Firstpost Masterclass: Ramji Srinivasan discusses fitness protocols that make elite athletes tick

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What are fitness and recovery protocols? What transforms elite athletes into mean, high-performing machines? Can you get six pack abs naturally? Ramji Srinivasan, the fitness trainer of the 2011 World Cup-winning team, explains in this latest edition of Firstpost Masterclass.

Editor’s noteProfessional sport is as much a scientific pursuit as it is a recreational wonder. What appears routinely mundane is a result of the hours spent honing the craft and deciphering the body mechanics till it becomes a monotonous muscle memory. In Firstpost Masterclass, our latest weekly series, we look at precisely these aspects that make sport a far more intriguing act than we know.

Sports fitness has been an oft-neglected area of the Indian sporting ecosystem notorious of focussing more on results than roadmaps. For far too long, Indian athletes have been hailed as supremely talented sportspeople with big hearts and flailing legs. It took us a while to realise that passion and skills are no substitutes for fitness. Still far from world-class in many respects, the quintessential Indian athlete though is getting fitter, smarter and stronger. Things have been changing for good with the influx of specialised coaching and guidance.

From fitness being described as running a few laps to exposing athletes to state-of-the-art technology and scientific nutrition, India’s sports universe, despite its many flaws, promises to break free. One would still abstain from using the word ‘revolution’, but the visible change in the fitness levels of Indian sportsmen and women is a function of years of hard work done by a few good people. Chennai-based fitness coach Ramji Srinivasan happens to be one such person.

With an impressive CV that, among other highlights, boasts of a stint as the strength and conditioning coach of the Indian cricket team that lifted the 2011 World Cup, Ramji is a sought after subject matter expert. In this latest edition of Firstpost Masterclass, he shatters some myths, shares some tips and dwells on the endless expanse of sports fitness.

How do you define fitness? Is it just a state of physical well being, or is it mental and emotional too?

Fitness is the ability of an individual to harness his or her potentiality to maximum, be it physical, physiological, psychological or social. These three are the most important aspects of holistic fitness. If you are able to harness these properly, you will be able to excel in life, not just in sports. It is easier said than done though.

Do you think the psychological and emotional aspects of fitness are given enough importance in our sports ecosystem?

Definitely not. A person goes through a number of ups and downs in the course of a day. There is a difference in the way you think and feel at various times of the day. In India, people don’t think about what a person may be going through mentally. People make fun of each other by calling them ‘mental.’ It shows in the way our movies and popular culture project such issues. People are coming out of their shell now, and I think that’s a welcome change. One needs to address these things in greater depth and detail and not treat them in a very superficial manner.

Mental conditioning is a huge field and every aspect of it needs to be addressed individually. What is a trigger for one man may not be a trigger for another. Identifying mental issues is a technique in itself. There are a number of assessments such as the emotional quotient test and intelligence quotient test that can be used. Testing has to be done to identify the basic psyche of a sportsperson: whether he is an aggressor, whether he can be pushed etc.

Mental health affects your skills and performances, so one has to be very mindful in choosing the right coach. The coach must maintain the utmost confidentiality with players when talking about such issues. Take the case of Glenn Maxwell, for instance. From the outside, you would never know what is going inside him. That’s why the psychological profiling of players is very important. NFL teams in the USA do that, but sadly in India, that culture and practice are yet to take root.

Steve Waugh is credited with popularising the term ‘mental disintegration’, where the Australian cricket team would ruthlessly go after the opposition captain or their most important player. It was a kind of psychological intimidation that brought them great success. When a team does that to you, how do you counter?

Psychological intimidation is happening in sports for ages, and it is all part of the game. The old cliche that most of the battle is won off the ground still stands true. The game starts from the time you enter the ground for the practice session. Teams try to intimidate each other all the time. They like to show their opponents that they are superior physically and mentally. So to counter that, one needs to understand the body language. You should have a no-nonsense look, and not shy away from the odd glare and so on.

