Eat More Like A Martial Artist

By Ayron Howey

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book on diet and the martial artist.

Moderation again needs to be in the forefront of our thoughts. Guilt has a place too, it is a tool. When we have a craving for chocolate ice cream it is our body sending us a message. Most times it is a psychological trigger that we have developed over time. How do we beat this? Simple, we eat the chocolate ice cream. Seems crazy? Keep in kind moderation. Don't scoop out half a litre into a bowl, sit in front of the television and spoon it up. Follow the middle path. Enjoy one small scoop to satisfy this carving. Examine the craving. Why do you feel you need it? Are you truly hungry? Did you skip a meal? Are you sad or stressed? Sometimes it is a crutch as sugar elevated our blood sugar levels and we suddenly feel better. Once you have listened to your body and explored the root of the craving, you move on guilt free. In fact by following this method you should be elated, as you have conquered a small stumbling block that most people in their lives will never pass. If you feel up to it, doing a few push-ups or sit-ups or going for a walk, or practicing a form will make you feel even better. Not only did you face a challenge in your diet, you came to the realization why and then you pushed beyond it. You have started to eliminate bad habits and have begun laying the roadwork for change, long-term change.

Change begins with examination of the average current foods that make up our Western Diet. We tend to eat small breakfasts as we tend to be late risers and rush off to work. For lunch we usually have a limited time to eat so another restriction comes into play causing us to eat a medium sized meal. Then work is done and we have time to dinner. We sure are hungry by then so we eat a large meal making up for the rest of the day's missed nutrition. As a society we tend to be less active in the evening also, so all this food just sits in our stomach and what doesn't get converted to energy gets stored as fat. If you are planning on going on a long road trip do you fill up your car with a quarter tank of gas before you go then, keeping adding quarter tanks until you get there then when you turn around and are a block from your home do you then fill up your gas tank completely? Obviously not, yet we do this to our bodies. We also tend to not balance our meals appropriately as in the amount of protein, vegetables and starch. Foods are best eaten in combination as science and nutritionists are pointing out more and more. I learned this from going out to dinner with my Sifu and enjoying a traditional Chinese meal. I noticed that each person had a small bowl for rice and that the plates were loaded with fresh, crisp vegetables. There was mainly green vegetables yet there was a good variety. Their was protein as well to be found either in the form of fish, chicken, beef, pork or tofu. I noticed that a simple dish of beef with broccoli was a great example of the difference between our cultures. There was thinly sliced beef in small pieces, a simple sauce made from oyster sauce and soy sauce combines, a few slivers of white onion, and a large amount of Chinese broccoli or gai lan. In comparison, when we eat beef it tends to be the focal point of the meal. Consider a steak dinner, the meat takes up half the dinner plate and the other half is usually composed of a potato variance, either baked, mashed or French fried. Then you have a small amount of vegetables, amounting to sometimes only 3 mouthfuls. The way the ancient's used to eat is an excellent way for us as Martial Artists to model our diet after. If we look at the steak dinner again but reduce the steak by 1/3 the size about the palm of our hand, and trade the potato to steamed white rice and use the other half of the plate for vegetables which you can stir fry we have changed the traditional steak dinner into something more appropriate. Using this approach you can see that it is easy to make this fundamental change to your diet today. Use the simple formula:

Each meal should have protein-starch-vegetable-vegetable
The serving size as mentioned before is the palm of your hand, not overflowing. Vegetables get a double serving and should not be overcooked. Ideal starch is steamed rice. If you do not own a rice cooker, invest in one, they are excellent. Starting with this simple formula sets the groundwork for what is to come, which includes vegetables that are better for you than others, protein sources and alternatives to meat, fruits and their uses, snacks, supplements, vitamins/minerals and their uses and much more. Start small and follow the formula, eating 3 meals a day to begin. Let's look at a sample day using the ancient martial artist's approach:

  • 1 slice of soy bread or soy/whole wheat combination bread.
  • 2 hard boiled eggs
  • 1 large bowl of fresh fruit salad or small fresh fruit salad and small mixed green salad with cucumber, green pepper and carrots.
  • 1 bowl of steamed white rice
  • 2 servings of fresh seasonal vegetables stir fired in 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 2 teaspoons of oyster sauce.
  • 1 serving of chicken (free range is better) stir fried in 2 teaspoons soy sauce with 1 garlic clove, and black pepper to taste.
  • 1 serving of steamed rice noodles. Add in a cup of heated chicken stock, with a serving of cubed firm tofu, a serving of Shanghai bok choy and a serving of various mixed vegetables. Combine all ingredients into a bowl for a healthy, filling bowl of noodle soup.

Still hungry? Feel like this is not enough food? Keep in mind this is the foundation to which we will build on. In between meals you can have one serving of mixed fruit, salad with vegetables, mixed nuts or plain popcorn. This is between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner. After dinner and before bed it is good to have a small snack with the emphasis on protein. A richly fortified protein soup such as hot and sour or a hard boiled egg is ideal, this way your body has some energy to draw from when you are sleeping. This I found to be necessary after a particularly hard training session, such as hours of conditioning training or sparring.

Sugars are very prevalent in Western Foods. It is surprising when you start to look at food labels more closely just how common and how much sugar is used. It was interesting to me as I was known to have a 'sweet tooth'. I've always been a fan of candy starting as a little boy buying licorice and penny candy. I had severely cut down as I grew older and thought that I had done a great job of reducing the sugar in my diet. I had of course, but sugar is still everywhere. Soda for example is sugar water with carbonation. I had a friend in biology at University who told that in a chemical analysis of soda they discovered that a single can had 15 teaspoons of sugar! Diet soda had 15 teaspoons of aspartame or sugar substitute! Cutting back on sugars has been a huge step towards better health for myself. Now this doesn't mean I don't have a licorice now and then, it just means that when I get the craving I say no nine times out of ten, and the one time I do give in I have a very small amount. Most people overindulge their cravings. As a teacher once told me, cravings are the body's signal to the brain to provide a certain food. This should be filled, but in moderation, and it should be decided if this craving is physical, such as the need for fruit, or water, or is this psychological and needs to be dismissed? A good example he gave was the craving for chocolate ice cream. Have a small scoop, no more. Don't eat the whole tub. Ask yourself why you craved the chocolate ice cream. Stress? Sadness? Then next time the craving comes up you can recognize it and deal with it. With practice and discipline you can stop overindulging and respond to your cravings.