First of all, please note that I am not a medical professional of any sort. I have studied nutrition only as a side interest. What I know about nutrition is that I should know more! This article is meant more of a reminder of common sense, rather than an in-depth study of nutrition. This may not be much of a “Karate article”. But I think this is the type of subject that everyone should be interested in and can definitely help your karate and the rest of your life as well, if you put at least a little thought into it.
“We are what we eat.” Or so the saying goes. Eat well if you want to be well. If you eat bad food, you may not be a bad person. But it is probably detrimental to some areas of your life if your diet is not good; you may get sick more often and it may have a negative impact on your mental health as well. Treat your body well. There is no real option for a trade-in on your body. You might as well make it the best it can be. Remember that the health and activity of your mind is usually aided by the health and activity of your body. There are chemical connections and psychological ones as well.
I overheard someone at my office the other day say that he thought all the fad diets really were simply about calorie-counting. We ended up in a heated debate, finally agreeing that most of the people who follow a diet specifically as a fad are probably simply counting calories or what in effect is equivalent to calorie-counting. For anyone athletically active, calorie intake may be important but not necessarily that we should be worried about every single calorie consumed. There are far more important considerations.
There was a fad diet out there several years ago referred to as “The Chocolate Diet”. This basically involves the idea of consuming lots of sugar throughout the day, such as is found in chocolate (the darker the better, in case you care).* The idea is to keep one active due to the perpetual sugar-high, such that we burn off whatever we are consuming. Sugar may not be so bad for active people. But if you are not active, some of that sugar can turn to fat. There are many different types of sugars. It is quite amazing to me how many companies producing packaged food/candy seem to think that their consumers are too naïve to realize that “fructose”, “high-fructose corn syrup” (this one is of course the worst), “corn syrup” and “glucose” are all types of sugar. Different types of sugars are broken down by the body different ways and at different speeds. My suggestion is to limit artificial sugar intake as much as possible. Instead, eat lots of fruit and other foods containing natural sugars. And don’t fall for the “juices” that contain very little real fruit and lots of artificial sugars. Water is probably much better for you. Of course sugar intake is something to monitor very carefully if you are diabetic.
There are many ways to get protein into your diet. I am not a vegetarian. But meat is not the only source of protein. For athletes, protein is very important. If you are actively working out, you should think about how to get enough protein to sustain your activities. I usually try to consume some form of protein soon after a workout.
Fat naturally occurs in some foods. It is not necessarily bad. But, as with sugars, if we are not active, fat can build up and stay in your body longer than you want. Personally, I try to minimize fat intake. That being said, there are some fats that are not so bad, such as that found in avocados.
Salt & Sodium
Salt, in moderation, is good for the body. We lose a significant amount of salt when we sweat. But so many processed foods contain large amounts of sodium. In large amounts, it can be quite harmful. Read the labels. Both fat and salt are often considered “the cook’s friends” because relying on them is an easy way to add flavor to food. We should be careful to control ourselves and not just reach for what tastes good.
Today in my office, someone had written a quote on the white-board, taken from a movie about salespeople (I am in a sales position): “COFFE IS ONLY FOR CLOSERS” (meaning: you don’t deserve to be drinking anything but water if you aren’t closing deals and making sales). I erased the “C” in “CLOSERS” as a joke. Caffeine is unnecessary. It has some short-term benefits, as does sugar. But the long-term effects far outweigh the short-term benefits. I am forecasting that in 10-15 years, the coffee and/or soda business will face the same type of class-action lawsuits as the tobacco industry has been facing recently. Caffeine is addictive. It is generally not healthy. Phase it out, or at least minimize it. It may be worth noting that there is a lot of support of “scientific research” that has recently come out showing that caffeine consumption may provide certain health benefits, including as a cancer preventative. The jury is still out on these claims. But my opinion is still that minimizing or completely avoiding caffeine is probably better than consuming a lot of it.
Alcohol and other Recreational Drugs
I am no teetotaller. But I do not drink much. There have been many studies showing that a little wine may actually improve one’s health. But drinking to excess is not only bad for your image (or is it?) but is also bad for your body. Drinking in moderation may not be such a bad thing. But don’t let it become a habit and try not to let yourself lose control. Living in northern California, I know many people who have experimented with recreational drugs. I don’t see the need. Get high on exercise.
Drink lots of fluid. But try to limit to water and good quality juices. Sports drinks are not so terrible. But I recommend staying away from the mass-market brands such as Gatorade. There are much better ones out there. Please also see article on Dehydration.
Smoking is bad for the people doing it, as well as the people around them. And it smells bad. There is absolutely nothing good about it. As with caffeine, phase it out.
Vitamins & Other Supplements
Do you need to take supplemental vitamins? It depends on your diet. If you are concerned that you may not be getting all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in your daily diet, you may want to consider supplements. I take some vitamins almost every day, in addition to Flax Seed Oil, Glucosomine and sometimes more. Please consult your doctor and/or a nutritionist for more detail.
There are plenty of diets out there. Some are simply fads and some are definitely worth considering. If you have an intolerance, you should modify your diet. For example, those with Celiac Disease should be gluten-free. Minimizing gluten consumption (most products containing wheat – which is more common that you may think) is probably a very good idea for must about everyone. But some people may have to put more effort into it than others. “Night shades” should be avoided if you want to reduce inflammation. Meats (mostly red) and alcohol (mostly red wine) should be avoided if you have gout. And dairy may be something to avoid for certain people (I heard that humans are the only type of animal where the adult consumes milk and thus probably should not).
Take care of your body; it’s the only one you have.
Please see the following link for some related information: http://www.eatright.org/Public/NutritionInformation/92.cfm
*Post-script update: Dark chocolate is actually not high in sugar. I ate some just before writing this update! 🙂
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published August 2004)