“Life Outside the Lines” is a 7-part weekly column in collaboration with one of India’s promising Gen Next player, Mukund Sasikumar. With candid honesty, he shares his thoughts from a player’s perspective.

Read the previous episodes here –

I asked MOM what I should pick for my last episode and she said fitness and nutrition. So, this episode goes to her which is something I didn’t think of. To conclude, it’s been an absolute pleasure to write all the blogs and not sure how many liked it, but I learnt a lot while writing it. Thank you, Indian tennis daily for being such a wonderful platform and Vandana for coordinating all the blogs in a wonderful way. To write about fitness and diet is not a small subject. But we can try and squeeze some info today.

India has come a very long way in fitness and nutrition in the past decade. In 2010 as I remember, fitness in majority meant running laps around a football field, skipping, sprints etc., and look where we have reached today. We have many world-class centres in India now with the best of equipment, many world-class trainers who have all the knowledge. But do players, tennis coaches and parents utilise them enough? That’s a million-dollar question. Are parents willing to invest the same money they invest for a tennis coach on fitness? Well, they should because fitness is the petrol for the body. It can’t run for a long time without it. Also, one more mistake the people make is, they confuse how the player looks vs how fit he actually is. If a player is ripped and is running fast in India, he is considered super-fit sometimes. But does anyone check how stable his shoulder is, is the hip imbalanced to one side due to playing lot of tennis, is the ankle mobile enough etc. Often another problem is, people fail to understand tennis fitness is a whole new dimension in fitness. Which means how able are you in optimising your fitness level to play tennis and have all the necessary physical abilities to play tennis close to your best level.

Many athletes are generally super fit in the gym but may not be able to perform well on court. The reason I lost out a lot on fitness in my early ages was lack of stringent guidance. Someone didn’t give me a reality check to say you are not fit enough. At 15, I did realise and did what I could do. But today there is no dearth of guidance, but there is still a lot of ignorance. People don’t want to invest in anything outside the tennis court but at times, fitness and physiotherapy are more important than playing itself. They also expect trainers and physios to work for menial costs but their job is nothing less than a tennis coach, effort-wise. One of the reasons is fitness can’t be seen by a parent or felt by the player himself immediately. Even to lose 2 per cent body fat it takes a very long time, whereas in tennis if you change a forehand which is bad, it is immediately better in 3 days. But to make your shoulder stronger it takes weeks of effort and time which even some players are not ready to invest. But trust me guys, it is THE most important aspect of today’s sport. And it’s worth to invest a lot of money if needed in the right person.

Nutrition in India today is a bunch of wrong ideas. One of the worst ones being, judging someone by how they look. Most of them need to understand, adopting a healthy way of eating is to not look good or perform good, but primarily to be healthy for the longest possible time – whether or not you play tennis or any sport. I am a product of wrong guidance, which is why I faced obesity when I was young. I was given sweets for energy, kaju barfi to be precise, Milk for strength with complan otherwise, I wouldn’t drink it due to taste with added sugar. So I was taking poison for many years of my life. What I hate to watch is order a full unhealthy meal, but say diet coke in the end to show off you are on a diet. Even I am not perfect at times. But I have had 5 colas in the last 6 years, maybe less. Not able to follow a healthy diet while at tournaments is an excuse. It’s just a lack of effort and not anything else. Of course, you may not find kale and aloe vera in china but you can find a dish with vegetables in any cuisine. To take the nutritionists’ case, many of them sit in an AC room and don’t understand the life of a travelling athlete, what it is to actually play a match. Very few out there know the real situation and availability of certain products when you travel which has to get better. Finally, my advice would be don’t eat by how you look or perform. Even if you are super fit try to eat healthy because you want to be healthy after your career as well. Don’t think, I have a six-pack and I don’t get fat so I can eat whatever I want. Food is more than that. My recommended nutrition plan generalised? What your Indian great grandfather ate might be perfect. Organic, balanced and tasty. Many of our authentic thalis are the best-balanced meals in the world.

I was overweight by 18 kilos so I just don’t want anyone to make that mistake. Bottomline, milk is for the calf of the cow and not for you, Complan or Boost doesn’t give you energy or height it gives you fat , chocolate doesn’t give you energy in a match, banana does. Spending money on a Physio is very basic and it’s not extravagant and not just meant for pro players. Hope it made sense. Been a great time all of you. When I feel the time is right again I will be back……

Until then,

Mukund Sasikumar

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