#27 Dashing To the Finish Line with Varsha Rohit

Introduction Of Podcast

We’re joined by Varsha Rohit in this episode. Varsha is a national level sprinter and an Ultrahuman athlete. She outlines the various ways she preps for her races. Be it nutrition, training and also talks about the different tech and wearables she uses to optimise her performances. Tune right in.


(00:00 – 01:47) – Introduction
(02:24 – 05:18) – Varsha’s Journey As A Sprinter
(05:20 – 11:58) – Varsha’s Relationship With Food
(12:09 – 14:35) – Strategies To Optimize Sleep
(14:37 – 19:41) – Varsha’s Training Regime & Rehabbing For Future
(19:49 – 24:29) – Technology For Nutrition & Learnings From M1 CGM
(24:45 – 27:59) – Varsha’s On Open Nationals
(28:00 – 30:16) – Varsha’s Top 3 Advice For Budding Sprinters

Key Takeaways – Transcripts

Intro (Mohit): Athletics in India, and running, specifically was introduced during the British era. Although it would be wrong to interpret that Indians were alien to running and sprinting in the pre-British era. Chariot racing, horsemanship, strength training, swimming and hunting were all very common sports during the pre-British period. So, interestingly, despite its large population, only a few Indian athletes had won a medal in a global or a major championship for a long, long time. This began to change pretty much in the 21st century when Indians started taking greater interest in athletics more generally and the local level improved. Facilities for the sport began to be built. In today’s episode, we’re joined by Varsha Rohit, who is a national medalist in 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, and is also an Ultrahuman athlete. So today’s episode is special. Coming from a family of athletes. We ask Varsha how different her life’s journey has been from those who don’t typically have that environment growing up. What are the advantages? We ask her relationship with food and the importance of sleep for a sprinter. We then discuss the training protocols for sprinters and the importance of re-habbing for the future. You guys don’t want to miss this. This is very, very interesting stuff, being an entertainment athlete since the last six, seven months. We also ask her experience with the Ultrahuman M1 device, how she changed things around with training, food and other things around recovery. Lastly, Varsha gives away her top three advice for budding sprinters and what all they should optimize for. Budding sprinters, anybody interested in this sport shouldn’t miss it. Let’s get right into it.

(Mohit): Thank you Varsha, for bringing it here. Really glad to have you on the Ultrahuman Podcast.

(Varsha): No, I’m happy to be here.

Question (Mohit): Absolutely. And I think we were really looking forward to this conversation because this is coming from a perspective which is very different in terms of from a usage of the platform perspective, right? Because of course there’s a metabolism or metabolic health, there’s an angle around health, but then of course, the game changes are it’s totally different. It is coming from perspective of a professional sprinter. So I would love to start with a perspective here from your side, actually a story, to be honest. How did you get here and what sort of like a life story. Why did you choose sprinting?

Answer (Varsha): Sprinting, okay. So I was a volleyball player. I don’t think a lot of people know that. So I started my career when I was in the 6th grade. So we were really good. So we went to the nationals and so we lost in the states as a high school team and in the nationals we were not really allowed to play because I was a sub. Even though I was one of the greatest players there. I’m not going to boast myself. I’m just saying. So yeah, coming back, I was very disappointed that even after playing so hard, trying so much like my team didn’t really put enough effort. So that’s one of the reasons we lost. So I was very disappointed in that. And when I came back home and I spoke to my parents as well as my PT teacher, and she said, when you want to put so much efforts and no one else is putting, why would you not choose an individual event? And my parents also were athletes. My mom was a sprinter and a long jumper and my dad was a short putter. So they were very supportive of choosing individual events. And I thought, okay, let me try athletics. Let’s go. And the first district level meet that I had ran, my mom is a principal of a college, of a different college. So it happened that way that I got gold in all three events in my first try. And my mum was the chief guest who gave me my first medal in athletics. So that played a very important role, thinking like, okay, this is what I want to do, I want to make my parents proud. And I love what this gets me, the feeling of this. And yes, I’ve been an athlete since then. It’s been 14 years since.

Question (Mohit): Wow, that’s really cool. And I’d love to understand a little bit since you mentioned that, of course, you mentioned that this role that your household played in this entire journey of yours, right? And this upbringing played as well. How is it like having experience as athletes and from a discipline perspective or from a mindset perspective, just your basically a view on the journey.