We keep hearing about the fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibres a lot. What exactly are they and what’s the difference between the two?

Fast-twitch fibres are also called glycolytic muscle fibres. They are anaerobic in nature and are mostly used in explosive, power sports such as sprinting or powerlifting. Slow-twitch muscle fibres relate to endurance athletes. So athletes who are into cycling, long-distance running and so on have slow-twitch muscle fibres. Cricket, for example, is an anaerobic sport where fast bowlers need to have fast-twitch muscle fibres because they have to sprint, jump explosively and deliver balls at a great pace.

In a sport like cricket, we work on fast-twitch muscle fibres in tandem with some of the muscle fibres for endurance purpose. We also work on combination fibres, but workouts like HIIT, tempo run etc work best. Such workouts border on the zone between the aerobic and anaerobic threshold and hence focus on strength as well as stamina.

Firstpost Masterclass Ramji Srinivasan discusses fitness protocols that make elite athletes tick

Ravindra Jadeja’s athleticism and power comes from his genetic fast-twitch muscle fibres, apart from his tremendous work rate. File Image

Sports like tennis and badminton are anaerobic as well. These are stop-and-go sports. A rally may not last more than 45-60 seconds, and you need Type II anaerobic muscles to ace that. You need to work on aerobic fitness also which can be used as part of your recovery protocols. You need more oxygen into the system so that the muscles recover better and are ready for the next task. I believe fitness programming is more of an art than science. When to do what and how to do it, what should be the load and intensity, what is the target heart rate you are maintaining…these are some factors you need to look at.

Then, you need to use the lower heart rate workouts as a recovery tool for explosive work. For long-term gains, you need to have a base aerobic fitness. There is also a fear that if you are training in the aerobic (endurance) mode for long, your fast-twitch muscles will become slow-twitch muscles. Consider a badminton player who is working only on endurance mode by way of running without working on speed, agility, explosive power, or strength. In such a case, fast-twitch fibres can be converted into slow-twitch, but no coach will allow you to just focus on endurance and not on speed or strength because the latter dictate your footwork, reaction time, etc. Too much aerobic workout also results in loss of muscle mass because depending on your mode of training, your muscles’ reaction to a particular stimulus will change.

Returning to physical fitness, what is the role of genetics in fitness? Of course, there are fast-twitch muscle fibres that you are born with, but exactly how important are the genes?

Genetics definitely play a very important role, because that ensures you’re born with a certain type of muscle fibres. Some people are born with fast-twitch muscle fibres, some are born with slow-twitch muscle fibres, and some with a combination of the two bordering on either fast-twitch or slow-twitch. Genetics dictates the basic strength and thickness of your muscles, lung capacity, flexibility and endurance.

So, it does play a very critical role; you are born in a certain way. People say fast bowlers and sprinters are born. While that is true, it is also possible to combine fibres through a very scientifically-monitored training specific to that particular sport and skill. But once the muscle fibres are converted, they cannot be reversed.

Can a certain body fat percentage or muscle mass be considered as an indicator of fitness?

Yes, certainly. Body fat percentage was earlier measured through BMI, but that was found to be a bit inaccurate. These days body fat is calculated through skin fold, hydrostatic pressure, or DEXA scan methods. You have to measure your dry lean mass (DLM) which is a combination of the weight attributed to protein and the bone mineral density in the body.

Lean body mass is the combination of dry lean mass and the amount of water in your body. There is another thing called skeletal muscle mass. It is the mass of the muscles that are connected to your bones. Skeletal muscle mass can be lost due to over-emphasis on one type of training. All these parameters need to be taken into account to gauge an athlete’s fitness. A certain body fat percentage threshold is a must for athletes. For example, race car drivers need to have a body fat percentage of around 10, and they should weigh 58-61 kgs. They should have more muscle mass than fat. More muscle means more generation of power and force, and better ability to work.

