Sunday, 19 April 2015

How Can We Train Longer and Get Better Results?

(Cherry Blossoms, Kikuchi, 2015)

Spring is the time of re-birth and, in Japan, the start of the fiscal year. This is yet another example of the strong connection with nature that can be found in Asia. What does this season offer us with regards to our training? For the senior high school division (Koutai-ren) of the Japan Karate-do Federation , Spring is the beginning of the competitive Season! With qualification tournaments all across the country for the most prestigious high school championships, the Inter-High, students all across Japan are bringing their training up to the next level. But, with such a short break between the end of the school year in March and the beginning of the school year in April, some students having as little as only a couple of days break, burn-out is a very serious concern. While addressing this concern I began thinking about how can we continue to increase the intensity of our training sessions and avoid burn-out. I would like to begin to address this concern in this post.

Perhaps one of the most important components of our training that often gets overlooked by those who are not athletes competing at a fairly highly competitive level is diet. I strongly believe that diet is the key component that enables us to continue to train at a high calibre even into later years after finishing competitive careers. There is no doubt that diet affects our quality of life, but it would seem that most of what we know about healthy eating may not be as accurate as we've been lead to believe.

As an athlete competing in Canada I often cut weight before National competitions in order to make my weight category. I could drop weight fairly easily then, but I was never thin. The closer I get to 40 the harder it is becoming to stay 'not fat'; I am not overly fat, but I am not thin either. I like Dr. Peter Attia's description and have started using it to describe my body type "fit but fat." As you can see from the pictures below taken in Canada while training intensely in 1998 and January of this year, I am not out of shape, but I could totally afford to lose some fat from around my midsection. Recently, friends of mine have started a diet that is really rocking the nutrition boat. They are getting results and suggested that I check out Attia's website I am taken by the similarities in Dr. Peter Attia's story and my own and have decided to re-assess my eating habits as a result.

(Photos were taken in 1998 even while in the midst of intense training I had trouble loosing weight around my belly. I'm the one in the plaid shorts).
(Photo taken January, 2015)
I intend on making subtle changes to my eating habits over the next few Months and assess the changes in the following three areas: Body measurements & weight lost, Joint pain, and energy levels. I hope to be in better shape in all three areas by August and I also hope to be able to maintain my condition for a whole year afterwards, something I have always struggled with. I would also like to share with you how my eating habits have changed since coming to Japan.
One of the Biggest Dietary Changes in my Life
Moving to Japan hasn't just changed my life socially. Adapting to the changes from living in Canada to living in Japan has changed me emotionally and physically. I can still remember those days immediately after moving to Japan when school finished. Pretty much everyday, I found myself standing in my apartment shaking and dizzy from the drastic drop in my sugar intake. I countered these spells by shooting a glass of coke. Before I knew it I was shooting two or more glasses to correct my sugar levels and get rid of the shakes.
Let me explain in a little more detail the cause for this drastic drop in sugar. While living in Canada I had an average diet which I only watched while competing. In 2001 I moved to Kumamoto, Japan to live and work full-time. My first Job as an assistant language teacher (ALT) meant that I was working in public junior high schools (JHS) and elementary schools. Japan still has a system, that started just after WWII, where each public elementary and junior high school offers students a prepared lunch every day. These lunches are prepared by 栄養士 Eiyou-shi, nutrition specialists who prepare a balanced diet according to the target age group. These lunches are called 給食 Kyu-shoku. Below Left, you can see a typical school kitchen and below Right, a typical school lunch.
 You can see from the photo on the bottom Right that it is a white rice based diet with fish or meat such as chicken or pork, with vegetables, fruit such as oranges, apples, or nashi pear apples, a soup dish, and milk. I ate these every day for about 8 years. Gradually my body adapted to the new levels of sugar and when I went back to Canada on a Home stay visit with my JHS students, in my second or third year working here, I found that I could not eat the food that I once loved due to the way they made me feel after eating them. I believe this to be because of the huge difference in the amount of sugar in them.
I recently found some support to my theory in a TED Talk by Paul Cyr at North High School This talk is easy to fallow and to the point. I then looked more closely at other sources such as the Atkins diet, an all fat no carb diet and the Japanese diet which I am pretty much on, an all carb no fat diet, to see if there were any commonalities. The biggest common factor in both diets is the lack of sugar, specifically  fructose, as Dr. Robert H. Lustig points out in his talk 'Sugar: The Bitter Truth' at the University of California.
I am trying to remember a year that has gone by since I moved here when someone didn't comment on my fluctuation in weight and I can't think of even a one year or six month period, for that matter, when someone hasn't said something like, "Marc you're getting fat" noticing my belly. These comments caused a number of emotions within me from anger, to sorrow, to frustration, but more importantly these emotions fuelled a desire to watch what I ate, at least for a day or two before I slipped back into poor eating habits involving a fair amount of snacking on potato chips, popcorn, and chocolate, or should I say, sugar, sugar, and more sugar.
This year at 37 years of age, I feel my joints hurting more than before. I notice that it is getting harder to lose the inches around my gut, and I can feel my energy levels dropping drastically in the afternoons. I set a personal goal for myself to compete in this year's Chito-Ryu National Championships and am taking this goal as an extra incentive to change my diet for the better leading up to the competition. I will not go into a competition in poor shape, this is a promise I made to myself. I over trained in my youth as I am sure many of you reading this blog have as well. But, now we are smarter and have greater access to more in-depth information on such things as training methods, proper stretching techniques, and nutrition. The trick is to stay motivated long enough to change our habits and make the healthy choices as well informed individuals. I find that by telling my goals to others I am less likely to give into cravings, or at least when I do so I eat less than I would have otherwise. Now that I have posted this on the Internet for the whole world to read I have to do it.
As I said earlier, I am going to make small changes over the course of the next four months and continue to do so for the rest of this year. Thank you for all of the support you've shown this blog and for helping me to live a healthy life in karate-do. I look forward to posting photos of a thinner, healthier me in the Months to come.

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