Answer (Varsha): Yeah, so my journey was different because, again, my parents are both athletes, but they supported me so much in a way because back then, when they were running and training and all that, they didn’t really get that kind of support from their family. So they wanted me to have best of everything that they couldn’t have. That’s one thing I always appreciate them for. And my mom actually got selected for her national level in long jump. But you know, back then how women traveling alone to a different state, it was just too much for someone to just be able to understand back then. So she was very disappointed that she didn’t get to go to nationals. So when for me, when it comes training and all that, they just made sure I get the best. And I’m lacked with nothing when it comes to training and basically live my dream while living theirs as well.

Question (Mohit):  No, absolutely. And how is the basic explain broadly, was it like a super discipline environment? Were you allowed to have did you have food flexibility or was it basically very disciplined from the beginning?

Answer (Varsha):  Yeah, so from the beginning I was not really very fond of sweets and junk. I think that also played an important role in helping with my diet. Although I still eat like pizzas and come on, who wouldn’t want to eat that? But yeah, with home, mom always ensured. Back home, when I stayed at home, she always insured. I always end up eating home food. Like, no matter what I eat outside, I come back home. Even if I’m full. Come back home and eat your home food. She made that sure. And we have a vast range of nutrition, especially like coastal regions. We have a lot of seafood. So the richness that comes with seafood, that’s why people generally take fish oils and all that. And I never had to take all of that because the richness of the food that I was already eating was enough for me to sustain my everyday workout. So discipline that way with food, obviously, like, mom was very keen on me eating good food. But yeah, with training as well. Dad made sure every morning I get up, he drove me to the stadium. He was there until I finished, drove me back home, and after I got ready, quickly to school, drove me to school. So they made sure I was in my plan, basically. I was not distracted, but always disciplined. They knew what I wanted and they knew what they wanted for me. So that way at home, I was kept grounded.

(Mohit):  No, it’s a phenomenal principle because there’s a common saying, right, that as an athlete, you want to control your environment as much as possible. And I think environment has a lot of role to play in terms of how you achieve your goals. Right. So, absolutely. From an athlete’s perspective, I think after speaking to, like, a lot of athletes who actually have, I think for various reasons, sometimes it’s actually in their culture, it’s in their household or it’s in their or their family, or it’s something that they realized later in their life. One thing I’ve generally seen is that a lot of that boils down to what I the support system built around them, right? What is sort of like the default scenario? I think this is a phenomenal principle that your nutrient needs and nutrition needs rather, are taken care of by default. And essentially, I love the principle that you mentioned that whatever you eat outside, when you come home, you have to eat home food.

(Varsha): Because Mum also had this in the mind that this is a very crucial age for not just athletes, just kids, basically, that age is very crucial for them to eat what’s right and for the growth, basically. You know how they say when you are what you eat? So when you’re given that food initially for years and years and years, you are going to be a stronger person than if you eat like junk, like chocolates and just all of that. So, yeah, mom always made sure, okay, I don’t care what you eat, come back home, you’re eating this food.

(Mohit):  And do you still follow that principle? 

(Varsha): I’ve kept a cook now, so mum made sure, okay, I’m still eating good and not like cutting back on food.

(Mohit):  So how do you do? Basically, you go to a party and then you’ll keep some space for the home food. 

(Varsha): No, right now it’s a whole ball game is different. Like, once I moved to Bangalore, a lot of things happened, especially with my injury as well. After my injury, I gained a lot of weight because I couldn’t move around a lot. So obviously, for someone who’s been up on a feet running every single day for the last 12-13 years and suddenly she’s in the bed, like, doing nothing when she wants to do, and all she’s doing is eating. It was a very terrible place to be in. So that’s when I actually put on a lot of weight and nutrition came very important role. I think that’s when I really got to know how important nutrition is for an athlete especially, and more than an athlete, to recover, food is very important to recover what kind of foods you eat, recovers your injury recovers faster. I don’t know if you know this thing called elephant foot? What do you call that vegetable?

(Mohit):  It’s a yam, I think. Yam?