There’s this craze of having six-pack abs these days, which obviously can’t be achieved with a high fat percentage. Is it healthy to maintain a low fat percentage all through the year and is there a healthy way to get the perfect abs?

It is absolutely possible to have six pack abs in a healthy way. There are three types of body types: Endomorph, Ectomorph, and Mesomorph. Endomorphs have the capacity to put on weight more easily, ectomorph are thin by nature, while mesomorphs can build muscles easily. Again, it all comes down to genetics and we also need to see which type of body type is training for what. You can get abs in a perfectly natural and healthy way without using fat cutters, fat burners, and anabolic steroids that promise six packs in three months. It is not at all healthy and these things can really hamper your heart, liver, and kidney. Such products are a recipe for disaster.

A sportsperson trains actively for a minimum of six hours a day, and even for them, to get a six pack is very difficult. I have worked with a few extremely fit cricketers who had a fat percentage of 6-7 percent, but then, they were genetically gifted. For people like you and me, it is possible to have that kind of physique but it will entail a lot of sacrifices. It depends on your body structure, genetic loading, food habits, medical conditions if any.

It may take its time, but it is not impossible. Diet intake is very critical, and one has to stay away from unwanted supplements. Regular food with specialist nutritional guidance will do the trick. You also have to choose the right type of exercises depending on what suits you. The thing in India is, if we see someone with great abs in the gym, we immediately want to copy their diet and workout. That’s totally wrong. If you are deadlifting with 100 kgs and someone who is trying to copy you starts with 60-70 kgs straightaway, he/she will end up breaking his/her back. Before you embark on a fitness journey, you must undergo a medical examination, fitness tests, take nutritional guidance, and then start thinking of abs.

Celebrities showing up their six packs and eight packs and 21-inch biceps and body transformations in two months are not painting the right picture. There’s no way you can get that kind of a body in two-three months, but then, for them, their appearance is most important. For sportspersons, it is their skills and temperament. Look at NFL. They are massive guys with fat percentages going up to 27-28 percent. Still, the way they run and move is unbelievable. What would you call those guys, fit or fat?

Two of the most common fitness tests used to gauge athletic fitness are yoyo and beep tests. What is the difference between them?

Both these tests are used to measure your aerobic fitness. The Indian cricket team used the beep tests until 2009-10. Yoyo tests were first introduced at MRF Pace Foundation in 2010 and came into the picture by 2011. Beep test involves running various levels without any break, but in yoyo, you have to run towards a cone placed at a certain distance, say 20 metres away. Then, there is a cone placed five metres away and you have to walk around it and come back. That’s the short break from running that is there in yoyo tests. There are six levels of yoyo tests – YoYo endurance test level 1, endurance test level 2, intermediate endurance level 1, intermediate endurance level 2, intermediate recovery 1 and 2.

The tests are chosen on the basis of the sport the athlete plays and the fitness goals. They were initially devised for football, and depending on the sport, people have come up with some alternatives and modifications. I would say both the beep and yoyo tests are equally good. Yoyo, I would say, is slightly easier because it gives you some recovery time.

In sports such as cricket and football, you do not run all the time, so yoyo is a good indicator of fitness. Getting a score of 12 or 13 in a beep test is a killer task. A score of 16.5 in yoyo test is as good as 9-10 in the beep test, so yes, the former is easier, but is more pertinent and contemporary.

A lot of athletes and coaches talk about the importance of core strength. What exactly is it and why is it so important?

Core strength and stability is the most critical thing in any sport, be it chess, billiards, contact strength or anything else. It is a massive subject in itself, but the most critical point is to work on the anterior and posterior planes. Our midsection area is the powerhouse that generates all the strength and stability, so you obviously have to work on that. But the choice of exercises, tempo, number of reps and sets, recovery protocols vary according to the sport and skill. For example, in sports like wrestling, you have a lot of isometric holds, so you need to do a lot of planks and side planks. If you want more stability, you go for the Swiss ball which is more dynamic and targets the core in three-dimensional angles.

