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Nutrition, Sumo Style

Every year TKRI demonstrates karate at the Japanese Festival in the Missouri Botanical Gardens of St. Louis. It’s an all around great time, and I am always impressed with the quality of every aspect of the event. One of my favorite experiences each year is chatting with the gentlemen from the Sumo demonstration, who share the changing area with us and the other demonstrators. Not only are they absolutely huge and powerful, but they’re extremely polite and funny. Everyone in their crew wears T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Train Hard, Eat Plenty.” And that’s exactly what these guys do. Over the years, this motto has been enthusiastically adopted by our group. When in St. Louis, I know that training will likely be followed by a humongous burrito, extra guacamole. When at home I head to the Subway after training on campus to pick up a foot long loaded with veggies and provolone on my way to work. And after slugging it out at the TKRI-VA dojo or in my backyard, I head straight to the kitchen and compile monstrous sandwiches that would make Shaggy and Scooby-doo jealous. My desk at work is packed with dried fruits and nuts for those long stretches between meals. The bottom line is, if you’re expending energy you have to replace it with high-quality raw materials, i.e. food. And not just any food- good whole food.

You are what you (don’t) eat

Being hosted on a college campus, the FC club tends to get a lot of 18-20 year old students at the beginning of each semester. A recurring problem with some of these recruits, and with some of the stalwarts has been nutrition. Or rather, a lack thereof. At least once a month someone shows up to class and goes hypoglycemic after 10 minutes of activity, rapidly becoming lightheaded and white-faced. This is not only dangerous for the student, but also for anyone they happen to be working with. In most cases these folks will tell me that they haven’t eaten a thing all day, or had nothing more than a soda and a handful of something from the corn syrup food group. The most recent occurrence of this phenomenon sparked the combined ire of the small farmer, food enthusiast, physical culture enthusiast and educator in me. It’s not exactly recent news that the entire body needs regular good nutrition to offset the expenditures of training and to become stronger. But poor nutrition tends to effect the mental faculties first- which are just as important during training as physical abilities .

The Hungriest Processor of all

The brain is a ravenous consumer of energy, awake or asleep: up to 25% of the energy derived from food is burned in the brain, and this consumption increases during intense mental activity. A moderate drop in available glucose produces levels of impairment in reaction times and judgment abilities comparable to those of a drunk person. As our own Robert Miller has pointed out in the past, would it be responsible to allow a drunk student onto the training floor? So a new standing rule has evolved with this club:  if you haven’t eaten, you don’t train. It’s not my job to tell people how to take care of themselves, but it does become my concern when it can have a negative spillover into training time. To be pro-active about this, I’ve made a number of resources available to students, some related to general nutrition and some related specifically to nutrition for active martial artists. Being a vegetarian, most of these are skewed towards that end of the dietary spectrum; however, good nutrition is good nutrition. Whether you do Karate, Judo, Wrestling, Muay Thai, or Sock Puppet Boxing, “Train hard, Eat plenty” should be a basic principle of training. Resources are linked below:

Daily Caloric Needs Calculator (and many other good nutritional  tools)

Sources of Protein in the Vegetarian/Vegan Diet

Getting Big and Strong on a Vegan Diet by Mike Mahler

Power of the Human Brain

The Effect of Acute Hypoglycemia on Brain Function and Activation: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study

(Viewing the article requires registration, which is free)

"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin


December 2008
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