Yi Quan Kung Fu: Nutrition For Martial Arts & Health
There are literally thousands of books that have been written on nutrition. My Intention here is to cover the basics in relation to training Yi Quan Kung Fu and martial arts. With all the scattered information on nutrition I thought I would cover the basics and create an easy to understand picture of the importance of nutrition and your Yi Quan Kung Fu goals. Firstly you need to think about what you want to get out of Yi Quan Kung Fu. If you just want some basic self-defence then it won’t make a lot of difference if you’re not at the peak of physical fitness. Simply eating a balanced diet is good advice and will suffice for the average person. This holds true unless you’re over or underweight or get tired easily or take a long time to heal and recover from injury. If this is the case, or if you want to take your ability forward and help your body cope with increased training regimes it’s important to take an interest in nutrition.
Your Nutrition Needs
Your body needs carbohydrates, fats, fibre, ‘minerals’, protein, vitamins, and water in the most natural ways possible. I will look at these individually and then discuss the impact they have in relation to Yi Quan Kung Fu. Firstly the amount of different nutrients you need will depend on lots of factors including your age, build and gender etc. Different authorities recommend different amounts, so I will only give some rough guides. I have always been an avid believer that if you eat a variety of foods from nature you won’t be missing out on much. I have never heard of someone overdosing from fresh fruits, vegetables and wholegrains. The word moderation does not apply to fruits and vegetables. If These foods make up 80% of your nutritional intake your health will become exponentially better and so will your Yi Quan Kung Fu.
Carbs for training Yi Quan Kung Fu
These come from foods like grains, pasta, potatoes, rice, bread, fruit and many other foods and should generally make up one the largest portions of your diet. Carbohydrates are where 90% of you energy comes from, you can get by on just fat and protein but it’s not recommended. Think of your body fuel like a car, your car will run much better on premium fuel but can get by on basic fuel. Over time the car will start to get more clogged up and sluggish and won’t break down overnight but …. You get the picture. Natural Wholegrains and Fruits are the premium fuel for our body and our preferred source. Fats and proteins are necessary but should only make up a small portion of your diet. There are generally two classifications of carbohydrates. Simple ones and complex ones.
Simple carbohydrates are generally single sugars. These don’t provide long lasting energy as your body breaks down carbohydrates by ‘knocking off’ one sugar at a time and simple carbohydrates only have one or two sugars by definition so they get absorbed quickly. Fruit is a good source of simple carbohydrates; it’s also loaded with other useful nutrients. Simple Carbohydrates are good to consume to regain energy quickly after Yi Quan Kung Fu training sessions.
Complex carbohydrates on the other hand are made up of longer chains of three or more of sugars and so take longer to break down giving a steady flow of energy. This is useful for anyone doing intense periods of Yi Quan Kung Fu training. i.e. if you have more than one class or expect to be doing elements for an hour or more you will find that complex Carbohydrates consumed in advance help keep your energy up. Pasta, Rice, Whole Grains, Potatoes and other starchy foods are a good source of complex carbohydrates. It is imperative that you consume foods in their natural state. i.e. brown rice and wholegrain pasta, not white. If you want to have a great Yi Quan Kung Fu training session I suggest you consume some of these foods 2 hours before you come to class.
It is not always obvious what is a simple or complex carbohydrate or exactly how long it will take to release the energy from food. Therefore the Glycemic Index is a good way to quickly identify the breakdown and release time of energy in certain foods, or ‘How much and how quickly they raise blood sugar levels’. The scale goes from 0 -100. The lower the number the slower it releases energy and the higher the number the quicker. Pure sugar is 100 and things like peanuts are 14 (which is very low). A meal with a GI bellow 50 or 60 is good before a hard training session. A snack with a high GI of 70 or more is better after training to regain energy quickly.
Your body can store Carbohydrates, this is one of the body’s primary sources of energy. The human body generally stores around 2,000 carbohydrate calories (500 grams of carbohydrate) , but we can change this number through depletion and ‘loading’. During depletion (from diet, exercise or yi quan kung fu) we use up the stored carbohydrate. If we don’t replenish these stores, we can run out of fuel for immediate exercise. This can happen during heavy pad work sessions or extended periods of intense martial arts contact work. In the same way, eating large amounts of carbohydrates can increase these stores. This is often referred to as carbohydrate loading. Our maximal carbohydrate storage is approximately 15 grams per kilogram of body weight. So a 79Kg athlete could store up to 1200 grams of carbohydrate [4,800 calories]; enough energy to fuel high intensity exercise for quite some time. This would equate to many hours of intense exercise. In Yi Quan Kung Fu your unlikely to need this amount of energy so Carbohydrate loading (by eating lots of carbohydrates in the days and night before) is not likely to be needed. However for grading’s or very intense training it may be worth considering carbohydrate loading.