(Varsha): Yeah, it’s a yam. So when I was introduced to this vegetable after years and years, I was 23 when I got my ACL. So for 23 years, I never knew this. Then I got to know, like, these are the kind of foods that will help you help your stitches recover faster. So I had stitches after my surgery. So all of these things, like what you eat, yam, helps, amazingly to help her stitch. Like, your stitches recover, like, ten times faster if you’re going to have this on a daily basis. So mom was feeding me this. It was like a snack. Luckily I got recovered faster so we’re back on our track, so that’s what nutrition is very important. 

(Mohit): This is phenomenal because I think a lot of self-discovery, like, basically, if you look at most legendary athletes and people who have actually made significant changes in their life along the way has actually happened with injury. Because it gives you sort of like a time to recollect your thoughts. Sort of like re-strategize.  Absolutely. It’s exactly what you’re saying. Like, basically collect your thoughts and sort of like re-plan. What would the next few years look like? Right?

(Varsha): But when you’re injured, you also have a lot of time to sit and read. And that’s when you give importance to little things. So what happened is all this year, when you’re like, running and running and not being in one place and not giving yourself to sit and think, like, what is actually important, you’re always running, you know, just behind that race just at it. So when I got injured, it played so much injury, played so much in my running right now because it just shook me upside down, thinking like, oh, shit. I’ve never paid importance to stretching, I’ve never paid importance to my nutrition, my sleep. Sleep is the most underrated recovery. I can’t stress on this. It’s the most underrated recovery, it can heal anything. You just need to recover, you need your 8 hours sleep, you’re good. So all of these like I started reading more on muscle and how an athlete can recover. So all of these enlightened only after I got injured. I think it’s important also sometimes things like this to fall back. So you’ll understand importance of little things in your life.

Question (Mohit):  Right. Absolutely. It takes a little bit of a step back to actually understand how do you actually come back with a much stronger strategy and approach. Tell me a little bit about you mentioned sleep. How did you actually end up? What would be your top few strategies to improve your sleep quality? Because I think that it’s a huge problem for a lot of people especially it’s not a problem only for people who are struggling with their health but also for people who are hyper-stimulated and I’ve personally seen a lot of athletes struggling with their sleep. So what would be some of the tips and maybe some methods that you can advise people on? 

Answer (Varsha): With me, I’ll tell you personally, I’ve never had issue with sleep, I just don’t know how. I think I’ve been one of those blessed people who you can close your eyes and you can sleep. I’ve been one of them and trust me, like also maybe when I was young, every races we go, we travel by bus from one stadium to another, like travelling another and I was just sleeping in the bus, I was just like anywhere in anywhere types and that just built up. Like anytime I come back from training I can sleep for like 2-3 hours, wake up, have my evening snack, have dinner and again go back to an 8-10 hours sleep. Very cool. Yeah, like that way I’ve been very blessed. But yet when I go to sleep sometimes I do drink my Thai food, nighttime tea which has chamomile, fennel seeds and all that. That will also help me a little bit like calm my mind basically.

(Mohit):  No, absolutely. I think it’s a nice relaxant and realizing the fact that sleep plays a massive role is also. I think it have done because then I think a lot of people before they actually realize that sleep plays a massive role in their life. They usually prioritize training first, nutrition second and then sleep and later. I think most mature athletes actually prioritize probably sleep first, nutrition second and then. 

(Varsha): exactly, that’s how it should be. And like you said, even I was one of them who thought okay, training, training, training is going to be 100% diet, I can figure out my diet, sleep, so I can still figure out but training should be 100%. But I was wrong again. We only get to know experiences and experiences and injuries and after everything you’ll realize, like, okay, recovery is important, food is important.

Question (Mohit): Absolutely. I think this is really cool. I think this perspective is really cool because it’s the aspect of your journey which actually talks about how do you actually become an athlete forever. Like, for have a very long career because these are the steps that most athletes essentially will actually have to go through and to actually become like very long term in terms of their presence. But on that note, I would love to deep dive a little bit since you mentioned training and I’m sure your training would have evolved over the last few years. What does training for a sprinter actually look like in terms of the methods and intensity and mental toughness? All those aspects.

