Sunday, August 17, 2008

Food, Sports and India

India’s shooter Abhinav Bindra won an Olympics gold medal for 10 m rifle event in the Beijing Olympics. It took 108 years for India to win a gold medal in an individual event in Olympics. There are so many reasons for India doing really bad in sports – lack of infrastructure, lack of good mentors, insecurity among the sportsperson – are few of the factors. But don’t you think that food habits followed by majority of Indians plays a major role in preventing Indians from excelling in sports that require tremendous amount of stamina and strength?

Recently I was playing cricket near my home in a baseball field and the ball went to the other end of the field. There was a kid around 7 years old practicing baseball with his father. He took the ball and threw it back to us. The throw was so fast and accurate that all of us were shocked – Shocked at seeing a 7 year old throwing back the ball from such a far distance.

This American kid stays in the same apartment complex as I do and I had a chance to talk to his parents. I thought he may be doing some weight training but his parents told me that he doesn’t do anything other than running and some baseball practice. Then how come this kid has tremendous power to throw the ball so far? I asked his parents his food habits. He has either red or white meat for all his meals. I haven’t seen an Indian kid aged 7 years old who can throw so far nor seen an Indian kid following the same diet. So I cannot compare but if this kid decides to become a sportsperson in the latter stage of his life, it will be much easy for him as he has enough strength already in the body.

Another incident that come to my mind – I have a Chinese friend with whom I was working during in Masters in Arizona State University. One day my wife and I went to her house and from there three of us went for swimming. I was struggling to complete 25 meters but in one go she swam 2.5 miles without stopping even once. It seems she never had any formal swimming training. After swimming we went to her house for dinner and all the dishes she cooked had either beef or pork. She was telling us that she doesn’t know how to cook with just vegetables alone! She was not an exception. In the last seven years I have seen a lot of Chinese students with tremendous stamina. Mind you none of them are professionals in sports nor did they get any professional training. I cannot recollect an Indian friend who studied with me in engineering who could do something similar like swimming 2.5 miles at once.

Combine these stories with the medal tally of the Beijing Olympics – what does that tell you? Eating habits do play a role in developing the sportsman in you.

Now consider India. We have a world champion in chess in the form of Viswanathan Anand, top employees of the Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, Google etc are Indians. But when it comes to sports we don’t find Indians excel at all, why?

Let us take the case of field hockey. We were the undisputed world champions in field hockey when it was played in grass turf. Come the synthetic track for hockey and to play in such a track you need more stamina and strength and we are no way near the world class. Are we lacking strength and stamina due to the food habits? Very much possible.

Take the case of China – of course the administration there provides necessary infrastructure for the development of sports but don’t you think the Chinese food – rich in meat makes a Chinese kid a better sportsman even at a young age compared to his counterpart in India?

According to 2001 census, more than 80% of the Indian population is Hindus and for religious reasons more than 90% of the Hindus don’t eat red meat and my guess is that at least 50% of Hindus don’t eat any meat at all. If my observation that eating meat helps in increasing the strength and stamina which in turn will help them become a better sportsman is true, then more than half of the Indian population is outside this criteria.

Talking about cricket, you may have wondered how cricketers like Mathew Hayden, Shahid Afridi, Inzamam-ul Haq get this raw power to hit six after six, it is mainly to do with the food habits they had in the early stage of their life. You can fine tune your muscles using scientific training but the initial stuff has to be in your body. I remember reading some where how Insamam-ul Haq got into Pakistan team. He was batting for some local team and Imran Khan was watching the game. Inzamam hit a six that went way out of ground and seeing that Imran Khan asked Inzamam to come and practice with the Pakistan cricket team and rest is history. Inzamam at that stage never had any formal physical training and all the strength he had to hit that huge six came from the kind of food he ate that essentially was meat.

Don’t mistake me – I am fully aware that eating excess meat is bad for health. What I am advocating here is, let the kids in India start having food that has more meat in it to improve their physical strength and stamina so that they can excel later in sports and compete with world class athletes and come out with flying colors.


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Anonymous Sarath said...

Let me ask you this simple many parents in India will let their kids spend time improving their 'sports skills' instead of asking them to go for tuitions and improve their maths/science skills. Straight question..will you let your kids go that way? Maybe you will...but I can guarantee majority of the indian parents won't.

As usual you develop big theories based on very few examples which I don't think is enough to generalise such statements.
I am pretty sure in a country like India there will be atleast 100 kids who can throw better than that baseball kid that you saw...but the difference is, there won't be even a single parent who will spot that talent and let him develop it. Thats not the case in U.S or u.s if its the family who does that job, in China its the government. Both serves the same purpose to a great extent and both are absent in India.

In such a situation if the whole country start consuming food like americans do then within a generation we will have the largest obese population and nothing else :P!

August 17, 2008 2:56 AM  
Anonymous Ajith said...


This is the link bt a US Citizen who is originally from Gujarath who got bronze medal in Gymnastics.As per your logic he shouldnt get a medal.This guy is a pure vegetarian.So the point is its not the diet , its the system , process which builds sportsmen in our country is missing. What we need is
1: Revamp the entire system and keep it independent of politics.Whom ever in charge of sports should be either a participant or top level performer in that field.

2:Private partnership for infrastructure.Abhinav wouldnt have won medal if he used govt infrastructure to practise.In US even the local parks has got synthetic tracks where as in india may be the entire state have a couple of tracks !!!!!...

August 17, 2008 5:54 AM  
Blogger Raghu said...

yes..very right../ food habits are very important.. on a large scale ..esp Olympics !!