There’s a myth that a lean midsection essentially means better core strength. That’s not true. Take the example of rugby players, or MMA, or NFL athletes. They have great core strength, but are not exactly lean, because their sport demands them to have some cushioning. Cricket, on the other hand, is a game of skill, and not strength. Guys like Virender Sehwag were not really lean but were very strong from inside. Fast bowlers have a cushioning on their sides because they need it. So many athletes have fat on their midsection but have more power than guys who look lean and mean.

Let’s talk about disciplines such as motorsports where the athlete is not moving on his/her own. There’s a great core strength and physical strength needed there too, isn’t it?

You bet. I have been involved with motorsports for over 15 years now with Narain Karthikeyan. The amount of physical fitness needed in motorsports is just insane. People think you just hop into a Ferrari and the machine does the rest…no chance. You’re a dead duck if you miss even one corner. Race drivers need enormous strength and stability because of the G force that is exerted through activation, braking or when you’re cutting corners. You battle 4-5 lateral, frontal or posterior G forces. You can blackout and your neck can break. With helmet, your head weighs around 8-10 kgs. Imagine carrying that load on your neck, that too with the momentum involved.

 

Firstpost Masterclass Ramji Srinivasan discusses fitness protocols that make elite athletes tick

Aged 43, Narain Karthikeyan can still reel off 65 push-ups and over 20 pull-ups in one set.

Then, the heart rate is really high, especially when you are starting at the grid, so your aerobic fitness needs to be spot-on. Next, comes body fat. You can’t have a body fat more than 10 percent. Your weight has to be very stable too, else the entire car technology goes for a toss.

Then, there’s braking power. Loosely put, it is the force with which drivers hit the brake, and every time you hit a brake, you ought to exert a force equal to 100 kgs. That’s like doing a leg press of 100 kgs each time. Imagine the load on your back and hip muscles. If you have 60 laps and an average of five corners, you’ll brake at least 300 times (60 X 5). Multiply 300 with 100, and imagine how many tonnes of braking you’re doing. That’s seriously unbelievable power. Imagine going through this routine 300-400 times in one hour. Your back, neck, shoulders, pectorals, forearms are gone. You need good grip strength to shift gears. But more than anything else, you need terrific reflexes. These drivers have the best reflexes in the world in terms of hand-eye co-ordination .

Peripheral awareness is another key. It has to be top-notch, especially in wet conditions when the visibility is almost zero. You have to have the feel, and amazing intelligence quotient. Now in all this, you also have to talk to the pit crew, devise a strategy while driving and so on. You need to be able to think on your feet and decide in split seconds. You should know when to overtake and when to block. All faculties of your brain and body must act in tandem, otherwise, you can die. If an average person drives even at 80 kmph with those curves and overtaking, they’ll jump out of their cars within 15 minutes and puke. Even in go-karting, if you go at 60kmph for 15 minutes, you’ll need help to be pulled out of the car. And these guys (motorsports), go at 200kmph or more. The body works like a machine within a machine.

Sports like chess and billiards need a certain degree of core strength too. Why does one need it in presumably static sports such as these?

Any movement in our daily lives requires flexion from the torso, whether we are eating, looking at the laptop, driving…everything is protracted flexion. What happens is because of the overuse syndrome, over a period of time, your back gives way. This happens due to lack of strength in lower back, core, glutes and other anti-gravity muscles that stabilise the pelvic area and core. If these muscles are not strong enough, over a period of time, the overuse will cause injuries.

In billiards and chess, there’s that flexion movement again. You lean forward and flex. These players do not need speed and power, but they need good aerobic fitness. It helps you bring in more oxygen into the system and you can control your breathing pattern better.

What is the difference between match fitness and regular fitness?

It is a very important point to understand. Getting a six-pack or an eight-pack is part of your aesthetic fitness. That is something you or an athlete does outside the playing field. Being able to convert that fitness to the demands of the sport is match fitness. Are you able to sustain that intensity? What is your recovery like? How quickly can you be ready for the next match or the next session? All these things come under match fitness.

