Many are wondering what kind of food should you eat and not eat if you use internal force in your style. Also, most people don’t wish to end up with a ‘chi belly’ like the stereotyped qigong master. What about external style? If your style uses much physical strength and your training gives you much muscle fatigue, is a light vegetarian diet okay? I will also cover some of the most important sources of nutrition and some food or beverages you should stay away from.
First of all, let us get a good picture of what a balanced diet is. The 3 nutrition groups which makes up most of our food are carbohydrates, protein and fiber. My advice is, to have one third of carbohydrates, one third of protein and one third fiber. Depending on your activity type and body attributes, you may have to regulate by having more or less of each group. If your workouts are cardio and endurance based, you will want to have a little more carbohydrates, but cut down on carbohydrates the days you are not training. If your workouts are strength based or involve explosive movements, you will want to increase your intake of protein to aid recovery and prevent muscle deterioration. What if you are an internal style practitioner or your style doesn’t make you sweat? You should eat even less carbohydrates and reduce your protein intake.
One thing internal practitioners should take note is to refrain from eating inflammatory foods which are starchy, deep fried or high in fat and cholesterol. Yes, starchy food. Do you know that in the past, white rice and other refined grain is a kind of luxury only available to the middle and upper class? People do not eat white rice for every meal. Even if they do, they take it in small amounts if they have little physical activity. In the present, white rice is the number one ingredient for diabetes. The same goes for noodles, cakes and confectionery made out of refined grain. It crashes the body’s energy conserving system with too much fuel in a short time. The body either stores it as fat or toxins when it is not used soon enough. Especially in the Far East, a rice heavy diet is very common. We should stay away from it for our health’s sake, despite it being the norm, which it should not be.
Why should we stay away from such foods? Because of the inflammatory effects it has on us. They give us an irritating burning feeling, makes us feel disconnected, floaty and blurs our sense. Definitely disturbing for a Kung Fu man who needs all the concentration he can muster. You get the feeling that your center is all over the place, and have problem concentrating on the internal actions such as tendon extension and the yin and yang allocation. Hard to get into the qigong state. A training session with poor performing condition is a waste of time and effort.
There is an important component of food which cannot be missing from our diet intake. Fiber is an important component of our diet because it gives us satiety, preventing us from overeating. More often than not, we eat too much or eat unhealthy food because we don’t feel satisfaction from eating, the fullness. Well it is not good to be bloated, but we need to feel full in order to know that we will not starve and hinder our performance. This is where fiber comes in, it cannot be digested into calories and gives us the ‘full’ feeling, regulating the carbohydrates and fat intake. If we do not have much fiber in our diet, we will be taking in much more carbs and fats than we should and these things when not being used will turn into toxins which screw up our system.
Also, fiber helps to move our bowels, preventing constipation. Constipation is bad for our health, because our large intestine is responsible of expelling bodily wastes and toxin waste, and if that function slows down or stops, the toxin will go back into our system causing various illnesses. However, taking too much of certain fibrous foods is not good too, as our bowels will be stimulated to move too fast and cause diarrhea which dehydrates us and robs us of our appetite.
So how do we keep our digestive tract healthy? There is one old but very effective method. It is simply to start moving, to walk a healthy distance(5km – 20km) a day or give your body a good workout. In TCM philosophy it is believed that the function of the stomach is tied to how much the muscles in our body are being used. Exercise of the body(especially the legs) will stimulate the stomach meridian to give more energy to our digestive tract. The good thing is, this makes our digestive tract work better and harder at metabolizing food and taking in nutrients, as well as remove unwanted substances. It may be useful for those who want to lose weight, or simply have more energy to live every day.
I believe many people are wondering what are good healthy food to include in their diet, and what to stay away from. Let me give you a few examples so you can plan a balanced diet to eat and live better.
Foods you should eat more:
1) Fruits. Fruits contain lots of vitamins and antioxidants. These are what our prehistoric ancestors feed on, so there can be no wrong about it. The good thing is most fruits are tastier and easier to chew and swallow than vegetables and even rice and wheat.