Fat is essential in the diet
Let’s start by saying fats are not bad. In fact fat is needed to survive and certain types of fat can make a big difference to your Yi Quan Kung Fu performance (essential fatty acids). Most food contains some fat. Large natural sources of fat are found in things like coconut, avocado, olives, egg yolk, oil’s and meat. So what is the problem with fat? Your body can store unlimited amounts of fat , therefore if a person consumes too much fat their fat stores will grow and they will become overweight. Being overweight will slow down a person’s ability to move in Yi Quan Kung Fu. Response and reaction times will be slower and intense exercise becomes much harder when overweight as the body is already under a lot of pressure and stress from having to support a person who is overweight. There are different types of dietary fat which are generally classified as saturated or unsaturated. Food often has a mix of both types.
Saturated fats are commonly perceived as bad, however there is also a lot of research suggesting the opposite. It is important to ensure your body gets at least some saturated and unsaturated fat. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature (such as butter or meat fat).
Unsaturated fats may be further classified as monounsaturated (one double-bond) or polyunsaturated (many double-bonds). Unsaturated fats (except Trans Fats) are typically liquids at room temperature (such as oils like olive oil). Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat , typically created in an industrial process called (partial) hydrogenation. Unlike other dietary fats, trans fats are not needed at all, and they do not promote good health. Trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils are more harmful than naturally occurring oils. Polyunsaturated fats contain Essential Fatty Acids and monounsaturated fats break down bad LDL (low density Lipoprotein) cholesterol and promote good HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol. As I promote natural health and eat naturally I would suggest getting all your fats from natural sources and not processed sources.
How much fat do I need?
The table below is a common guide to what percentage of your body weight should be fat. This also translates to the rough percentage of your calorie intake that should be fat i.e. for most people recommend around 20% of your calorie intake to come from fat, this is about 50g of fat. There is 9 calories (kcal) per gram of fat. As with everything else there are no commonly agreed boundaries but the following acts as a good guide:
If you go below your essential fat you risk your health and life. Fat is not just a backup source of fuel it’s also used to store toxins your body can’t deal with immediately and its needed to absorb Fat-soluble vitamins. It also provides many other useful functions. Fortunately it’s very hard to remove all fat from your diet, but don’t try too. If you are in the Essential fat range you need to eat more fat and put on more weight or your body and Yi Quan Kung Fu will suffer. At such low levels of fat you will lack energy and power and you will have very little weight to use meaning you will have to work much harder to produce the same power and as someone with just a little more weight.
If you are lean then you will likely have fast hand speed and fast kicking but you won’t be on the verge of starvation. To be lean requires a very strict diet and missing meals can cause muscle wastage very quickly. Because a lean person has little back up reserves of fat when they run out of energy the body has no choice but to turn to the muscles as a source of energy and will actually break them down (for the Amino Acids in them) in order to survive. This is bad news for Yi Quan Kung Fu. So if you are lean your physical performance will be good but make sure your food intake is well planned.
Healthy or acceptable are both normal amounts of fat. With this much fat most people will still have good speed with their hands and legs and will have enough fuel to train for extended periods and have weight behind their strikes. Once in the overweight range your speed will start to reduce, however you will have more weight to put behind the punch. As the damage a punch does is based around the size of a fist and the weight behind it and the speed at which the fist moves, being overweight means you have less speed but more weight behind the strike so the damage you do will possibly remain the same (or just fall a little due to speed).
However moving the body will be harder when overweight and training for extended amounts of time will also be harder. Once you go past overweight into the obese category your Yi Quan Kung Fu may really start to suffer. Speed will become a real problem and movement will be slowed. Being obese will also make training for even short periods of time hard. However there is of course the underlying risk to your health that comes with being obese.
Protein is essential especially if you train Yi Quan Kung Fu
Protein is one of the main building blocks of life. High protein foods are meat, fish, Pumpkin Seeds, nuts, eggs, tofu, soy, and dairy products. It’s very important to have a good intake of protein in order to repair and build muscles after training Yi Quan Kung Fu. Fortunately most food contains some protein and in developed countries protein deficiency has been all but eliminated. The average person needs to get around 60grams of protein a day (0.8g of protein per kg of healthy body weight). This is also fine for Yi Quan Kung Fu.
However if you want to train hard every day, protein will help your muscles recover, repair and grow faster. So having a greater protein intake if you’re doing intense training will only be beneficial. Your body cannot store protein. It can convert it into fat but this is an energy intensive process and uses up around half of the calories in the protein. Your body can also only absorb around 20-30 grams of protein at one time (for use in growth and repair). So it is not recommended to take huge doses of protein at once. Most high protein food is also very high in fat, like meat and dairy. 1 cup (250ml) of 1% milk is equivalent of the fat in 1 slice of bacon!.
Therefore people who train hard and want a high protein and low fat diet should look to things like beans, legumes, tofu and the leanest meats possible. Vegetarians and Vegans in particular should look at protein supplements to help them get enough to cope with increased training regimes. When using a protein shake remember your body can’t really absorb more than 20 or 30g at once and it can’t store it so don’t gulp down too much as it’s a waste of money. The recommended scoops by many manufacturers are also much higher than needed. This may be because it does no harm to take more and you run out of your expensive protein powder sooner if you do meaning you have to go and buy another one from them.