If you are coming back from an injury, you may be declared fit clinically, but when you enter the match, you may not be fully fit. Match fitness is judged through muscle memory and through a host of factors. For example, in cricket, we look at how much a player is able to bowl or bat in the nets, what is his/her intensity in the field, are you trying to preserve yourself too much and not giving your 100 percent and so on. These are things that a coach, physios and trainers can easily judge, and this cuts across all sports.

Are sleep and recovery as important as fitness for an athlete?

Extremely important. An athlete’s body may take anywhere between 24-36 hours to recover after an intense session. Throw in travel, dissipation of nervous energy, stress and so on. Your sleep pattern has to be spot-on, and you need to be very disciplined if you want to recover. There are three types of recoveries – active, passive, and a combination of the two.

If you are going for active recovery, such as aqua stretches, it should not be intense. You should be completely relaxed and you must look to stretch the muscle to their full range. A low-intensity slow jog is also a good active recovery tool. It is done to keep your mind and body in sync. Passive recovery doesn’t involve too much of muscle activation. It includes steam bath, sauna, massage, reading, music, going into an oxygen chamber, etc.

Deep sleep is one of the best methods to recover. A good sound sleep takes away all your tension and stress, helps your brain to reboot and the body to repair. Sadly, it is also one of the highly neglected areas. People say you should not sleep in the afternoon, but some people need a 30-40-minute power nap. They enter the alpha state of sleep and get up and get back to business. It freshens up your mind.

Like workouts, recovery is also an individual thing. Different athletes recover differently and there cannot be a one-size-fits-all method.

Let’s take the example of the international badminton circuit where a shuttler plays for five-six consecutive days if he/she reaches the final. In IPL, sometimes teams play up to three matches in a week. In such situations, how do players balance their intensity, fitness, and recovery?

Fitness-wise, IPL is nothing about training. It is all about recovery and diet, and the latter, mind you, is an essential part of the recovery protocol. If someone tells you they have improved their fitness during IPL, 99.99 percent they are lying. You need to work on the type of recovery that suits your body. Athletes can choose to recover through swimming, light aerobic session, cycling, massage, meditation, stretches and so on. A simple activity of reading a book can also help you recover.

Diet and hydration are other small but important factors. Athletes keep a track of their urine colour too. Even a slight tinge of yellow means they need to hydrate.

Badminton or other individual sports are harder. Unlike cricket or football, where there are 10 guys covering you, you are on your own in tennis or badminton. The entire load is on you. So the recovery is all the more important for them. Such athletes rely a lot on stretching. They also go for yoga a lot. They should not do heavy fitness training during the tournaments; that is done in the off, pre or mid season. You don’t build fitness in a day. Also, you cannot try new stuff during a tournament. So what athletes do is they stick to the maintenance schedule and look to get the best out of their recovery protocols that include food and sleep. They have to be fresh every moment of their game day, and that needs very thorough planning.

You have been part of the MRF Pace Foundation and have been the trainer of the Indian cricket team that lifted the World Cup in 2011. In your vast association with Indian cricket, how do you see the fitness evolution of our fast bowlers?

Our fast bowlers have gone a sea change in terms of fitness, and that culture has seeped down to junior cricket. The bowlers we get now are supremely fit; it is not that they get fit after playing for India. There’s a clear evolution over the last two decades and the results are there to be seen. Even Under-12, Under-14 kids who pursue sports are so aware of the fitness principles, and this has happened across sports. I am training the third generation of Indian cricketers and I have seen the guys evolve, from Debashish Mohanty and Javagal Srinath to Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan to Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav.

This generation of fast bowlers, as I said, came as supremely fit athletes from their junior cricket, and that is something that makes me very happy.

This, in a way, makes one appreciate the fitness of Kapil Dev, isn’t it? He never had access to speciality trainers and staff, but hardly missed a game.

