trade about anywhere between more than one or two hours a day, then definitely you may need some guidance. And that may be best for the overall development considering young children not really have needs for sports, nutritionally, but also to take care of their growth. 

And you know, most importantly, overtraining challenges in an urban setting when children go to school, and then they train for six hours, perhaps even slightly older kids also do s&c or strength training. So injuries are pretty common. From muscle soreness, stiffness downs, you know, spring sprains, we do come across all of these very routinely in our consultation. So earlier, the better if you are very serious about picking up this particular vertical of sports as your passion and want to pursue professionally or definitely, if you have the budget and you can afford to consult a dietitian, then definitely for your overall well being. I will say yes, why not.

How do you support the dietary requirements? Is it dependent on one particular sport? Like in your case? Sports? Because for cricketers, you have a different regime for swimmers, you have a different regime, but somebody is playing 12 sports? How will you go and we will plan such people?

Thankfully, my son is only a recreational athlete and just plays for passion. So there’s no hard training of say 4-6-8 hours a day, which is a redeem. So this is cool and sports. So that’s that. But yes, again, that really also, perhaps I’d like to speak or speak about your question in a very general note as to how we would deal with it if it was an athlete. Firstly, you have to look at the background as to are they vegetarians, non vegetarians, their family set up tradition? And you know, we don’t want to really deviate away from what they’re already practicing because I had an athlete who, you know, saw me as a badminton player who now plays internationally. My coach is telling me to eat non veg. So do I consume chicken? So the first thing I asked was, What do you want? It’s not about the coach, it’s not about anybody else, it really matters as to what is your core value of what kind of diet you want to practice? 

And besides also your family here, what about your parents? Will they be supportive of what you want to eat? I think that is what is near like I always, you know, say we are only there to facilitate or offer what the clients practice already exists. And we will build around that. For example, if an athlete it’s funny, we will say you want 15-20 grams of protein in one meal. So will you need to eat 200 grams per meal? Or will you eat three or four eggs? Or will you just eat 100 grams of chicken? The target is 20 grams. So we are just there to tell you which way you go and how you achieve that objective. Similarly of course in vegetarian and athletes, there are of course it comes with a lot of other challenges of you don’t know levels A B 12 and vitamin D challenge on low iron and especially you said your child plays basketball in high impact sports says that we will always see footstrike hemolysis because a breakdown of RBCs. And God forbid if you’re vegetarian, you know iron and ferritin stores are pretty much you know quite often low because of the RPC breakdown, and the child can be very fatigued, especially with a girl like she’s menstruating. \

And there’s already a loss of blood. So these are the parameters we want to look at holistically. When we look at at least in our kind of work differently I personally definitely thank God for that. And I’m a registered dietician, I always work thoroughly with blood tests, which means that physiologically, it gives us an insight to what is going on. Be it even the overtraining or the muscle breakdown markers, C reactive protein or be the creatine phosphokinase like days dehydrogenase, we want to correlate and see what is going on, you know, similarly, once we we see not be afraid sometimes we see the pre diabetes in the in athletes and it’s quite alarming. So see you need the carbohydrate during a high training maybe the sugar of simple sugars as electrolytes and your energy drink that you need during the training but then you are doing overdoing that automatically there is a tendency for your HPLC or the glycosylated hemoglobin to go out if you’ve got a sugar craving, you don’t eat right you know and then all you see high amount of uric acid meters sometimes it could be due to high intake of protein. Similarly, sometimes we see creatinine going up, which is a kidney marker. 

So that could be either not only because of, you know, overtraining, but it sometimes could also be due to just over abuse or overdoing certain protein or protein supplements when not needed. So I think it really helps us to correlate you know, the blood parameters, the requirement, the training regime of that child, and of course, how professionally the athlete is playing and what the training looks like and of course, the other lifestyle parameters in terms of you know, what is your rest recovery protocol? What is your sleep? The thing here is to also look at other aspects that can lower your cortisol, your stress hormone, increase your muscles only because there’s growth hormone released at midnight. So I think there are a lot of other aspects also, it’s not just protein supplements that can help you build muscles, right? 

