My Diet and Fitness tips for The HealthSite
In a country obsessed with cricket, often other sports and sportsmen are sidelined and not given the kind of honour they deserve. Rehan Poncha, an Olympian swimmer, started his career at the age of 7 and has won several accolades at national and international levels. We speak to him about his successful journey as a swimmer and how he continues to inspire others with his swimming knowledge and experience. Excerpts from the interview.
Why did you decide to become a swimmer?
I stumbled into it by default. I was born prematurely and would often fall sick as a child. I used to have bronchitis and fever and so doctors advised my parents to get me into water, teach me how to swim and I loved it. I am also very competitive by nature and this led me to take part in several swimming competitions right from the age of 7.
How do you train to get better every day?
During my school days, I would wake up as early as 6 and be in the pool. After training for a few hours, I would attend school, on my way I would study in the car, train again and come back home only by night. This lasted till I was in school. After that, my day would begin at 5 am and I would train till 8 am. After half an hour of break, I would train in the gym and come back home by 11. Then I would sleep, get up and study (I was graduating in journalism) and then train again in the evening for a few hours. So I’ve had a pretty disciplined lifestyle and did have to make a few sacrifices as I did not have time to do anything else other than swim and study but looking back I think it was all worth it.
How has this journey been?
I retired from swimming at the age of 26 after having a successful career of 20 years. I consider myself a very lucky sportsman who has had several feats and feel all the hard work has paid off. A few big moments which I absolutely cherish are qualifying for the Beijing Olympics, getting the Arjuna Award and also being a sportsman with the maximum number of gold medals, twice. Being a national champion five times, winning medals internationally - these kept me motivated and are things I will cherish for the rest of my life.
What more do you plan to achieve?
After retiring from professional swimming a year ago, what I missed the most was the urge to race. But I’ve found a new sport which I love - golf. I spend the better part of my day playing the sport and getting better each day. To keep in touch with my love for swimming, I've started swim clinics called 'Swim Smart with Rehan Poncha' where I conduct two-day workshops for competitive swimmers. Right now they are held in Mumbai and Pune but I plan to conduct them in other cities as well. In these workshops, I give them motivational speeches as well as swimming tips. Smart hard work pays off better and that’s the idea behind the name.
What advice would you like to give to aspiring swimmers?
Choose the sport for the right reasons. If you are in it for the money or any other wrong reason, you won't be able to succeed or do justice to it. Also, once you decide to go for it, give it your complete dedication and hard work. Make sure you are in because you love it because then the sport will love you back.
Many people assume that since swimming is a complete body workout, they don't have to do anything else. Is that true? What else do they have to do?
No, I disagree totally. When you swim, of course you are engaging muscles that you may not necessarily work on in the gym. Most people swim to lose weight and get fitter. But, unless you are a good enough swimmer to be able to train 5-10 kilometres a day and work at that particular heart rate which requires you to lose weight, you are not really going to be successful. Yes, you can do an hour of swimming and it will help your muscles get more flexible and also prevent injuries, but you need to be going to the gym and doing your cardio exercises as well.
When I was a swimmer, I never needed to do much of cardio in the gym as I was training for several hours. But, now that I don't swim so much, I go into the gym and make sure I work out for an hour and a half.
Do you have any tips to prevent cramps due to fatigue and constant swimming?
Well, there are two things that I do and teach my students also to do it. First is that a lot of people forget to drink water and when they are asked to drink it then they have big gulps of water. One thing I have learnt over time is that many small sips of water is always better. Also, stretching is very important both before and after training.
What kind of a diet should a swimmer follow?
It all depends on the number of calories you are burning and how much you are training in the pool. But, a swimmer who is training lots of kilometres in a week needs to eat a lot of carbohydrates and a lot of protein. As a kid, I was encouraged to eat as much as I could. Junk food was okay once or twice in a week, but only after we had eaten all the right stuff. I would have eggs, toast and cereal for breakfast. Through the workout, I would have fruits or carbohydrate drinks. I liked to have a big lunch high on carbohydrates, so I would have rice with some sort of meat, either chicken, or mutton, or fish. Among them, I think fish is the best and I would advise it for growing kids. My dinner would be more of protein because protein helps recovery. Through the night, you need to recover and during lunch, you need more carbohydrates.
What is the right way to breathe when people are swimming?
Many people have this tendency to breathe on one side while doing freestyle. But, I always encourage swimmers to breathe on both sides, because otherwise there is an imbalance in strength.
Is there anything a person should do increase their speed while swimming?
As for speed, it depends on what kind of a swimmer you are. The training for a sprinter may be different from a long distance swimmer. A sprinter will do more explosive workouts. For example, I would do a quick explosive sprint or explosive medicine ball throws to improve my speed.
Many people cannot do butterfly strokes. What tips can you give them?
First of all, you need to figure out the right timing of your hip bounce and your kick. Many kids who have sinking hips or sinking legs are unable to do butterfly strokes because their lower back and their abs are not strong enough. So, it is important to strengthen these areas.
After I stopped swimming professionally, I did not have anything else to do. Since we had a golf club membership, I started playing the sport and very soon I realised that I loved it and was training for it every day. I have been training for over six months now and plan to start playing professionally after 4-5 years. At the moment, I take part in club tournaments and plan to qualify in the amateur circuit by next year.
For more information about Rehan, visit his website www.rehanponcha.com