True. He was incomparable. He was a natural athlete, so is MS Dhoni. His (Kapil’s) era was different. People would cycle or walk to their offices. We didn’t have these many gadgets and vehicles, so people did a lot of manual work. Kapil would have done very well in any sport. I would put Sachin Tendulkar, Ajit Agarkar, Rahul Dravid and Dhoni in the same bracket. These guys could have excelled in any sport, fitness-wise.

You worked with Sachin Tendulkar in 2006-07 and helped him come out of his shoulder injury. How was that experience like?

Working with Tendulkar remains the highlight of my career. I don’t have many words to explain that feeling. I remember a lot of people were concerned about his career and many thought it was the end of the road for him. I always believed he would play for at least five more years, and he played longer than that.

Firstpost Masterclass Ramji Srinivasan discusses fitness protocols that make elite athletes tick

‘Working with Sachin Tendulkar remains the highlight of my career.’

Working with him was a surreal experience. He is one guy who will grill you. He would ask a number of technical questions, and he knew what he was asking. If I suggested an exercise, he would ask me why should he do that, how is it different from other exercises that target the same area, how is the angle different, what is the tempo difference, and so on. So I had to be ready with correct, convincing answers. He kept me on my toes.

The World Cup-winning team of 2011 had a lot of cricketers aged 30 or more. Was it challenging to train those ageing bodies?

You are right. There were at least seven players who were 30-plus. The human body’s response to exercises slows down after a certain age, as does the recovery. People say age is just a number. Well, that is a psychological thing to say, but physiologically, your body changes and no one can deny that.

I had to think out of the box to train that team. I knew what suits Sachin may not suit Sehwag, what suits Sehwag won’t suit Gambhir and so on. Every player was treated differently, and each of them was given an individualised schedule way back. The planning started in 2010. It was all very professional. The players were told to maintain a body fat percentage not higher than 15 percent at any cost. They all adhered to it and controlled their diet very well. They followed the fitness and recovery programmes to the letter, and it worked.

We were the only team that didn’t have any fitness issues during the World Cup. Ashish Nehra’s injury in the semi-final was not a fitness issue; he split his webbing with the ball, and you can’t control that. But no one broke down with cramps or hamstring trouble. The pressure was intense, but they pulled through. All credit to them.

You mentioned MS Dhoni. There has been a lot of talk about his place in the team. From a fitness perspective, would you say he is still good enough?

He is seriously fit. I would say Dhoni and Umesh Yadav are two of the fittest players in the Indian team. Both are natural athletes. Talking about Dhoni, he is brutally strong. Unbelievably strong. He is not into weight training but does a lot of running. He has a very strong lower body and core, which is where he generates his power for big hits. His leg and calf muscles are built like footballers; don’t forget he was a goalkeeper once.

In India, we don’t get complete athletes because instead of playing all sports, we pick one sport very early in our careers. In Australia and other nations, they play all sports, and when such an athlete decides to take up cricket, the difference in strength, stamina and fitness is there to be seen. Jonty Rhodes is another fine example. A lot of Australian cricketers played football at school before deciding on cricket. You have to have a multisport culture, otherwise, you won’t have all-round athletes.

Ajinkya Rahane is another supremely fit cricketer, so are Suresh Raina, Wriddhiman Saha and Ravindra Jadeja. Jadeja doesn’t like weights. I made him do shoulder exercises with very light weights, four-five kilograms only, to prevent injures, but that’s all. He loves running. All his strength is natural, genetic, like I said. He has fast-twitch muscle fibres. His throws are very powerful because of the angle with which he releases his throws.

You have trained athletes in cricket, football, tennis, badminton, TT, motorsports, and a lot of other sports. Which of these disciplines is the toughest in terms of fitness?

I will put tennis, badminton and football at the top. Then comes motorsports. Cricket comes last, fitness-wise. In cricket, you can specialise in one skill and survive, whereas, in an individual sport, you don’t have that luxury.