August 17, 2008 3:02 PM  
Blogger MayilVahanan said...

I agree with your point that eating red meat supplies you with lots of protein. I think you are overstating the contribution of red meat to Olympics and sports in general to Indians. We are a confused generation in customs and culture including food habits. We don't have the same food habits as last generation. Our food habits has changed and we are not eating healthy vegetarian foods on a regular basis. I know many people at ASU who were vegetarians and had great physique, stamina etc. If you eat healthy food, it helps. Read this article on Tony Gonzales, Tight End for Kansas City Chiefs. He is a Neo Vegan, he does not eat red meat. He weighs 251 pounds and plays as well as anybody else.;_ylt=AoVX5Gm7ccFBU3Lvpm81.dxDubYF?slug=ms-thegameface081508&prov=yhoo&type=lgns

Again, I reiterate eating red meat is one of the easy way out, but it is not the answer to our sporting woes.

August 17, 2008 7:10 PM  
Blogger bkrish said...

Brijesh... I think you are missing the root cause of the problem. Food habits is just a minor cause for india's poor performance in Olympics.

M.S Dhoni who is known for his powerful shots, was a veg before he moved into Indian Team.

Yuvraj singh is again a veg.

Edwin Corley Moses who won gold medal at 400m hurdles(76 and 84 olympics) is a veg.

Ruth Heidrich (a Vegan) is a six-time Ironman Triathlon finisher, holder of more than 900 gold medals from every distance from 100 meter dashes to 5K road races to ultra marathons and triathlons. She has completed more than 60 marathons all over the world, including Boston, New York, Moscow, and has held 3 world fitness records in her age group at the famed Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas. She also was named one of the "Top Ten Fittest Women in North America" in 1999.(Courtesy:

So I dont feel that being a non veg has to correlate with the amount of medals we get in Olympics. As Sarath said its just a matter of attitude of people. How many of our parents motivate us to be a sportsman. Every parent in India want their child to be an engineer or doctor. The crux of the problem lies here, and not our eating habits.

August 17, 2008 7:29 PM  
Blogger drsubbu said...

Dear Brijesh,
First of all I am very glad that an Indian has won a Gold medal in a solo event in Beijing Olypics now.
I read with interest about your views on physical stamina and meat ingredients in the US and Chinese food and lack of it in Indian Fooods(particularly Hindus-Brahmins) Some commentators have pointed out successful vegtarian sportsmaen. I have a Brahmin friend who splays tennis for a very many years. He is a pure vegetarian I have admired and used to be amazed at his physical stamina.
Eating red meat and junk food combined with lack of excercises has been singularly identified as a major cause of childhood obesity in both US and UK. But eating protein rich food such as lean red meat without fat combined with good physical activities has its own advantages.
Coming to the interest of Sports among Indians- Our country is still a developing country without individual security of future for any individual. Our Govt is corrupt. Only rich kids can offord good sporting equipments and ability to participate in regular sports activities. There are enormous children in Indian vilages where they no facilities whatsoever. Parents are always worried about the children's future. they are in a way right in making sure that their children study well and secure good marks to secure a place in good and professional courses so that they can secure a safe paying jobs. It is true in sports particularly in crickets and in UK foot ball -foot ballers with very little brain easily get 5 year contract for 30 million pounds. But for every one like that there atleat 1000 ambitious youg foot ballers who don't even reach local foot ball club. There are no guarantes!
As a young boy I never had a chance to kick a ball in my village. I naturally accepted that sports is not for me and I concentrated in succeeding academically and my hobby became,lierature, language ,magazines'novels'cinemas and Music!. I have No regrets.
But I certainly share your concern about the gap in our Indian children's sporting ability. But I can't see the food habit as the main reason for that.

August 17, 2008 10:31 PM  
Blogger Brijesh Nair said...

What I am telling is that food is one of the many factors. The factors you and others mentioned places a more important role but I feel food also plays a big role.

I went through the link and other links about Raj Bhavsar but in none of the link I could find he is a vegetarian.

I agree with you. Eating meat in not the complete answer to our sporting woes but one of the many factors affecting the growth of sports in India.

I knew bowlers Sreenath and Ishanth Sharma are vegetarians. I never knew that Yuvraj was a vegetarian.

Uncle, being a doctor you are the most appropriate person to comment on this topic. Thanks a lot for the well written comment.

August 17, 2008 10:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being in the US you should know that Red meat is one of major attributes to obesity. One of our frnds here in NJ has their 14yr old girl excelling in tennis, but they think she unable to shine becos she is not eating meat. But now since the girl is eating high protein veg diet it is providing her her the stamina to sustain longer.

Our country is driven by the idealogy that Knowledge is Wealth, which is why parents do not encourage playing anything. as the Dr has said "Parents are always worried about the children's future. they are in a way right in making sure that their children study well and secure good marks to secure a place in good and professional courses so that they can secure a safe paying jobs." this is what they seek and until the local/state governments give more importance to college and school level sporting activities, we will not be able to see progress in sport in India.

It was quite painful to see 1billion nation of people being represented by 56 sportmen in Olympics. now when i point a finger out there I can see the three fingers pointing at me, i hang ma head in shame.. take it cool bro..


August 18, 2008 1:13 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Interesting post. I was surprised when I first heard that this was India's first individual gold. While I do agree that eating meat can provide necessary nutrients that can be beneficial to athletic development, there are plenty of supplements to replace the need. Also, I've never felt sports were as important as many people feel they are--intelligence is always better.

August 19, 2008 5:24 AM  

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