To do things scientifically. So so. So we look at several aspects of what I’m trying to say when we want to give diet advice. It’s not a diet chart alone, right, we have to look at it in several parameters in terms of anthropometry, what’s your visceral fat, many times we see liver enzymes correlate to high visceral fat, which is what given right sometimes the athlete has gone off during offseason or very typically, we see after competition, there is such mental and physical fatigue, at least just want to just let go for a few weeks. So you automatically see weight going up, fat percentage goes up, muscle fat goes up. And God forbid, if your off-season doesn’t take care, sometimes you see some of these cholesterol going up, you see bad cholesterol, LDL, you see, liver enzymes going up. So I think to correlate your body parameters, your blood tests, which is your biochemical parameters, look at your diet pattern, and also how you feel, we know athletes who wake up very tired, you know, forget, forget going to sleep tired, they don’t feel rested. So obviously, that means there have been red flags, and we have to address what is going on. So I think that way, in my kind of work, it helps me correlate all of these and then you know, come to, you know, then you, then you tailor make the requirement be the nutritional plan, if they’re pre diabetic, just going off white rice and sugar off your training time, that is, you know, when need be, you need to eat high GI foods around training. 

So just to give you a context on an example, you know, going off sugars, and when you have sugar craving is there a way we can increase protein and increase satiety, you know, there are many ways we want to correlate just guiding them, advising them. And then also understanding the science as to when you want to repeat the blackness hate payments itself is blood sugar reading of three, three months, so not to just you know, randomly do things, which will be 15 days, one month, and you know, it’s not going to matter. These are all long haul. And, you know, so and obviously the child will be given another, you know, a break or you know, to do the blood test. So just just to be very scientific in your approach, and correlating the, you know, nutritional guidelines in terms of the meal plan or the diet track along with the supplement protocol and lifestyle, they all go hand in hand, you cannot eliminate one from the other. So they’re very intricate. 

Can you tell our users a right perspective of how we should go about choosing supplements, what’s trustworthy? And what’s not? What should be you doing? And what should you not be doing? 

So, this is a very, very, what is the word a popular question that you will have asked me, and I hope that you guys will benefit from this very objective answer. And I’ll try and try to keep it as crisp. But now we already know that there are multiple parameters we take into consideration when we even plan a supplement. Because first as a dietitian, and as a preventive dietitian, our first principle is please get your food right. We never say please don’t eat well, but eat a protein supplement or consume a protein supplement. I think as any ethical practicing sports nutritionist or a dietitian, I trust that everybody will equal my thoughts on this. We never say that. But having said that, you need to eat your meals, well, focus on food first. Undoubtedly, that is always our first advocacy and I always say this in all the interviews or any of these sessions. But there is nothing wrong with taking a protein supplement. And definitely nothing absolutely wrong in consuming creatine when needed. Now, who else? Who and how do you use it? 

Of course, the youngest of children in preteens and early adolescence may not need protein supplements. And also if you see because I have I want a postgraduate diploma from the International Olympic Committee. Ethically, our consensus statements or IOC guidelines are very clear about saying below 18 years of age supplement protocol should ideally be avoided. And also perhaps periodized meaning that you will need it when or you will consume it when needed for a smaller duration of time period, and you go off them. But again, even in children, in their early teens, there may be times you may need these protein supplements. And for several reasons, like I already called out that they may be vegetarians, they may be overtraining, they may be traveling for a tournament, they may be in a peak competition season where they’re not recovering, well, they are forever sick. And it happens. 

We see this day in and day out. We asked some of our international athletes, they were in Africa, North Korea, anywhere I mean, wherever this event happened, or ISA. Then they back then go, then they were in China twice, they’re on a roll and they are traveling over months. So in these kinds of situations, what happens is the immunity is compromised and definitely there is a challenge especially if there is a lesser intake of protein supplement. So in these situations, yeah even younger in my opinion, if there is a need period arising and using it in smaller periods of pockets of time duration can be definitely and an intuition. Now also creative what happens with creatine is it not only helps improve your energy in terms of giving you that you know, extra edge for short bursts of energy or sprint activity but creatine also is a very powerful antioxidant and can enhance recovery and improve your cognition or your brain function. And typically it’s used in older or you know, children with you know, in later towards adolescence and perhaps in young adults. 

The supplement creatine can also be very useful if somebody is practicing strength training. So obviously not only helps give you the extra power or oomph to lift more because it obviously replenishes ATP, which is basically giving you energy. But also, it can help you build muscle provided you also look at strength training and complement that with the adequate intake of the routine. So yes, when the time’s right and when needed these nutrients or these nutritional supplements can be used judiciously. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

There are varied kinds of proteins available in the market.Though which is the best one which normally people should use?

