Running at lightning speed does not require one to wear a red bodysuit and a yellow flash on the chest like the DC comic book character Flash. It apparently just requires that you top up on your yams. Ask Usain Bolt.
Or even our Olympic gold medallist Keshorn Walcott, who it is said, ate a lot of yams and dasheen as a boy before he rose to world javelin fame.
Locally we have eaten yams for most of our lives. But when Bolt became the fastest man in track events, the root vegetable was upgraded to "magical" by the rest of the world.
A recent study by Prof Errol Morrison of the University of Technology in Jamaica found that the yams and green bananas Jamaican athletes eat as their staple foods provide steroid-like properties. He admitted that his findings are not absolute but told the Jamaica Observer that yam produces Hypo Steroids which acts as a stimulus and that green bananas contain phytate which replenish the energy supply in muscle.
Given the success of Bolt , the Jamaica's Olympic team and Walcott, is it safe to say that yams should be included in the diet of budding Olympians?
Nutritionist Germaine La Borde of the Eric Williams Sciences Complex, found it all amusing the association of yams and Olympic success.
"I don't know that yams make someone run faster, swim further, climb higher but it is the preferred source of energy."
La Borde said yams and other ground provisions, including green bananas, are energy-giving food.
"They are carbohydrates that are a store for glycogen which is released slowly in the body and could sustain an athlete for long periods when they are training."
A balanced diet for anyone – including budding athletes – is important for performance and endurance and should be sourced from the diet of the six food groups (vegetables, fats and oils, foods from animals, fruits, legumes and nuts, staples)," La Borde said.
"The more active the child is the more calories they should consume." Exercise could be taxing on the body so it is a good idea for parents of aspiring athletes to get a dietician involved to help calculate how much energy is expended on a daily basis and to draw up a diet plan."
An athlete's diet is no one-size-fits-all and depends on their different disciplines. A runner loses 100 calories for every mile run. He would have to consume 4,500 calories to replace what he burns on a normal day plus what he burns on his run.
Female swimmers require 2,000 to 3,000 calories; male athletes require 3,000. Olympic swimmers require 6,000 calories daily and they follow a diet that is low in fat and high in carbohydrates.
Fluids, particularly water, are also important to the diet, La Borde said, especially in climates such as ours.
The Colorado State University Extension recommends that before athletes start any event they should be hydrated. They are also encouraged to drink chilled fluids during their training since chilled fluids are absorbed faster than fluids at room temperature and help to lower body temperature
What an athlete eats pre-and-post-training is also critical, La Borde said.
A pre -event meal should consist of carbohydrates and should be eaten three to four hours before an event. A meal that contains protein, carbohydrates and fat should be consumed half an hour following training and provide 500 to 1,000 calories. Foods with fats and fibre are not recommended since they are slow to digest and cause cramp and discomfort.
Foods to eat before,
during and after training
• Carbohydrate foods like bananas, bagels or fruit juices. These foods are broken down quickly and provide glucose to the muscles. The timing of this meal depends on athletes' preference for eating before exercise, but researchers have found that eating something from one to four hours before exercise helps keep plenty of blood glucose available for working muscles. It is also critical to drink plenty of cool water before exercise to keep muscles hydrated.
• Perspiration and exertion deplete the body of fluids necessary for an optimal performance and lead to dehydration. It is important to drink plenty of cool water, at least a half a cup of water every 20 minutes of exercise. Adding a teaspoon of sugar, a little fruit juice or a small amount of powdered drink mix flavours plain water and may encourage fluid intake. Usually there is no need to worry about replacing carbohydrates unless the exercise lasts over 90 minutes and is hard and continuous. When this happens, drinking a sports drink or other beverage with some sugar in it will fuel and water to the muscles being exercised. Make a homemade sports drink by mixing no more than four teaspoon of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and some flavouring (like a teaspoon of lemon juice) in 8 ounces of water.
If the exercise was strenuous and lasted a long time, consume foods and beverages that are high in carbohydrates right after exercise to replenish glycogen stores if they are low after exercising. No matter the intensity of the exercise, it's important to drink plenty of water and eat a nutritious, balanced meal that has lots of carbohydrate rich foods such as grains, pastas, potatoes, vegetables and fruits.– www.fitness.gov.