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Don’t try this at home…

To train hard and recover effectively we need to eat nutritiously and drink plenty of water. If you spend any time hanging out with health nuts or serious athletes, you might hear them lament the color of their urine as a sign of dehydration. Most Americans are chronically dehydrated.   If you’re wondering about your own status, refer to this handy chart that I ran across today.

Submitted by guest author Tommy Pressimone

Karate is supposed to be good exercise, but why is sensei so fat? How important is our training? I suppose a lot depends on individual goals. The debate still runs deep over what is real or not so real or correct or incorrect or the importance of this or that. All that aside, there is a common element that is often overlooked or at least taken for granted; that of “exercise.” While training should be specific to your goals (in other words if you are training to fight then train to that end, if you are training to perfect form then train specific to that), at the heart of it all should be vigorous enough training/exercise for a fit and healthy body.

If you were to begin weight training you might start out light and eventually progress to hoisting a decent amount of weight. What was once heavy now seems relatively light. However if you stop progression and remain at that weight the exercise benefit will begin to drop. The body is able to adapt itself to many things over time and needs to be attacked from different angles all the time…mix it up. Martial arts practice can be the same. If you do the same thing all the time it isn’t really “training” anymore. More of a routine. We need to constantly challenge ourselves and stay fresh; we need progression. The point here is not self defense, not fighting and not martial arts specific. What I’m talking about is health, specifically heart health.

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We at TKRI  place a high priority on fitness, proper conditioning and diet as a crucial part of safe training. Our blog often features links to karate-related exercises, conditioning safety tips and up-to-date information from athletic training fields. Just today, I was reminded of some of the soundest advice out there, a simple and holistic 7-day approach that addresses all aspects of building a healthy, strong body. In fact, it carries the Charles Atlas seal of approval:

-Eat nutritious, high protein, and swallow raw eggs.

-Try to build up your shoulders, chest, arms and legs: do pressups, chinups, the snatch, clean n’ jerk, and some dynamic tension, although it’s hard work.

Well, maybe it’s best if I just let the expert himself explain it to you  (if you don’t like men with too many muscles, you may want to avoid it):

Take a look at Dr. Furter’s 7 -day program here

(Happy Hallowe’en)

You might remember that Randy and I have had a fair few posts and comments about food and nutrition in the past. Well I’m just back from our annual gasshuku in Virginia. The long weekend was brilliant, as always, and I’m sure there will be a few pictures from it coming up. But I also got a chance to see Randy’s new vegetable garden, and he sent me back to St Louis with an ice-chest packed with lettuce, herbs, chard, carrots, peas and squash. Here is just some of the treasure:

Veggies from Randy's garden.

Veggies from Randy's garden.

At Takushoku there was a chance your sempai might kill you. Mine are sending me home with heirloom carrots. Better, no?

  • Anti-oxidants nullify some benefits of exercise?
  • Crank, crank, crank. (Careful what you say about this one, the British Chiropractic Association is getting litigious over Singh’s use of the word “bogus” and one of the weirder aspects of the case: the point of contention doesn’t appear to be over whether the BCA is making false claims, but over whether they’re making false claims deliberately. If I were their press officer, I’m not sure I would have advised them to get into this one.)
  • Michael Pollan: In Defence of Food This is a great book, but if you have any faith left in the claims of nutritional science, it’ll tear it to shreds. Really, if you had any trust left at all it’ll make you sad. (“Wait! All that milk/bran/low-fat X, for nothing?!) But you should read it anyway.
  • I’ll try to post something less nihilistic soon…

Sorry, as much as I would love to be able to use the “big hara” line myself, there is no such thing. Not all fat is subcutaneous fat, so “sensei’s” belly may feel firm and still be due to that most modern of maladies; obesity. Here are two links to articles that should shed some light on where this fat is hiding:

From Wikipedia- “Greater Omentum”

From Wise Geek- “What is an Omentum?”

I am sure that it is not news to anyone that the world is facing one hell of a recession right now. Those who have been on the economic fringes are starting to fall over the edge into poverty. Those who live in poverty are seeing the little help afforded them reduced. It is winter in the northern hemisphere now and the coldest days are still ahead. In the south, where it is summer this recession is no picnic either.  People need help.

Those of us who can afford the club fees, rent, equipment, and perhaps most important of all-the time, to spend engaged in an elected activity (martial arts) should count ourselves among the world’s fortunate. While we may not be able to do a lot as individuals we can coordinate the help we are able to offer with others in order to have a bigger impact.

