Understanding the “Why?” is the first step to high performance and fitness
From Olympians to World Cup-winning cricket teams, I’ve been lucky to be at the forefront of witness-ing scientific advancement in sport—an opportunity that has allowed me to test the theories of sports science and analyses performances under a microscope for about 17 years. Sports scientists always look for ways to achieve ‘podium performances’ through strategies, enhancing human performance and understanding behavioral psychology. So, whether it is dissecting the functional biomechanics of a cricketer or a javelin thrower, or diving deep into the physiology that improves the recovery of a swimmer or sprinter, or understanding and guiding an athlete to his or her optimal emotional state of mind, that quest for kaizen—continuous improvement— has always been Para-mount to our thinking.
Through this series of exclusive articles, I hope to take you on a journey that will help you decode performance nutrition, performance psychology and the much talked-about secrets behind human physiology. This science seeks to optimize the elements that can potentially enhance performance, but what makes this extremely difficult in the world of elite sports is that the competitive advantage at that level is less than one percent. So, hopefully, we will be able to unlock decades of research and, more importantly, discover how you can apply that to your training, recovery and achieving your personal best, whether you are a pro sportsperson or just an enthusiast.
In Berlin on August 16, 2009, Usain Bolt sprinted in 9.58 seconds to set a new world record in 100 meters athletics. In Rio, on August 14, 2016, Bolt ran 9.81 seconds to win his third consecutive 100m Olympic gold medal—a feat that makes him the greatest sprinter of all time. So, how does a sprinter, who is one of the slowest out of the blocks, is in the middle of the pack at the 60-metre mark, finally end up winning by almost 8/100th of a second consistently for over a decade? How does he do it when 92 percent of his energy is spent countering drag?
Lewis Pugh is a British endurance swimmer and the only man to swim a mile in every sea and ocean on Earth. What makes his feat phenomenal is that each swim was accomplished without the aid of thermal clothing or swimsuits. How does a swimmer prevent hypothermia in waters below zero?
When Leicester City, a team fighting relegation in the English Premier League (EPL), defied the 5000:1 odds to rewrite history and win the EPL, they not only became a remarkable story but also a testament to character and science. In a post-match interview, Claudio Ranieri attributed much of their success to the medical and scientific interventions utilized during the season.
As the technical coach of Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League (IPL), it’s my job to ensure that performance stays consistent across the hectic schedule and high frequency of matches at different venues. Monitoring rest, recovery, hydration and workload has be-come integral to performance at this level. For a sports scientist, the moot question is—should the team practice or rest?
Sports science is what has helped elite athletes and teams unlock the answers to such situations. Thanks to the science of biomechanics and aerodynamics, we know that Bolt wins because he reaches top speed later and decelerates slower than his competitors. Thanks to the science of thermoregulation, we know Pugh used technology to monitor temperature changes during the swim. This information provided feedback on the effect of his warm-ups and helped evolve the best practices to prevent hypothermia. Thanks to the science of performance nutrition, we learnt that Leicester City used beetroot juice shots to improve the body’s nitric oxide levels, thus enhancing the body’s tolerance to high-intensity exercise. And lastly, a simple re-scheduling of flights to ensure our cricketers sleep more than eight hours decreases their risk of injury by more than 60 percent.
None of these interventions, however, guarantees success at the elite level, but they do guarantee that you have the best possible chance of succeeding. In the following months, we’ll explore case studies of athletes I’ve worked with, cheat sheets for the weekend warrior, training methodologies and the best practices in sports science. Be it high-endurance sports performance or just staying fit and healthy, it needs the right combination of proper nutrition and an active lifestyle; which is what Herbalife Nutrition and I have in common, and it can do wonders for overall well-being.