As 2020 begins, athletes around the world are preparing for the year’s largest sporting event — the Tokyo Olympics — in August. Indonesian athletes will be represented, particularly badminton players and weightlifters, who stand a better chance of winning medals than their compatriots.
The road to the Olympics, however, is winding and rough. Not everyone can compete in the world’s most prestigious multisport event. Athletes must go through qualifying rounds or meet qualifying times to be eligible to compete in Tokyo. Preparations begin long before the real medal race kicks off in the summer.
Indonesia is aiming higher this year than in previous Olympics. But the challenge for our athletes is not limited to hours of disciplined training to improve their technical skills or physical endurance.
For the athletes, it will be difficult to maintain a strict and healthy diet. In a country where gorengan (fried snacks) are king and instant noodles are a staple food, the athletes will have to struggle to resist such temptations.
It is public knowledge that Indonesian athletes lag behind their foreign counterparts when it comes to nutritional management. This deficit is perhaps one of the reasons behind our relative lack of achievements in the Olympics and other world-level competitions.
As sports nutritionist Emilia Elfiranty Ahmadi said, our athletes eat three times a day only to fill their stomach. “For athletes, eating is part of the job. It takes commitment to supply their bodies with proper food, which requires [nutritionist] supervision,” she said.
Only a few sports organizations in Indonesia — such as the Indonesian Track and Field Association (PASI) and the Badminton Association of Indonesia (PBSI) — hire doctors and nutritionists to help manage their athletes’ diets.
Top athletes are supported by a physician, a nutritionist, a masseur and a psychologist — in addition to coaches — to stay in their best shape, according to the Youth and Sports Ministry’s Eminence Sport Medicine and Human Performance Center director Andi Kurniawan. “In Indonesia, the aforementioned roles are mostly played by coaches,” he said.
Maintaining a strict diet is not impossible. Indonesian swimmer I Gede Siman Sudartawa received a sponsorship from Japanese food seasoning brand Ajinomoto in 2017, allowing access to healthy and nutritious food through the company’s Kachimeshi (Winning Meals) program, a global program that promotes eating well.
In 2016, Indonesia’s Olympic weightlifting team received a sponsorship from major Australian beef producer Elders.
Indonesia’s newly hired national soccer team head coach Shin Tae-yong, from South Korea, likely understands the correlation between a good diet and sports achievements. His soaring career as soccer player and coach are evidence of this. While he has set his sights on improving his players’ poor physical fitness, he may need a good nutritionist in addition to a physical trainer with World Cup experience.
Athletes have to be responsible for their own bodies and, therefore, have to follow a healthy diet to support their performance and sustain their careers.
Learning from the best practice in certain sports organizations, the National Olympic Committee could work with the private sector to improve athletes’ nutrition to help our Olympic dreams come true.