Indonesia’s shuttlers have often faltered in major tournaments, but a lack of stamina may no longer be an issue if the team’s nutritionist has anything to say about it.
The Indonesian Badminton Association (PBSI) has brought on Dr. Laila Hamid to regulate the athletes’ diets during the last few months of intensive training ahead of the World Championships in London next week.
Laila, a sports nutritionist who previously worked with the PBSI, was an essential factor in Indonesia’s two titles at the 2007 World Championships in Kuala Lumpur, when Nova Widianto and Liliyana Natsir won mixed doubles and Markis Kido and Hendra Setiawan took the top spot in men’s doubles.
After Djoko Santoso was re-elected as PBSI chairman in early 2008, however, Laila’s contract was not renewed. The association did not explain the decision.
Indonesian shuttlers began faltering in major tournaments, though, and the PBSI discovered that diet was one of the athletes’ main problems.
The organization asked her to rejoin, which she did in May after signing an 18-month contract. She instituted a rigorous diet program aimed at getting the shuttlers ready in time for the World Championships, which are set for Aug. 8-14 in London.
“As soon as we reached the deal, I started working with the athletes’ menu,” Laila said. “It was quite hard because I had to change everything on the list.”
She said a better nutritional intake would help athletes reach short-term goals, such as preventing them from suffering injury and maintaining concentration during tournaments.
“It has higher costs, of course, but the PBSI showed its commitment by allocating more of its budget for the menu,” Laila said.
One of her biggest challenges was to diversify the menu so the athletes would not get bored with the same foods.
“They come from different areas with different foods,” she said. “It is a big challenge for me to serve them their favorite foods and still provide the nutrition they need. I need to be more creative.”
On their days off, athletes are allowed to enjoy food outside the camp. Laila said she did not want to control their behavior and allowed them decide what to eat outside.
“I never tell them the do’s and don’ts because it only leads them to cheat,” she said. “But I always tell them what is best for them and I think they do it well. I spare my time for them to discuss food they want to order outside the camp. It can be by text messages or phone calls.”
One of the more attentive shuttlers is women’s doubles specialist Greysia Polii. The current world No. 7 has kept Laila busy while outside the camp.
“I keep texting her whenever I want to eat something outside the camp,” Gresia said. “She’s been really helpful. I know I should be aware of what I eat as a national athlete, because if we don’t care, who will?”
Greysia has lost two kilograms since Laila rejoined the team.
Another challenge was deciding what the shuttlers should eat during a match. Losing energy during a match can cause athletes to suffer from hypoglycemia, a state produced by lower-than-normal levels of blood sugar, Laila said. Hypoglycemia can cause impaired mental function, causing the athletes to lose focus more easily.
A recent invention known as energy gel, she said, is the answer.
Laila’s program has brought about improvements. Athletes have shown progress in a number of areas, including body fat index.
Greysia is one of the shuttlers enjoying the benefits of the program, saying she feels more powerful and healthier.
“I can feel my endurance, power and speed getting better,” the 23-year-old said. “It’s proof that physical training is useless without balanced nutrition.”
Rising mixed doubles star Tontowi Ahmad said the program was helpful.
“Usually I don’t know what I need to eat,” said Tontowi, who has won three titles this year with his partner, Liliyana Natsir. “Through this program, I know how to select healthy foods.”
Food alone does not make one a great athlete, Laila said. Hard work is still a very big part of the equation.
But as the saying goes, you are what you eat, and good nutrition can help athletes on the path to greatness.