People living in poverty (especially now) could sure use some help so here is an idea I would like to offer for your consideration:

Whether or not your group usually has a Special New Years Training session consider scheduling one and use it as an opportunity to host a food drive. Simply collect canned food and other non-perishable food items in lieu of a floor fee for the event (we have been doing this here in Missouri for years and we usually recommend students each bring in at least one grocery bag of food). Donate these  to a local food bank, mission, or other organization that gets food to those who need it. Food pantries typically experience a dip in donations after the first of the year so kagami biraki type celebrations are fortuitously timed.

It would be great to scan through martial arts web sites in a few weeks and see photos of piles of food being donated (besides haven’t we all seen enough side kick pics for a while?).

US residents can find a food bank in their area by clicking Here.  It would be nice if readers familiar with similar programs in other countries could post contact suggestions in comments.

I just wanted to endorse Randy’s very sensible post on food below and throw in an extra thought. (Bear with me; the punchline is: maybe you should be eating more.)

These days, having a somewhat strained relationship with your diet is pretty much the norm. We live in a nutritional environment that is very different from the one in which our species evolved (there are a lot more available calories) and most people over thirty are either in deep denial about this or running round like a headless chicken pursuing one daft solution after another. The under thirty-year-olds may be, as Randy notes, continuing to live off corn-syrup and lard, but at that age it is easy to discount future goods (like health when you are 60) and the present not-so-goods may be easily explained away (I’m just tired from the weekend) or only be making themselves felt on the odd occasion you have to run anywhere.

We all know that if you want to maintain fitness in such an environment, your brain – as opposed to just your hormones – has to exercise a certain amount of control over what you eat. I am NOT talking about will-power here; people who can’t resist the cookie right in front of them don’t have bad brains, they just really like cookies and/or are really hungry. What I mean is more this: if you KNOW that you really like Oreos, you have to learn to plan ahead so that you’re not sitting next to one when you’re really hungry. Sensible eating in the modern world requires boring, non-dramatic virtues like thought, forward planning, and the ability to diagnose problems. You have to engineer your own immediate nutritional environment so that less will-power is required, whether that means staying out of the center of the supermarket/grocery store (where all the cookies and chips and sugar live) or making sure you eat your oatmeal in the morning so that your body doesn’t start cannibalising your muscles and demanding huge sugary lattes by 10am.

But as the above suggests, people’s responses to this problem differ. It’s easy to think that the main worry is people exercising too little restraint – mainlining chips in front of the TV – but many people actually exercise too much restraint – going without breakfast, going on 1000 calorie per day diets, wiping some necessary food group (carbs, fat) entirely out of their diets, falling for the latest “breakthrough” diet etc. And often they take their failure to achieve satisfying results as a sign that they STILL aren’t exercising enough restraint. Many of us flit between the two strategies: 6 weeks of an Atkins diet that is too strict in the morning and too lax at night, followed by a big project at work which causes us to live off coffee, beer and exactly 1 1/2 donuts per day for a week.

The effect of taking either strategy to the extreme is death, either the common or garden way, through high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke in one’s mid-forties, or more dramatically and quickly through anorexia. (Since anorexia is one of the “female athlete triad” along with amenorrhea, and osteoporosis, and since karateka are most assuredly athletes, this is something to watch for.) At a very general level, the same issue arises with exercise: undertrain and you won’t be any good at running, lifting, jumping etc. because your body will have too much fat and too little muscle. Train too much and you won’t be any good at running, lifting, jumping etc. because you never recover, don’t build any muscle, and are awash with chronic injuries. Athletes who feel like they are getting worse may well conclude that that is because they are not training enough, when in fact the reverse is true: in order to get better, they need to exercise less. Which is to say that anorexia is like chronic overtraining for your diet, except that it comes with a nice fat entry in the DSM-IV and a more impressive mortality rate.

Government guidelines on diet – such as the FDA’s food pyramid in the US, or the eatwell plate in the UK – tend to be very general and to have been written by governments whose attention was drawn to a problem because doctors had to deal with people who were actually made sick by their diets. That is, such guides are written for couch-potatoes to stop them from getting diabetes, not for athletes who are looking for optimum performance. (Imagine the consequences of putting the average 23-year-old on Michael Phelps’ 12000 calorie-a-day diet and it becomes obvious why this is so.) But if you want to be more than a couch potato, it is not enough to simply conform to the guidelines that were written for CPs. The same goes for exercise. There can be no doubt that Phelps is not sticking to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ suggestion of 2hrs and 30 minutes moderate (e.g. “gardening”) OR 1 hr 15 minutes of vigourous (they give karate as an example) aerobic exercise per week, plus 2 sessions of strength training. And I kid you not, weightlifters: “Exercises for each muscle group should be repeated 8 to 12 times per session.” So no low-rep strength-training, then.

