Braving a Balanced Diet

Features Health - October 5th, 2007
Diet food

by Danielle Tate-Stratton

We’ve all heard that eating right and exercising are keys to helping you maintain a desirable body weight and stay physically fit. However, what many of us might not be aware of is the best way in which to go about eating well so you can exercise to the best of your potential. Should you be eating carbohydrates or running away from the ramen and loading up on protein-rich sashimi? Eating before you work out or waiting until after you get home, when it’s getting to being late in the evening and close to that metabolic dead zone that begins with sleep? To complicate things further, living in Japan can add a host of issues to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. What with excessive working hours, obligatory drinks, dinner meetings after work, and a supermarket full of products of unknown substances, it’s no wonder that many of us get lost on the way to feeding our bodies in a way which allows for optimal physical performance.

Luckily, this need not be the case as Japan is, as we constantly hear, home to one of the healthiest diets in the world and once you know what you are looking for and why, it’s not hard to begin incorporating aspects of the diet which helps contribute to the longest lifespan in the world into your day-to-day diet.

We’ve all heard that it’s important to get your day off to a good start with a healthy, tasty breakfast. According to the Mayo Clinic online (http://tinyurl.com/23wp5b), “A healthy breakfast refuels your body and replenishes your blood sugar (glucose), giving you the energy necessary to start a new day.” They go on to add that people who eat breakfast tend to have higher energy levels and therefore tend to exercise more during the day—certainly a step towards our goal of eating better to exercise better! Haruyo Ogawa, Chief Trainer at WOW’D Gym Hiroo suggests that you eat lots of nutritious foods for breakfast while making sure it has the right balance from the food guide’s pyramid. Ideally, she advises the typical Japanese breakfast of rice, natto, and fish with salad. If natto doesn’t appeal to you first thing in the morning, or you don’t have the time to cook a full breakfast, look to start incorporating the principles behind a Japanese diet into your own meal. For instance, to our typical morning meal of museli, yogurt, and fresh juice, Ogawa suggests adding in some veggies. While a salad, as might be typical in a traditional Japanese breakfast, may not be practical for a breakfast on the run, consider adding some sliced up carrots or celery to your meal. Another way to sneak in vegetables could be making an omelet, which will give you needed protein and is the perfect base into which you might add tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or spinach (to give you Popeye-style muscles in no time!).

Ogawa likens your body
to a car’s engine—unable to
run without gas.

Once you’ve gotten your day off to a good start and begun preparing your body for an after work trip to the gym, it’s important to keep up the good eating habits. Conveniently, Ogawa enthuses that bentos and sets are the best way in which to ensure that you are eating all of the nutrients your body needs to work optimally. Typically, pre-prepared bentos are largely compromised of rice and also include meat or fish. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (http://tinyurl.com/22rx4y) advise that carbohydrates are the most important fuel source you can have for exercise, and should compromise 60–70 percent of your daily calorie intake. This is proportionately in line with many types of pre-made bentos you will find. Ogawa suggests staying away from foods that are high in fat and fried, but mentions that items such as bento-staple tonkatsu are occasionally OK. (Otherwise, try fish-related bentos such as salmon or, seasonally, unagi [eel].)

If you find yourself running late at work and unable to follow Haruyo’s preferred schedule for meals (6am, noon, and 6pm), she suggests getting an onigiri and then eating a light meal later. Onigiri are a great ‘only in Japan’ snack and are readily available at any combini, giving you no excuse not to have a small portion of carbohydrates and protein as opposed to a high-fat, high-sugar snack like the ones you are more likely to find in a 7-11 back home. If you get stuck in a meeting or are unable to grab a snack before you leave work, make sure you get one on the way to the gym. Ogawa likens your body to a car’s engine—unable to run without gas. She suggests grabbing a banana—again, these are easy to find in every convenience store—to eat before training, and reminds us to eat a healthy meal after training.

Although it can be hard to maintain a diet fit for exercise while keeping up with daily life in Tokyo, by incorporating aspects of the Japanese diet into your own meals, and taking advantage of some of the conveniences that life in Tokyo has to offer, you’ll be well on your way to fueling your body for sport. Remember that according to Ogawa, the most important thing you can do for good health is to exercise, followed by making sure you get a good nutritious diet, and of course, getting lots of rest.

To find out more about WOW’D Hiroo and the fitness and nutrition training they offer, tel. 03-5448-9971 or visit their website at www.wowd.jp/shop (in Japanese only).