Bharatiya Janata Party parliamentarian Udit Raj has triggered an intriguing debate, whether beef, or lack of it, in the diet of the Indian athletes, is to be blamed for the poor showing at the Rio Olympics, reports The Hindustan Times.
Raj tweeted on Monday: “(sic) usain bolt of jamaica was poor and trainer advised him to eat beef both the times and he scored 9 gold medals in Olympic.” He later clarified that his comment was not an endorsement for beef eating. “It’s 200% wrong to interpret my comment as an endorsement of beef eating,” he told HT.
However, the Twitter statement triggered a troll outburst on social media. Diet is an important part of an athlete’s training. But not all Indian athletes are non-vegetarian so the question HT asked experts was whether a vegetarian diet put our athlete at a disadvantage.
“I don’t want to get into the controversy of beef due to cultural and religious issues,” says sports medicine specialist, Dr Ashok Ahuja, former head of the department of medicine at Sports Authority of India centre in Patiala.
“Ultimately it’s the training that proves the difference. And looking at Bolt, you can fathom his kinetic advantage in terms of height-weight ratio (Bolt is 1.95 meters tall and weighs 94kg). His stride length is 2.44 metres and completes the 100m with 41-42 strides.”
When we compare that to the top Indian sprinters, the disadvantage is glaring. Besides, Bolt also has a genetic advantage too.
“Scientists have looked into the genetics of Jamaican sprinters trying to understand their dominance,” adds Ahuja. “The first gene associated with powerful sprinting is the angiotensin-converting enzyme, or ACE, gene. If you have a particular variant of this gene (known as the “D allele”) you are likely to have a larger than average heart capable of pumping highly oxygenated blood to muscles quicker than the average human.
“That also gives your body a better response to training. In people of West African origin, the frequency of the variant is slightly higher than in those of European and Japanese origin. In Jamaica, it’s a little higher than in West Africa,” explains Ahuja. “This small effect may be amplified by the ACTN3 gene.
Top Indian athletes and coaches believe healthy diet is must for recovery, and is one of the components of good system for development.
Dietary habits have a deep association with the cultural and societal norms prevalent in a country, but individual preference matters most.
Indian wrestlers are mostly vegetarian and used to vouch by a diet comprising mostly of dairy products and sources of proteins such as lentils and pulses. But of late, things have changed though our champion wrestlers such as double Olympic medalist, Sushil Kumar, still prefers a vegetarian diet.
International grappler Amit Dhankar has made some changes in his eating habits, following his trips abroad. “Generally when we travel for competitions it becomes a challenging task to stick to Indian food,” says Dhankar. “So, I have made some changes in my diet and have included fish and chicken which is easily available within India as well other places where we travel for competition.”.