Answer (Varsha): So I train six days a week, Wednesdays and two days a week. I have two days every day, but Wednesdays and Saturdays we have six sessions. Morning I have track, I finished my track session and we have to go to Invictus to finish my second session there. So it goes like that, but intensity wise. So we have a four week block that we usually do. My coach and I, every four week we change a block. So according to the performances and improvements on that block, we go to the next block. And also depending on when your race is coming up, so depending on that, we change into race training. Last two weeks, we’ll just prep for speed, speed, less intensity and more speed types. So, yeah, there’s a lot to talk about training in detail, about strength and conditioning. It’s still less rehabbing. Rehab is an obvious thing. It just never ends. If you want to be professionally into something, your rehab never ends. So that’s also one major part.

(Mohit): Is it a combination of rehab and recovery?

(Varsha): No, it’s not recovery. It is rehab right now we have performance. So my rehab for recovery is the initial one and a half year. Now we are rehabbing for performance. So basically I’m rehab my legs like A plus. We are rehabbing right now, so there’s no future. Like, it’s bulletproof, basically making your knees stronger than how it was before your injury. Got it. So, you know, the things like mind blocks that you have, that okay, sure, I can’t do this because I’ve got injury. Like, I’ve got a surgery or I can’t lift heavier, what if my knees collapse again? All these things. This is why rehabbing to performance is important, because we bulletproof that. 

Question (Mohit): Especially with the ACL, MCL I think this is a very common concern. Yeah, I can’t say it’s more psychological, but then there’s definitely a lot of psychological play, because there is a famous saying that if your left ACL is gone, always check your right ACL. Yeah, that’s really interesting. And I think this is probably the first time actually hearing about rehabbing for future. What does that really look like? Let’s take this specific example. Are these different class of exercises or strengthening methods. When you look at ACL MCL and you say that, oh, this is how I’ll train this particular micro muscle for strength. So that you actually end up in a stronger place.

Answer (Varsha):  Definitely. So what we do is we train the muscles around your knee, around that injury, basically. So what happens? Obviously you can’t target just your injured part because you can’t train your ACL. You have to train muscles around it. So the ACL is stronger. Okay. You can’t train a ligament to get stronger. You have to train some muscles around it. Which is why in my program, every single day we have something for my hamstring, we have something for my glute and my quad and my tibs. So tibialis raises are something a very new concept a lot of people these days that also should that’s also a muscle that not many people are aware of or trained of. For me, example, this is my 14th year of me running. I was just introduced to the tibialis raises workout. Or this part of muscle that needs to be worked for a sprinter. So for a sprinter, anything download or any muscle is it should be tuned, tuned in a way that okay, you can get off from a sleep and run your race. So these are the things this muscle was introduced for me this year. So imagine how many muscles that we are not aware of or worked at or not given proper guidance to know what to work.

(Mohit): Absolutely. I think the other area I can think of is your shoulder region, right? Which is very prone to injury. And there are so many sections of the area that you can actually train to prevent injury in the future. It’s a phenomenal concept because going to train for long enough, you will end up having you’ll be disposed to some of those injuries. 

(Varsha): Definitely. If you can like my dislocation shoulder dislocation. We just popped it back up, but it was very silly when we did pop it back up. What happened? Light ligaments around that area tore, causing me like, you know, pain when I work out again. Like rehab is an everyday thing for an athlete, be it any part of your body like you have to rehab for performance. That’s a powerful principle. 

Question (Mohit): It’s a really strong I think, as you would also know, that the average age of an athlete has actually moved from 38 years to 44 years. Exactly. This is definitely one of the most important things to actually focus upon along the way. Very true. So this is really interesting because this is a new phenomenal principle in training for longevity. What does it look like from a food perspective? And I would love to double click essentially in terms of like using technology for nutrition. I know that you have used the M1 platform sometime. What would be some of the key learnings along the way from a food strategy perspective, how does technology play a role in optimizing nutrition, and what would you want in the future as well?

