Hitting your peak: Interview with Ryan Fernando
One of our goals at Forca Goa Foundation is to ensure that we develop a pool of talent at the grassroots level that can perform at the highest stage.
We understand that it takes more than just regular training to get our children across our 16 centers to keep up with the required pace. In order to help our children, we have tied up with Qua Nutrition, the country’s largest Nutrition Clinic, to deliver special nutrition workshops at all our grassroots centers.
At these workshops, we hope to educate the children as well as their parents about the importance of the right kind of foods that will help our junior gaurs be faster and stronger than the competition.
We caught up with Ryan Fernando, founder of Qua Nutrition, to understand more about the impact the right kind of diet can have on a player.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey with Qua Nutrition and how it all began?
RF: My journey with Qua Nutrition started around 7 years ago. I used to work with companies that sold products like sports drinks, protein powders, green tea extracts etc. Every time I sold these products, I had a team of nutritionists with me and provided a nutrition plan because our customers wanted to align their diets with the products. I realized that this was an important component not only in the sporting fraternity but also for everyday living. I decided to form my own clinic and call it Qua Nutrition because Qua in Latin means ‘in capacity of’. We wanted each person to discover his or her capacity for nutrition. It’s not someone else’s diet but an individual diet plan, designed and customised for an individual. I started the nutrition clinic in 2010 in Bangalore and over the years I’ve expanded to 9 clinics employing over 40 dieticians. Today we’re India’s largest diet company. I can proudly say that this is a Goan company, that’s completely self-funded, I’ve put every ounce of my sweat, and blood into it and built it brick by brick with brilliant staff and a lot of them have been part of this journey from the start.
How much of an impact does following the right nutrition make for a professional athlete?
RF: It’s a huge impact. Athletes buy high-end equipment, pay for good coaching, and get the high-end infrastructure for their training, but their diet still remains very cultural. It needs to get scientific. When it gets scientific, we have proven through our work that it can help Sushil Kumar win two Olympic medals. We’ve been able to help a person break the Guinness World Record of non-stop aerobics for 26 hours. Give me a footballer for 6 months and I will show you fifteen parameters in his body that I can improve in his body. Parameters like oxygen carrying capacity, reducing the cholesterol level, dropping the uric acid which affects the joints, increase in vitamin levels etc. Simple dietary interventions of foods or supplements added to the program can really enhance the performance. So yes nutrition has a huge impact, but there isn’t awareness about its importance. That’s why the grassroots initiative that your NGO is doing is really important. Children need to understand from a very young age that if they learn to eat correctly, they are going to grow up to be very strong footballers that can challenge players internationally. Nutrition has to work for both growth as well as performance. When a player is not on a nutrition plan or on a plan that fuels only performance, growth gets stunted. These are small things that really have an impact.
Traditionally athletes did not pay too much attention to their diets? Do you see that changing now?
RF: I’ve seen this change happening in Europe. In Europe there’s sports genetic testing, to figure out how to plan the macro-ingredients for your requirements. Earlier it was taking two grams per kg of body weight, now people look at things like your gene structure, if it’s more carbohydrate based or protein based and they plan a diet around that. In India, it exists predominantly in cricket because there’s a lot of money in it, but we’re slowly having footballers coming to us as well. We’ve had footballers come to us but the awareness is still not there because they are mainly looking for a quick fix pill and nutrition is not that. Nutrition is a behavioral pattern; it’s a way of life. At Qua Nutrition, we pay a lot of attention to the counseling aspect so once we get that through, then we can figure out how we can go forward.
There’s a notion that following a proper diet plan is difficult and expensive, what are your thoughts on that?
