Two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar’s fitness mantra is simple: “Every day there should be an improvement.” The old adage, “easier said than done”, has perhaps never been more apt.
Kumar, who has transformed from an Incredible Hulk to this lean, mean machine in the last four years is known to be really passionate about his fitness. He competes in a sport which is associated with mud and mats and is not considered glamorous at all. Yet Kumar’s physique is a topic of study among people doing or wanting to get into bodybuilding.
What a change. “A couple of years ago, a physique like Sushil's looked daunting and not something one would aspire to,” says Ryan Fernando, founder of Qua Fitness, a Bangalore-based nutrition consultancy.
|CAN YOU DO ALL THIS?|
|WHAT HE EATS
|HIS FITNESS REGIME
Fernando happens to be Kumar’s nutritionist. He knows how hard his famous client works to maintain his physique. “He is in a sport where he has to watch his weight. There is no other option,” says the 37-year-old nutritionist. Kumar competes in the 66 kg category and cannot afford to let his weight fluctuate.
On his official Facebook fan page, Kumar has fans writing things like “Bhai, apni jaisi body banwa do” (Please help me build a body like yours) and other messages asking for the secrets of his success and physique. Kumar, or whoever manages his Facebook account, does reply to certain messages. For instance, to a man who writes that he too wants to represent his country in wrestling, Kumar says, “The more you sweat, the more you succeed.”
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When he is in training, the 28-year-old wrestler consumes about 3,600 calories a day, and his diet is high in proteins and carbohydrates. As for fat, it is virtually forbidden. When he is not in training and is participating in a competition, his calorie count comes down to 1,600 a day. Three days before any competition, most wrestlers switch to a light diet of mainly fruits, dry fruits and juices. If a wrestler is even half a kilogramme more than the correct weight he or she can be disqualified from the event. Fernando, who also works with other athletes, including cricketer Robin Uthappa, says that wrestlers, like boxers, have to be extra cautious.
Kumar says he cannot remember the last time he drank a cola drink. He never eats out. Even when he travels abroad for a competition, he sticks to potatoes, milk and fruits. “I have never found him overweight,” says Fernando. “Nor does he skip on eating anything that is a part of his plan.”
The trickiest part of Kumar's diet is that he is a strict vegetarian. When he suffered a leg injury, he started to eat eggs for muscle building. He only eats eggs — omelettes and eggs mixed with milk, that is — when he is advised to do so. He is no foodie and has no favourite cuisine as such. When he has a craving for sweets — which is very rare — he does indulge in a bit of gajar ka halwa.
Kumar and Fernando meet every three months to take stock of things and, depending on whether Kumar is going for a competition, his diet is altered (see box for his detailed diet plan). Every day he drinks 3 kg of fresh milk and eats a bowlful of white butter, and every month he eats 10-15 kg of almonds. Apart from this he eats rotis, pulses, sprouts and fruits.
Kumar’s coach and former Asian Games gold medallist, pehalwan Satpal Singh says that he has no disciple more dedicated than Kumar. “I have seen him since he was 11, and his passion for staying fit has grown manifold,” says Singh. Singh says that Kumar does a lot of rope-climbing — about 100 climbs a day — to make his arms stronger. The exercise strengthens the abs as well. For stronger thighs and legs, he does sit-ups — a staggering 150. And he does at least 400-500 push-ups.
Kumar says his days start as early as 4 am. He begins his morning session at 4.30 am and it continues till 9 am. After a breakfast of parathas, curd and a glass of juice, he works on his wrestling techniques till lunch. The evening session, from 6 pm to 8 pm, includes a lot of running and some gym work on certain days of the week. “I can’t afford to slack even for a day," he says, "as it might have an effect on my body weight.”
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How does one get a body like Sushil Kumar's? According to Fernando, it is difficult to achieve such a physique, as it only comes with hours and hours of rigorous training, every single day, and a level of dedication that is rare to find.
Still, if you are going to try then you should know that the biggest challenge is maintaining your weight. “Stop eating fat of any sort, to begin with,” says the nutritionist, and make your diet heavy in protein and carbohydrate. After all, Kumar's physique is not about just muscle, but about incredible body strength as well. In fact Kumar’s body is not overly muscular. He is stocky and is built like a tank.
You should also be prepared to run — a lot, and preferably outdoors. Kumar does cross-country 10 km runs once a week. On other days he runs 2-3 km at least, apart from sprints. “Spend time running outdoors and not on the treadmill,” says Praveen Kumar, personal trainer at a Mumbai-based chain of gyms.
Kumar does not spend a lot of time weight training.
He does work in the gym, but that effort is not directed toward just the idea of adding of muscle. A wrestler, Kumar says, needs strength more than he needs muscles. Squat jumps and push-ups help in building body strength. In the akharas, most wrestlers do the rope climbing and often indulge in mini games of seeing who comes out on top. His coach says that it is very rare to see anyone but Kumar to come out on top in such activities. “It is a junoon he has and single-minded determination to do everything he can to win,” says Singh.
The one part of his body that Kumar does work extremely hard is his legs. His coach says that, at times, he is amazed to see the agility with which Kumar grapples in the ring. “Cheeteh ki furti ke saath ladta hai,” he says, comparing his ward’s agility with that of a leopard.
That covers diet and gym work — but it is still not enough to bring you a Kumar-like physique. You will also need time. Expect to give this endeavour six to eight hours a day. Find a nutritionist and a coach. Kumar credits Fernando for helping him organise his diet perfectly. His coach, Satpal Singh, keeps a close watch on his workouts. His fellow wrestlers at the Chhatrasal stadium look up to him as an inspiration, not just in terms of his achievements but the way he carries himself and looks after his physique.
Other than expert support, Kumar attributes his physique to hard work and dedication. “It has become a part of my life and, apart from Sundays, I haven’t missed a day of training in the last 12 years.”
Winning two Olympic medals, bronze in Beijing and silver in London, is not an achievement easily made. But this wrestler's mantra remains simple: make a difference every single day.