Answer (Varsha): So with the M1, for me personally, I think with food, what has happened is a lot of things that I thought was healthy for my body definitely wasn’t. Even if it’s like, followed by all these food gurus saying that this is what’s healthy, that this thing, it may be healthy, but it may not be healthy for you, it may not work for your body. That’s when I got to know about this, when every time I had any food and I scanned, I’m like, why is it showing bad? I’m actually eating good food, but again, if someone else is eating the same thing, it might not spike as much as for them. Like, each body is different. So for me, that way to see what works and what doesn’t. Example I’ll give you Like I said, I gain a lot of weight, and in my mind, I’m like, okay, you know what? Rice is bad. Rice is carbs. That’s why I gained weight, which was fed by every single food guru that’s out there. You know, rice is bad, rice is bad. So what happens? You start having chapatis at night. You have all these things and salads and all that, but not realizing that’s not what your body has been fed over the years. You have a system of what your body has followed for years and years. For years, my parents have given me boiled rice. You know these red rice are coastal rice, right? So my mom been feeding you the boiled red rice. And my body is actually conditioned well with that. That boiled river actually has a high amount of glucose that will actually help you sustain for a very long time. And chapatis don’t. And what I used to do is have chapatis is just like, abuse weight and all that or ignoring rise, not realizing that having all these chapati, it’s not doing any good to my body is actually killing my metabolism. Like, my metabolism got slower and slower and slower, making it even difficult for me to lose weight, you know, and then I’m like, you know what? Let me just eat rice for once and see how it’s going to work. It’s been incredible. Then I think right now, I’m the fittest I’ve been and the fastest I’ve been in the last five years.

(Mohit): Wow. So I think this is a phenomenal discovery. I mean, this is really cool because the rice versus chapati debate, it’s interesting because if you go to any coat, like most coaches in North India, for example, they’ll say that, oh, you shouldn’t eat rice because it’s fattening and you should eat rotis. And interestingly, if you basically speak to a lot of folks in the coastal areas and in the southern region, there’s no concept of chapatis. Usually, there’s no common concept of chapatis. Obviously, there are restaurants that obviously gives you access to those, but then essentially home food, very less incidents, right? And our insulin sensitivity, our gut microbiome, all of that actually, in a way adjusts to the food environment that we have. Actually adjust to it. And I think you rightly said this right, that the food environment, it’s not good food or bad food, it’s just good food for you and food that doesn’t work for you.

(Varsha): Exactly. And the type of food that your body has conditioned for years. So suddenly when you have something else, your body also doesn’t know how to react to it. Absolutely. So you’re all over the place, basically.

(Mohit):  Yeah. Your microbiome hasn’t really seen this type of food for a long, long time. And actually there are various studies on in terms of like when you start, when you are sort of like have grown up with a specific type of food, you sort of like develop in a way a visual memory of the food as well or how would it taste. The texture memory as well. As we now know that if you can actually see your food or visualize your food, actually absorb it better because it’s just that you’re more primed for digestion. That doesn’t happen a lot with new foods because evolutionarily, if you think about it, like every new food, if people didn’t know about the new food coming in, would sort of like be a threat response to the body. Might give you some sort of threat response that I don’t know what this new food is about. Maybe I’ll test it out first before absorbing it completely. So those would be probably some of the principles playing in action as well. Definitely.

Question (Mohit): So this is really cool. I think a lot of new, I would say new observations. And for our listeners, I think aspiring to become a sprinter and an athlete, I think this is really helpful here a little bit. You’re preparing for the open nationals in August? How is that coming along? And tell us a little bit about it. 

Answer (Varsha): So again, I’m very excited to run this race because I haven’t ran a single race in the last few years. So this is a very big thing. It’s going to be a comeback race for me. Regardless of what performance is going to be, mentally, physically, I’m going to be very happy. Right now I’m just having goosebumps talking about it because it’s a big thing for me to run, get back to that zone, get back to track, face same people that I ran three years ago, and getting back in that zone, it’s a very difficult place to be. I’m not going to say if I say I’m not scared, if I’m not nervous, I’ll be lying. I’m shitting bricks. But we have to run this first race and see how it’s going to go. Only then we can go forward into how our preparation is going to change. But we have a race coming up on 25th in Bangalore. It’s the state level, which is also the selections for the Open Nationals and National Games coming up in September. So yeah, we’re very excited. I’m dying every single day and my coach is killing me every single day. And I’m not going to complain, I’m very happy we’re doing this, but yeah, very excited for this. I hope you guys are excited too because I want you to be a part of this because I know you all have been a part of me for the last one year and helping me into being better, performing better. And you’ve seen and like I said, this is the fastest and fittest I’ve been in the last five years. So I hope I have a good race and I hope you’re all there to see.

