(UPDATE: On Wednesday, the management of Whitewoods Convention and Leisure Hotel denied serving kikiam to athletes billeted in their hotel. Read more at the link below.)
KIKIAM, rice, bread, and egg.
This was the breakfast of champions of the women’s football squads — right in time for their opening SEA Games matches this week.
“The quality and quantity of food is not enough,” lamented Let Dimzon, the coach for the Philippine women’s football team, at a press conference. “Sa variety din, like for this morning hindi enough yung rice and kikiam and egg, walang nutrients.”
Added Malaysia coach Joceph Jacob: “Today my breakfast, most of the players eat only bread and some egg.”
At elite levels of play, players explode into short bursts of intense action, bookended by a long stretch of constant aerobic activity as they cut back and forth across the pitch. “Mean energy expenditure (above rest) for a match has been estimated to be approximately 1107 kilocalories,” writes a team of sports scientists from Lisbon, Portugal in the article “Nutrition and Supplementation in Soccer”, published in the journal Sport in 2017.
That’s the equivalent of three and a half to four burgers.
However, it’s not just a matter of ingesting calories to cover what an athlete will burn up over the course of a match. Athletes must carefully watch their consumption of nutrients to fuel their bodies and recover well after the game.
The article recommends that, right before a match, players must ingest 1 to 4 grams of carbohydrates for each kilogram of body weight. Similarly, they must eat 0.25 to 0.4 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight.
For athletes, it’s easy to measure: get their weight in kilos, and divide it by 4. That’s how many grams of protein they should be consuming before a match. For an athlete weighing 73 kilos, or around 160 pounds, they need to eat at least 18.25 grams of protein — equivalent to around 4 to 5 egg whites. Even then, more is probably better. “A high protein intake has been recommended for athletes for many years,” conclude four nutritionists from the Czech Republic's Charles University in their article “Macronutrient Intake in Soccer Players—A Meta-Analysis”, published in the journal Nutrients just this year.
It’s in this last requirement that the SEA Games’ athletes’ breakfast may fall astoundingly short. After all, “more important than the total amount is the intake profile, which includes characteristics as the amount of protein at each meal, the timing of intake, and the source of protein,” writes the team from Portugal.
High-quality protein is key here. If the kikiam served is the street food version of the Chinese delicacy, it’s most likely packed with fillers. But even in its most authentic version, this deep-fried dish is no match, nutritionally, for the lean protein athletes need for muscular recovery.
"Best protein sources for athletes would be lean proteins such as white meat items like chicken and lean fish," said nutritionist Timothy Jeffe Ting, RND, CSCS, to Spin LIFE. Ting is a sports nutrition consultant for the UP Fighting Maroons, the NU Women's and Girl's Volleyball Team, and the Foton Blue Energy Pro-Volleyball team.
He recommends that these proteins be grilled, baked, or boiled in a stew. Deep-fried should definitely be avoided.
"It's crucial that athletes eat lean proteins to maximize recovery [and] at the same time, allow easier digestion," Ting continued. Fats, like those present in grease and fillers, will "take longer to digest properly, and might be detrimental to performance when taken around training time."
If this quality of breakfast continues over the course of the Games, eggs will probably be the football players’ best bet.
And even then, without a wider variety of food, like fruits and vegetables, athletes, Filipino and foreign alike, may miss out on the micronutrients they need to deliver peak performance.