Where I’m going with this is that many people think that if their diet and exercise program is not giving them the performance results they want, that’s because they’re exercising insufficient will-power: they think they should try to eat less, and exercise more. Well, the average CP certainly should eat less and exercise more (I won’t presume to comment on his or her will-power, who knows what other honourable things that gets used for.) But karateka, being athletes, may not be in that situation and they may find that their performance increases if they ditch one of their weekly long slow distance runs for a 15 minute sprint training workout and up their intake of high quality fat and carbs (Quality? i.e. Eat this: flax seed oil and wholegrains, Not this: french fries and candy corn.)

The devil is, as always, in the details, so here are some hat-tips to people who write about diet for athletes – people who have no commercial interest in your believing them (since the fitness industry is basically packed with frauds, I think this lack of ulterior motive is important) – and whose message is certainly not the simple: eat less, fatty! The first quote is on the long side, but I like it too much to leave it out.

“And muscle magazines are at least partly to blame for an epidemic of SB [Silly Bullshit] concerning teenage boys and young men. A recent trend has developed amongst these little snots that makes it very difficult to put any muscular bodyweight on them: they all seem to think they have to have visible abs, even if it means staying at a bodyweight of 135lbs. They all want a “six-pack” despite the fact they don’t have an ice chest to put it in. They won’t eat breakfast, they eat some type of fast food goo for lunch, and if they eat supper it’s because Mom made them. This is intentional, and is their version of “dieting” to keep that trim, fit look.

Now don’t misunderstand my concern here: I know that we live in a society largely dominated by fat slobs. Maybe not where you live, but where I live this is true, and I suspect that the vast majority of the United States suffers this unintended result of our economic prosperity. So any drift in the opposite direction is fine, right? Look, when high school and college-age kids come to me and ask how to put on muscle and I take the time to tell them and then they won’t do it because they’re afraid they’ll lose their Washboard Abs, it pisses me off to waste my time with people who ask and then won’t listen to what I know will work for what they claim to be trying to do, and, well, it just gets aggravating, you know? And it’s all because they actually think that 1) if they have abs they’ll look like Ronnie Coleman and me, 2) chicks really dig a six-pack, and 3) what does Rip know anyway?

Well, Rip knows that a 135lb 5’9″ 18-year-old kid doesn’t look like either Ronnie Coleman or Rip, even if he has a twelve-pack, and that if he seriously wants to head in that direction the first thing to do is to gain about 60 pounds. Ole Rip also knows that women don’t really care about abs – they care about Other Things [like Thought, Forward Planning and The Ability To Diagnose Problems – ed.]. And after all, you asked Rip, he didn’t ask you, So put down your copy of Muscle and Fiction, do your squats, drink your milk, and pay better attention to the answers when you ask the questions.” (Mark Rippetoe, Strong Enough?, p. 147-8)

Ah yes, Muscle and Fiction. I believe that same publishing house also puts out the very eminent Fighting and Fiction, full of exciting tales of how to develop your ninja death touch by repeatedly performing the same movement in the air, meditation and catching swords with the palms of your hands … fine publication. But moving on to the more mundane …

“In plain language, base your diet on garden vegetables, especially greens, lean meats, nuts and seeds, little starch, and no sugar. That’s about as simple as we can get. Many have observed that keeping your grocery cart to the perimeter of the grocery store while avoiding the aisles is a great way to protect your health. Food is perishable. The stuff with long shelf life is all suspect. If you follow these simple guidelines you will benefit from nearly all that can be achieved through nutrition.” (from the Crossfit website.)

And finally the always excellent Krista Scott-Dixon:

“When I discovered weight training, I discovered that bodybuilders ate strangely. They ate lots of lean protein, avoided simple sugar and starch carbs like white bread, pasta, and white rice, and (gasp!) deliberately ate fat! I thought they were all insane. I began training, but kept eating my fat-free, high-carb diet. I was doing OK in the gym thanks to beginner gains, but I sure wasn’t losing any fat. I started to think I was destined to be heavy. Most of the women in my family are “pleasingly plump”. I figured it was genetics. I figured I was a lost cause. I got pretty depressed about the prospect. Then my training guru told me I wasn’t eating enough protein, and suggested supplementing with flax seed oil. I thought it was the craziest thing I’d ever heard. Eat fat on purpose?! But, after a few weeks of him nagging me to do it, I gave in and bought my first bottle of flax seed oil. (by the way, you can read more about why you shouldn’t drop your fat intake when dieting, and about flax seed oil here). And I started cutting back on plain pasta in favour of lean protein. With almost no other effort on my part besides regular visits to the gym, the fat began dropping off.

So, what was the reason for this transformation? Why is a diet low in carbs conducive to losing fat? Let’s start with an explanation of why simple carbs (sugars and starches) have more of a role to play in fat deposition than dietary fat…” (The Carb Myth I)

I encourage you to wander over to Dr Scott-Dixon’s site for a large number of very readable articles on food and fitness in the 21st century.

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

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