SPORTS nutrition is very important for athletes because at the most basic level, it provides a source of energy required to perform in the competition arena.
The food athletes eat impacts on their strength, training, results and recovery. In particular, diet plays a crucial role in the enhancement of performances by providing fuel to the muscles and for body fluid replacement.
Sufficient energy should come from a variety of foods that provide the athletes with enough carbohydrates, protein, fat and micronutrients to prevent injuries and enhance performance.
Sports nutritionist Jennet Judith Unying explained: “The purpose of having sports nutrition is to provide information on food and good dietary practices among the athletes to maximise performance and help develop sound nutritional habits, including preparation and food types that can benefit performance and increase the awareness of the athletes towards a healthy balanced lifestyle.”
Jennet, who began her stint with the Sarawak High-Performance Unit in October last year, tests and assesses the athletes to check if they are getting proper nutrition.
“The assessments are on body composition and hydration status. I provide consultation on nutrition.
“Some athletes have a constant issue with bodyweight with some wanting to lose weight and some wanting to gain weight in a good way,” she said.
Jennet conducts one-to-one sessions with the athletes, providing with them menu-planning and checking – within a specific month – to see if they have achieved the set target, then following up with treatment and advice, if need be.
“I conduct talks and workshops on nutritional education and coaches are invited to attend.
“They can help keep an eye on the athletes.
“Later, parents will also be invited for the educational sessions. They need to know and understand what we’re doing for their children.
“During the sessions, athletes are required to write down what food they eat to see if they’re eating the right food,” she elaborated.
Fried foods are a no-no because they burn up energy and spicy foods are also strongly discouraged.
The athletes need to know what is the “real food” they should eat and what food is good for recovery.
Jennet joins the athletes during shopping to advise them on the best choice of food.
Although she also looks after the athletes from Centre of Excellence and Centre of Development, her main focus is on the elite athletes.
With over 24 sports and almost 200 athletes to look after, she conducts workshops on requests from the sports development officers.
Jennet works closely with the Strength and Conditioning (S&C) unit, the Sports Psychology unit and others within the High-Performance Unit apart from senior nutritionists in ISN to get the latest updates and case studies on training regimens and nutrition.
“I ask the S&C unit what kind of training the athletes are getting so l can prepare the right kind of fruit juices to aid their recovery.
“For example, if the athletes do hypertrophy training, l prepare hypertrophy juices to help them recover after the exercise.
The former quality controller of a food company will be setting up a recovery bar at the Sarawak Sports Corporation (SCC) Gym in the Sarawak Stadium to prepare recovery juices for the athletes based on the type of training and workouts in the gym.
“I need to make sure the athletes have a good recovery and prevent them from getting injured,” she stressed.
Apart from teaching the athletes how to prepare their dietary requirements, Jennet also provides them with supplements, especially the elite athletes.
“The supplements will be given based on the needs of individual athletes and the nature of their sports.
“If the sports require the athletes to grow muscles, we give them supplements which have heavy proteins for faster absorption, repair and re-building after training.”
Her greatest challenge is time management to help the targeted group of athletes.
She is on a seven-day work schedule as some athletes are young and cannot come for assessment because of school on weekdays. To go for an assessment, the athletes need to fast.
Jennet is grateful for the few weeks of assistance from four students from Universiti Malaysia Sabah who completed their internship at HPU last month.
The SSC is looking to get two more staffers to help Jennet with the supplements, one to be stationed permanently in Sibu to cater to the elite athletes training in the Central and Northern Zones.
For now, a staffer from Sarawak State Sports Council will be assigned to help her.
Although the work is hectic, Jennet enjoys it because she loves to help and see fellow Sarawakians excel in sports and go on to compete at the highest level.
Athletes must not only have proper nutrition and undergo physical and fitness training but also be well prepared mentally for competitions.
HPU sports psychologists Chong Siew Kian and Rejina Jasin are fully occupied with athletes from over 30 sports.
They help the athletes cope with competition pressures and enhance their performance by using various mental strategies such as visualisation, self-talk and relaxation techniques to help them achieve their full potential.
Chong joined the Sarawak Sports Corporation in 2017 and became a member of the High-Performance Unit (HPU) in October last year.
“We try to inspire the athletes. It depends on them and what they want.
“Support from schools and parents and the athletes’ commitment to training are very important,” she pointed out.
According to Chong, athletes tend to experience pre-match anxiety, of which there are two types – cognitive anxiety and somatic anxiety.
“The athletes need to overcome stress to perform to their potential. They also need to be educated on the importance of mental toughness and getting treatment, if they are injured, via one-to-one sessions.”
Chong and Rejina are attached to the teams during centralised and decentralised training to observe the athletes and find out what their problems are.
“We also follow the athletes to competitions because we want to know and understand their sports better. When the athletes compete to gain exposure, we want to gauge their potential from a psychological perspective.
“We work closely with the coaches who are willing to accept us to overcome the various mental obstacles experienced by their athletes.
“There’re some experienced coaches who do not respond well to us and our services because they may have undergone various sports science courses and gained knowledge from websites and feel they can train the athletes to achieve a high level of performance.
“In some cases, the athletes might not be ready for our intervention,” Chong noted.
Generally, Chong and Rejina conduct motivation and team-building camps, seminars and workshops where the coaches are invited.
“Our biggest challenge is that time is not on our side and we’re a small unit. Now with Covid-19 and the Standard Operating Procedures to follow, there are limitations, especially in the attendance of the participants and the need for social distancing. There are many activities not advisable to conduct.
“During the Movement Control Order, we conducted online psychology sessions and provided the athletes and coaches with vital information.
“The athletes were asked to do goal-setting and we also encouraged the coaches to do goal-setting for the athletes,” Chong disclosed.
She pointed out that both coaches and athletes alike must understand it is a long-term process to build up mental strength and confidence.
“You don’t produce medal winners in one week or one month,” she said.