We need to personalize what are the types of protein that an individual or an athlete may need. Some of them may use plant based ones as they are vegan or vegetarians unless they have lactose tolerance and don’t want to, do dairy which is a personal choice. But by scientific recommendation we always want to focus on isolene which has more leucine which triggers muscle protein synthesis. Again some of the supplements containing lactose are more concentrated which is slightly economical and can lead to bloating. Any protein supplement can do that and athletes can be sensitive to that. Now in plant based proteins mixed proteins, blend, we have soy and pea protein. Now plant based protein with rice or quinoa is better. 

Again if you’re if you have sensitive issues with soy based I believe boys we know that up to 25 grams of protein from soya can be consumed typically we want the male sexual hormone testosterone to be higher. There are some mixed suggestions around the plant based or the soya protein. So, I personally may not use it unless there is an issue. Typically because of a cacine spike it may lead to sebum, which is basically oil issues the acne unless there is a medical issue or any other challenge we don’t, I typically don’t steer clear from the dairy aspect. It’s for ethical and personal reasons that they want to plant waste. And then of course, you can add a standalone leucine amino acid to enhance muscle protein synthesis. That’s one option you could do if you’re choosing plant based. Go easy with soy because, you know the guy is youthful and has higher testosterone there’s no concern and then you don’t want to overdo a supplement. Supplement always means just that added bonus as extra in addition to the right supplement it literally means so it’s the diversity that you don’t do three scoops we just go for one scoop. 

A body can absorb a certain optimal amount of protein for muscle protein synthesis. You may eat say 30 grand but there’s hardly any models. Maybe a very minor percentage of it actually converts to muscle, meaning that the body perhaps may not absorb all of those 25-30 grams because there is a certain amount of protein that it can optimally absorb into the muscle and digest. But what it means is that anything extra other than that is unnecessary and can just get oxidized or burned as food, which is just expensive because supplements are costly. So for the vegetarians who are looking to use soy or eat protein look at blends. So that will give them a better amino acid profile and superior quality and you can add standard amino acids and lucine and since you will use seen to get that extra muscle protein synthesis boost. 

On the safety aspect, A lot of people pick up, you know, stuff off the shelf either from a store or from amazon for economical reasons that it can keep up. But at least if you’re an athlete, say at elite level goes without saying you will be subjected to dope tests. So there we educate them and say that you have to look at batch tests on third party verified products. But the budgets right The costumes are typically always because every best test product is got a standard right so so which means that unless something they have a sponsor or you know they have the funding, because you take one or two scoops a day which means that a kg may lose your  belly you know for for a few weeks or lesser right so which means that it’s an ongoing expense. 

But for the others who perhaps may not need a third party verified or match tested product. What’s important is that you may want to look at brands that have standalone products. Pleased to hear from added, you know multiple concoctions of ingredients. typically look at just a pure isolate, though it may be slightly pricier but then at least you know that it has no lactose or any other buffering agents or they are topped up with a lot of other branched chain amino acids. So you want to compare the you know the label just just read the label the lesser the number of ingredients in the label or the ingredient list that is so look at that and perhaps you know, some of these brands may be economical. So look at some validation in context to the quality in those aspects. In my opinion, maybe this may help an amateur or somebody who doesn’t have large budgets, but would like to, you know, augment and use a protein supplement. Maybe this will be a good way to start. off my god this is so many things to be taken 

Can you give us a breakdown of the amount of proteins required by an individual in a day?

In India sometimes we have, you know, very carb heavy means Idli or Dosa. There is no planning as you know, should there be a category of dahi on the side or, you know, some, some eggs on the peanuts. We know that even vegetarians and even female athletes can meet the requirement provided with larger portions as simple as that. by following a vegetarian essential center that you eat larger portions like Omega three again, right, maybe that’s something we must talk about. Like you don’t have to eat the fish oil, but if you need to eat the chia seeds, you just have to remember you eat larger portions of it to eat the same amount right because conversion is as little as less than 5%. So the top rule here is to keep about 15-20 grams of protein distributed three to four meals across the week. Which means you need to do so maybe to add more eggs with yolk and maybe one or two whites in addition, approximately analysis. So which means that if you’ve taken care of that and you are vegetarian, then you will need a new job which is higher quality. So which means that you have to remember that you’ll need about 50 which is quite a bit of a short term purchase, so could this well and they become longer.