Protein contains Amino Acid, These make up a key part of the growth and repair of cells including DNA. Some Amino Acids are essential meaning they cannot be made by the so must be consumed as part of the diet. Eight amino acids are generally regarded as essential for humans . Four other Amino Acids are additionally required by infants and growing children. Some Amino acids are conditionally essential for some people. For instance those with phenylalanine sensitivity have to make sure they get tyrosine (which would otherwise be made from phenylalanine) to get all the Amino acids the body needs. Some sources of protein lack certain amino acids; therefore to keep your body responding to the pressure of training effectively a mixed source of proteins will help.
Branched Chain Amino Acids
Three of the essential Amino acids are called branched chain amino acids and make up 1/3rd of the skeletal muscle in the body so are very important for Yi Quan Kung Fu practitioners whose training will put the body under stress.
Fruit and Veg is high in Fibre
Fiber is found in fruit, vegetables, bean, seeds and natural grains. Fiber in general aids digestion and therefore helps the absorption of other nutrients. It will also make you feel full without adding many extra calories to your intake. This is why you can shovel loads of white rice and past down the chute but nowhere near as much of the good brown stuff. There are two categories of fiber, soluble and insoluble fiber. It is recommended that a person gets at least 30g of fiber a day. A lack of fiber will mean food takes longer to be processed by your body and the buildup of food may make you slow when training Yi Quan Kung Fu.
The term mineral generally refers to certain elements your body needs, like metals. Minerals are a micro nutrients i.e. your body needs tiny quantities of them. The essential minerals are generally considered to be Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Potassium, Phosphorus, Sodium, Selenium and Zinc. Its advised to the right amount of all of these for good health. However Calcium is worth a special mention in relation to Yi Quan Kung Fu as calcium is important for the repair of bones which may become damaged from heavy training including things like bag training and conditioning. My take on calcium is to get it from natural sources i.e. plants.
When we consume too many acidic foods our body struggles to maintain a balance and equilibrium, too neutralize the acid our bodies take calcium from our bones to neutralize it. Meat & Dairy are highly acidic – this is hilarious to me that we promote dairy as the best source of calcium as it is acidic and our bodies use our calcium stores in our bones to neutralize it. Try avocados, broccoli, leafy greens. I will leave the acid alkaline talk for another post.
Vitamins are another micro nutrient. There are 2 types of vitamin, fat soluble and water soluble. Humans need Vitamin A, B, C, D, E, K B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, and B12. A balanced diet will normally provide the body with enough minerals to not need supplementation. These Vitamins perform a variety of functions which will promote good health (and good recovery for training Yi Quan Kung Fu) Vitamin D and B12 are often low (from dietary sources ) particularly in Vegetarians and Vegans, but are both important to someone who does Yi Quan Kung fu . You can get vitamin D from sunlight and the only food source available – beloved mushrooms. B12 is one vitamin that comes from animal products but is also fortified in most almond milks, coconut milks, cereals etc. People are also often misled on this vitamin as we only need very small amounts of it. One almond milk shake a couple of times a week would do the trick!.
Like many things the human body can overdose on Vitamins particularly fat soluble vitamins like A and D. However huge quantities of these vitamins need to be ingested for extended periods of time for toxicity to occur. Many thousands of percent of your RDA for months usually. This usually only happens with people who take too many different supplements containing the same vitamin, although industrial accidents are also responsible for many cases of overdose. Overdosing can be serious and in extreme cases lead to death. Before taking any multi vitamins always read the label and check the dosage. Its hard to know how much of the multi vitamin will be absorbed (if any). But any vitamins with huge doses should be avoided. Cheap multi vitamins normally contain enough vitamins and will save you a lot of money if you do want to take multi vitamins. If taking multiple supplements always check you are not taking lots of doses of the same vitamin, particularly if its can cause toxicity (like A and D).
Your body needs a good amount of water to prevent dehydration which would hinder your Yi Quan Kung Fu. Make sure you get at least 2 liters of water a day and always take extra water to training if you will be working hard. I like to squeeze fresh lemon into my water now and then for great alkalizing effects.
If you or your child are interested in enrolling in martial arts classes, the Whitby Martial Arts Academy has the classes and teachers to help your child succeed. We will do our best to help you achieve your martial arts goals. Come on down to the Ontario Self Defence Centre. Whether it’s Safety. Self-protection. Confidence. Martial Arts Training. Yi Quan Kung Fu. Fitness. Health. Speed or Strength we got you covered. We offer classes for Men, Women and Children. Take advantage of our 14 day free trial. See how self-protection training and martial arts can change your life. Serving the Durham Region. Whitby. Ajax. Oshawa. Pickering. Brooklin.