Question (Mohit): Absolutely we would love to play a small part from our end as much as possible. And this is super exciting for us as well because I think what you are doing is essentially you’re sort of like in the very early cohort of athletes who would actually in many ways inspire the next generation of athletes, right? And along with inspiring a generation of athletes alongside you as well. And this cohort is very different because this cohort is actually going above and beyond in terms of using methods, systems versus maybe like you can say ten years back, even ten years back. I keep saying this and I’ve actually heard this from actually from a famous sports scientist, a Russian sports scientist, in fact that the Indian athletes essentially have a lot more grit compared to athletes coming from any other region of the world. Mostly because essentially it’s a self selection. Like only the ones with great essentially survive the lack of a system, essentially. And what’s happening now is that with you, you’re actually essentially creating stuff like a good mix of like somebody who uses the system leverages system, sports science and combination of great which automatically comes because just because of the fierce competition in this region, I think it will be super important and it’ll sort of like be the inflection point before everything changes. So we would be extremely psyched about this as well from our side. I think psyched would be the right word to call it. But yeah, I think with this, I think this is really insightful and personally for me and also, of course, for our listeners as well. I would love to end this with sort of like a small question at the end for our listeners. And I’m sure a lot of people are interested in terms of understanding what would be and for this is for budding sprinters, what would be your top three, let’s say, whether it’s a tip or like an advice, what is the top three things that the sprinters should actually optimize for?

Answer (Varsha): Well, first thing is it’s not going to be easy, definitely not going to be easy for. Someone. You know how people say, oh, running is easy and you can do it’s just simple. It is running, straight running. But there’s a lot of things that go in running. Your form, your arm action, even if your arms are like slightly outside while running, you don’t cut as quickly, the air stops you from going faster. These play a very important role and if running was definitely easy, it wouldn’t be punishment of every single sport because you know, in school your PT teacher says like, oh you punishment, go run. Punishment, go run. So punishments are never easy. So why would running be doing something so do not that’s one. Two, it’s never easy to do not give up. It’s going to take a lot of time for a sprinter definitely like for me to cut from, not just for me. Every single last night in the world I speak for to cut from 1 second, from 11 seconds to ten, it will take you six to seven years consistent. Every single day, it’s a process. Every single day you wake up, you go in that mindset that you know what, I got to do this, so don’t give up. It’s going to take a long time but just don’t give up. It’s a beautiful sport to be in. You’re going to have a lot of fun but just you’re going to have a lot of sorrows and injuries and all that. It’s a part of the game. Just live, have fun and just have fun while doing it. Don’t give up. That’s it.

(Mohit): This is phenomenal. It’s very insightful and I think I would add to this by saying that if you’re going to have injuries in the future, rehab for it and that’s I think something that people would have done for sure.

(Varsha):  Be happy and learn something from it. Learn, always learn from your injuries because know what you lacked to get that injury in the first place and make sure you don’t do the same mistakes that you did to get that injury in first place and move forward into making better.

(Mohit): Awesome. Thanks a ton, Varsha. This has been amazing. Thank you. I think for the longest time we’ve been looking forward to speaking to you and I think this has been really insightful. I’m sure a lot of budding sprinters would get motivated and excited to hear this and would take upon basically this challenge of becoming a sprinter or becoming a professional sprinter themselves. We look forward to the upcoming race and wishing you all the best and of course we’ll be watching from the sides and cheering from the sidelines. Thank you so much. Thank you again and see you soon. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Outro (Mohit): Preparing for sprinting is intense and brutal. A lot goes into those few seconds of the actual event. Months and months of rigorous training is needed as the room for messing up is very little in the brief moment. But Varsha outlined how she goes about her preparations and optimizes with the help of technology such as the Ultrahuman M1 device and other training protocols. With this, we wish her all the very best as she gears up for the Open Nationals in the next few days. I’m sure she would make us all very proud. If you too enjoyed the chat with Usher, please pass on the episode to your friends and family. We are available on all your favorite and preferred streaming channels like Spotify and Apple Podcasts. L et us know the kind of people you want us to talk to On the Ultrahuman Podcast, we are going to give our best and bring them on. I’ll see you again with a fresh episode, next week.

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