So dal will give you only seven but the last one is the most effective and as I call it out, which means that if you need to get in 20 grams of protein you will have to eat three to four cups so the forces are amplified. You just have to see what works for you. And if you’re a beginner, good for you. But then what if you’re a small portion eater, someone like me you could do 10 grams can give you approximately 10 grams of protein. So you just have to look at foods that you can you don’t be not voluminous but you can get larger portions of protein like for example, those who can afford perhaps will not eat three four categories of the heat which will give us about protein, but you’ll be pleased to work with just one category can give you the same amount, but then again there is a affordability there can you afford Greek yogurt because it just becomes costly to survive that on a day to day basis as one cup of greek yogurt gives you 3-4 cups of dahi’s protein quantity. So there are many ways you could even be non vegetarian then it’s a breeze because you just take smaller portions and you get a lesser amount of fat. 

With so much industrialization, the food chain deteriorates the amount of protein we think we might get from something that might not be real. So you know making those calculations becomes more difficult. Can you share your intake on how to come out of that mindset?

So, yes, one is definitely with adulteration as a challenge we don’t know what is being offered. Number two is another thing: it is difficult to get into gastrointestinal and gut health. Let’s not even take and go to bioavailability what is being offered to what your body absorbs. Today we know you can’t even eat organic brown rice as it has arsenic. In relation to that protein today we know that a free range hens. All the eggs that come from a free range hen can have our own nutritionally superior. And we also know for that matter that we also had certain studies saying that organic vegetables are far superior not because they lack pesticides, but nutritionally also they have more value or you know, nutrient content. 

But yes, I understand that this is farm bread or poultry. So one question I’m always asked is whether you don’t have any calories these days or you know the guidelines when you say we only eat one gram of carbohydrate before we were 30 grams of carbohydrate and every half hour during workout. We won’t say 25 grams of protein post workout. I mean, the Olympics have given all the jargon and the guidelines called out every single year’s requirements. 

There are several fancy equations where we can, you know, teach athletes on how you need to make sure you’re not having heat stroke or heat injury because you need to hydrate well, but simplifying this and just saying check your urine color it should remain as pale as possible. And another is this is also like being full weighing yourself every day. There are two sides of you know discussion to that. But what do you see, at least in my opinion, if it is healthy and it helps you stay disciplined, good for you, but if it’s gonna cause anxiety, and it’s gonna deviate you from your goal, it doesn’t meet your requirements. So we need to look at more subtle progress charts where we could just look at measurement because your clothes become us. 

You look more toned and your friends compliment you because you’re looking more muscular. your silhouette or your you know, body is changing, you feel stronger, and most importantly everybody’s obsessed about weight but I think there are very few people who want to track progress in terms of quality of life, energy recovery, not having an injury. I sleep when I wake up fresh, I think these are also equally important levers that are not prioritized.

What’s the general process of keeping yourself updated on a daily basis, on what new things are coming up?

Oh, absolutely. You need to stay on top of things. It’s good to be well read. And you know, when you put forth a suggestion, I had a point where I have the most senior coach and I have had to share the jargon in the science and put forth my discussion to validate what I set out to say was when I was questioned, why do you need to use this supplement? for young kids? you know, and we’re also like, I have taken on doctors, whether they’ve sent for me injections for B 12, Vitamin D, I had to give pediatric guidelines, because you know, as much as I have respect for every individual in the domain, I think as dietitians we are also well read and we know what we say. So, to undermine our expertise you know, it’s nothing personal or you know, it’s not happening not an asset in context to you know, taking it personally but, but to be able to very rapidly, you know, in a very rational and you know, very objective manner to put the evidence to why you would like to approach this. I will say, it’s not that you’re calling the shots, but at the same time, Yeah, to have the humility.

So to have the humility to say that you’re very human and you will not know everything many times we have, we learn in even, you know, seminars, webinars to participants will teach us because you don’t sell not everybody, trust me, they know the fanciest of the supplement brands and the fancy stuff, most novice product that has come in the market, because you know, sometimes Honestly, even from the veteran community to the athletes to so to be very humbled and you have an open mind you say that you are open to learning, I think that has possibly been my principal. So that has helped and to also teach I think we are in fact I have you I would love for you to share this on your platform we are offering an IoT sports nutrition certification program. And this is the Ministry of Education offering this literally free for everybody in the support staff. There are like a half a dozen Sport Science. subjects. and sports nutrition is one of them. and if you would like to enroll, It’s absolutely free. And trust me it’s 20 years of experience, so it’s a training certification and it’s just available for anybody across the world.

CynergySports wishes Geetha, a safe health & a great 2024. Onwards & Upwards…!! We thank her for her time & her support to the wider community, keeping them fit and healthy.

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