Fitness in cricket has come in only recently and is an Australian import. It is obviously an important part of the game now. When we introduced weight training at MRF Pace Foundation in 1996-97, there was criticism that we’ll convert fast bowlers into bodybuilders. That’s all due to ignorance and myths. One needs to understand that training must depend on body type and how you are able to generate power.

Sports such as tennis and badminton need a multidimensional approach to fitness, but cricket is more of a skill-based sport. Even T20 cricket doesn’t come close to the demands of sports such as boxing, MMA, rowing, water polo, tennis, badminton, motorsports and so on. For sure, cricket comes last when it comes to fitness requirements. Look at a sport like boxing. On top of insane fitness levels, it is a contact sport, so if you are not up to the mark you will be hammered like a sitting duck. We love cricket here in India, but it is wrong to hail cricketers as fittest athletes. No way. What about boxers, racers, hockey players, shuttlers? This is a fact that nobody wants to listen to.

You would have trained hundreds of athletes in all these years. Which is the fittest athlete you have come across, or someone who has impressed you the most?

There are many, cutting across various sports. The first name that comes to mind is Narain Karthikeyan. At 43, he is one of the fittest guys I have seen. He can still do 65 push-ups and 20-plus pull-ups in one go. Sharath Kamal, at 37, is another. He is unbelievably fit. Dhoni, obviously.

Then, there’s Somdev Devvarman. G Sathiyan is another supremely fit player. Among other cricketers, I was impressed by Irfan Pathan, S Sreesanth, Heman Badani, Tinu Yohannan. Actually, everyone who came to MRF Pace Foundation was very, very fit, because they had an admission criterion of 12 on the beep test. By the time you graduate, your score should be 14. That would be 19-plus in the yoyo test. I was with MRF Pace Foundation till 2009 and saw a lot of these bowlers. L Balaji was also a supremely fit athlete. I know he had injury issues, but those were because of faulty biomechanics. Then, he was not diagnosed properly initially as everyone advised him to go with a conservative approach which proved counterproductive. Mohammed Kaif was also an extremely fit cricketer.

I trained a number of tennis guys in the early 2000s, and they were like thoroughbred racehorses. All lean mass and superb athletic bodies. After all these years, I can say that in Indian sports in general, the fitness standards have gone up by leaps and bounds, but correct knowledge must be passed on to athletes. They should not have a herd mentality.

A lot of non-athletes who go to the gym start consuming whey protein after a few months which may or may not suit their body type. Not everyone has the resource or education to go for blood tests and screening. What should such people do?

It is the duty of the gym trainers to educate their clients. Fitness trainers or gym owners should take responsibility for what their client is consuming because the latter is not supposed to know everything. A lot of trainers get a cut from recommending certain whey protein brands…that’s a big scam going on. If trainers are not aware of something, they should tell their clients in as many words instead of giving half-baked details disguised in technical jargon. Even the gym-goers should do their research and ask as many questions from their trainers as possible.

The generic advice that almost all gym trainers give is that you need to consume 1.5 gms of protein per kilogramme of bodyweight if you want to pack muscles. Should one accept it as a universal rule or there’s more to it?

I agree that it is an extremely common tip, but there’s absolutely no chance that this advice cuts across all body types. What these trainers do not know is how much water-soluble and fat-soluble proteins you should take. And what about essential and non-essential amino acids? You recommend 150 grams of protein per day, but what is the intensity of the workout you are doing? You cannot become an Adonis by simply taking whey proteins. You need to sit and analyse these things with your trainer instead of living on borrowed knowledge. Before this magic number of 1.5 gms of protein, they used to recommend 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight. How come the recommendation almost doubled?

Fitness YouTubers and so-called experts tend to push their products, but as users, we need to be aware and wary. We must understand that the pharma sector is a multi-million dollar industry and a lot of companies thrive on the lack of knowledge in third-world nations or places where the concepts of fitness have only just arrived. The situation is very grim but can be countered with proper education and awareness.

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