2) Leafy vegetables. Boasting a good amount of antioxidants and most importantly fibre, vegetables are beneficial for the functions of our internal organs. They also work well at fighting inflammation, if you are the type who gets ‘heaty’ easily.
3) Whole grain. Rather than rice, wheat, oat, corn, brown rice, black rice and barley are much better options for an energy source. Compared to white rice, these give more types of sugars and starch, so you have the quick release sugars and a more sustained release energy source. Definitely makes you feel more satiety, and better for eating a diet with greater variety.
4) Green tea. Tea sooths the mind and increase metal focus. Researches show that it contains antioxidants and increases metabolism.
5) Seaweed. Seaweed is one of the ingredients in a healthy Japanese diet. It contains surprising high amount of protein, as well as vitamin B compounds and iodine to improve metabolism.
6) Meat. And don’t be picky with your meat, you need to have a fair amount of every kind of meat, be it red meat or white meat. If you only eat chicken, you will not have enough protein and other nutrients compared to eating a full variety of meat, from fish to beef and mutton.
Food you should avoid: 1) Rice. Too much rice to be precise. If you have to eat rice, limit yourself to half a bowl a meal. Why? Because like mentioned above, the sudden intake of pure sugars will crash your system.
2) Confectionery, like cakes and pastry. These are another form of pure carbohydrate food which will give you calories you can’t expend unless you are a full time marathon runner.
3) Caffeine. Caffeine may keep you awake and give you more energy with a boost in metabolism, but it causes tension in our system, making it harder to relax and focus for martial artists. It also wrecks your water retention. Not to mention that caffeine is also addictive.
4) Alcohol. Despite the legends of the Drunken Fist, alcohol is actually bad to consume. As it disrupts clear thinking and cause up and downs in our performance, serious Kung Fu practitioners abstain from drinking. Alcohol is a toxin which circulates in our bloodstream and inhibits some of our bodily functions, one of them being water retention. While it is okay to drink once in a long time, drinking weekly or even fortnightly is unhealthy.
Food therapy is also prescribed by TCM doctors to patients with certain sickness. Illnesses usually go by excess or deficiencies of the 5 elements in our body, or an imbalance of yin and yang in our body. For example, if a person is suffering from graying hair and decreasing libido, it will be good for him to eat black colored natural food such as black beans, black sesame and pulut hitam. This is because black refers to water in the five elements and the kidneys symbolizes water. The lack of jing or weakness of the kidneys will surface in hair, bones and sexual function.
If a person frequently suffers from cold feet or hands whenever it rains or in the night, then it may mean that the yang qi is weak. The person can increase the intake of food with more heat value, such as red dates or longan. The person should also refrain from eating too much cooling food such as watermelons, cucumbers or lettuce. Of course, some exercise will be good to get the blood moving and increased metabolism to heat up the body on cold days.
There is also an age old formula which is useful for curing stomach ulcers or damaged stomach lining. If untreated, these wounds to the stomach can be infected and inflamed, the discomfort will spread to the rest of the body. This formula works by replacing and nourishing the mucous layer on the stomach. How do we prepare it?
It is similar to how the elixirs are made. First, cook a cup of calrose rice(the round grain rice in Japanese sushi). When it is cooked, put it into a pot of water and bring it to boil. From then, cook with a small flame, stirring and monitoring once every 15 minutes. After 2 hours, switch off the fire and transfer the broth to the fridge(not the freezer). Let it cool for at least 4 hours, to maximum of 24 hours. When you need to consume it, take it out of the fridge and warm it by cooking it in a pot. It doesn’t have to be boiling, just warm enough to eat will do. There you are, your little remedy is done.
This formula uses the heat and moisture to bring out the essence in the rice, then cooling and condensing it so it doesn’t get lost easily. In fact many tasty Chinese dishes were prepared with intricate heating and cooling techniques. These bring out the chemical properties of the food and give it a texture and softness just nice for consumption. Hope this has helped you better understand how food plays a part in a Kung Fu warrior’s lifestyle and how you can plan yourself a healthier and cleaner diet.
By Leroy Kwok