RF: You can look at it both ways. Yes, I agree that it can be expensive, and it depends on how the nutritionists help the footballer. If I get a footballer who’s getting paid 1 crore per annum, I’ll recommend food products that are a little more expensive and that have a higher nutritional value. But, if it’s a lower league footballer who earns less then I’d source out local food products that don’t cost as much. For example, you can design a hydration solution with an Electoral and a glucose solution or you can buy a Gatorade depending on the client budget. We have to look at the economics of the situation and accordingly advice the player. To get a Ferrari to run, you can’t service it with a local mechanic. There has to be a significant change in mindset at both the club level and the player level in terms of investment. There’s been a shift in Goa now, and I’ve especially seen it in the last 6-8 months and people understand that a sport is profitable. People are getting passionate about sports and they’re willing to pay for that experience and the players are getting the remuneration. Now there’s additional pressure on the player to perform so they need every technique in the book to help them enhance their performance. I believe that nutrition makes up 70% of a players performance. That’s food for thought.
Qua nutrition has tied up with Forca Goa Foundation to provide a nutritional plan to over a 1000 kids in the grassroots program. What are the positives you see coming out of this?
RF: By touching base with these 1500 kids, I get to give back to society. I’m a Goan but I practice in Bangalore. What I’ve realized is that there are far better players across the country who have access to professional staff. I thought if I come to Goa and set up Qua Nutrition, I can interact with players. If I partner with an NGO like Forca Goa Foundation, I can start interacting with the future of Goan football when they are really young. If we can get good nutritional habits at a very young age, physiologically these children will grow up without lacking any physical attributes. Nutrition can be physically limiting for a player. If we can work and influence kids at a grassroots level, we have the ability to form behavioral mindsets that will last all through their life.
What are some of the key foods that young footballers need to have?
RF: One key food that’s always at the top of my list is curd, which is if the player isn’t lactose intolerant. Eggs are really important too. A playing footballer needs at least 3 eggs a day, whether he’s 7 or 17. The egg is the perfect post-game snack. I would love the players to have beetroot, in the form of a salad or a juice. Eating beetroot allows a footballer to increase his sprinting capacity. Dates are really good too. Footballers need to learn to pop 3-4 dates while they play, they act as instant energy pellets. When you start eating this way and play harder, you adapt to a faster game. Pineapples, Pomegranates, and banana are also great fruit for an athlete. Banana is the widest and cheapest fruit available. All footballers should aim to have a banana before practice and two bananas after practice. If they can do this, I can see huge amounts of nutrition going into their body that will really help them. In addition to this, there’s nachne or raagi, and if you’re a non-vegetarian, have fish instead of chicken. Fish contains omega 3 which reduces inflammation of muscles. Omega 3 also boost lung function which helps you go to the next level.
What are some common food habits that do more harm than good?
RF: We eat a lot of carbs in our diet in terms of rice and especially white rice. There’s this notion that brown rice is a poor man’s food. Brown or unpolished rice is actually healthier than white rice. Another problem is that Goans don’t include too many vegetables in their diet. We have to include a lot more leafy vegetables that are locally grown here in the diet. Also, it’s important to do shallow frying rather than deep frying when it comes to fish. If I want to give advice to young footballers, I would say that just how you like wearing a Manchester United shirt or Adidas boots, which are of a foreign origin, please learn to have a foreign palate. Don’t only train your taste buds for a Goan palate. Because when you go to different places you have to eat different types of food. Developing a global palate is extremely important because when you go to a new place, you can’t be psychologically depressed because the food isn’t to your liking.
A lot of young people don’t have access to professional nutritional services; do you have any advice or recommendations for them?
RF: One easy thing for people to get now is knowledge. Most people who are trying to up their game whether they’re 8 or 18 have access to the internet. Google is a great resource for basics. People need to know how much carbs, protein and fat they’re burning and what can they eat to replace them. This a basic form of self-help they can do. Other than this, and this is why we have tied up with your foundation, we want to make things accessible at a grassroots level and have seminars to teach people how to do things the right way. Ten years ago, they weren’t so many football coaches or academies in Goa. But now there are more of these and along with that, we have physiotherapists and trainers and masseurs coming in because the environment has grown. Similarly now you also see nutritionists coming in because academies need the right menus and catering and giving out home diets for people to follow and point people in the right direction.