Dec 03rd 2015  


This entry is part 3 of 9 in the series Training challenges


If you read about FWC Instructor Adam’s attempt at Death by Burpees, then you know that he likes to do a bit more.  That was a bit easy, so instead of a bit of extreme training, how about a bit of extreme eating?  According to  Barbara Lewin, nutritionist, “one of the most common problems (endurance athletes) have is glycogen depletion – the result of not getting enough carbohydrates,”  Now you may not think that FWC Kung Fu is about endurance, but that kind of depends on how you’re doing it.  Ms Lewin was commenting on the reported competition training diet of Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games.  Next year is an Olympic year, so really we should be getting ready now.  Adam, how about eating like Michael Phelps for a day?  He did not need to be asked twice.  Here’s his story:

“”Within a healthy balanced diet an average adult male needs between 2,400 – 2,600 calories to maintain his weight” – NHS website

This is what a bowl of grits looks like

As your instructors have told you many times, the minute you start FWC Kung fu, you are no longer average. Whether you sidle in once a week and hide at the back or you are a Sunday class regular and have tried the Death by Burpees challenge, you are on your way to being not just an athlete but an elite one. Breakfast of coffee and Rice Krispie’s followed by a sandwich for lunch no longer cuts the mustard. So what do you need to eat? There is a multitude of nutritional advice and diet plans available, from carb loading, to balancing calories consumed to those burnt like elite cyclists.

I have to admit I do like to eat – a lot.  So when I was asked if I wanted to try eating like Michael Phelps the Olympic swimmer for a day, my heart sang. It’s an elite sports diet with a high amount of calories, a whopping 10,000-12,000. And then my questions started – would it give me more energy, what happens to your body when you consume that many calories, and could I physically eat that amount?  I’m only three quarters of Phelps’ weight, but hey I’m a Fujian White Crane Kung Fu instructor.

Here’s how the day went:

French toast and coffee

French toast and coffee

In my kitchen I have a small breakfast bar which is two steps to my fridge and three to the hob. Breakfast had five different dishes (grits, pancakes, omelettes, fried egg sandwiches, and freshly brewed coffee.  This took preparation time and cooking time and washing up time.  Then there was the eating time. From eight thirty in the morning until twelve thirty in the afternoon, I was walking between the fridge, the hob, the plate, and the sink. That is a long time just for breakfast. Most elite athletes have already done at least three hours training by this point and I had done none, apart from walking around my bijou kitchen, and lifting a fork, oh and chewing.

Chocolate chip pancakes

Do you need me to tell you these are chocolate chip pancakes?

Lunch was far easier to prepare and cook as it was just half a kilo of pasta and carbonara sauce. It did take me a whole episode of NCIS to plough through it all.

As it was Friday I started cooking dinner at ten thirty, after returning home from the Chief Instructor’s class. As with lunch the preparation was very easy, another half kilo of pasta with carbonara sauce and a ready made pizza. I also had the unfinished breakfast fried egg sandwiches. Eating all of this took me until one thirty in the morning with the pasta taking at least two episodes of the crime show Bones.

How did it feel?

Ever been to the cinema during the day? Know the feeling of brightness and slight disorientation when you walk outside? I felt like that all day, it was euphoric. When I did have time to train I certainly had tons of energy.  The large quantity of carbohydrates meant that I could keep pushing through the class with little fatigue. The enormous number of eggs in the breakfast meant I held on to most of the food during the day (I went from 67.7kg to 69.9kg) which did make it uncomfortable to move. I was grateful there weren’t many sit-ups during the class.

Lots of eggs in an omelette

Lots of eggs in an omelette

Apart from the huge energy boost (which meant I was still awake at four the next morning) there was an unexpected side effect.  I had to pee an awful lot. The body turns carbohydrates into glucose (blood sugar), which is in turn used for energy for your cells, tissues, organs etc. Because of the high carbohydrate content of the diet I had ended up with a mild case of hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar) and the excess urination was my body’s attempt to rid itself of the excess glucose. This is not an issue as a once-off but frequent hyperglycaemia, as diabetics know, can lead to nerve, blood and organ damage.


Lessons learned

On a personal level, considering this was a diet with minimal meat and high pasta content I didn’t suffer any hunger pangs or mid-afternoon energy dips – perhaps it was those eggs again. I often suffer at about midway through an evening class from a big energy drop but this didn’t happen.

“Nine out of 10 times the reason an athlete doesn’t reach their personal best is because they’re not getting enough carbohydrates and that’s what your muscles need for food.”  Barbara Lewin’s comment could have been about me many a time.

I have always eaten a large amount of meat to help rebuild my muscles after training (and because I like it). After eating like this for a day and reading around the subject I realise that maybe I need to change the structure of how I eat during the week to get the most out of my high training days (Friday’s 3 classes, Saturday all-day camp and Sunday’s 5 classes finished off with Instructor Class) by eating the appropriate carbohydrates.

The sandwiches that were a bit hard to swallow.

The sandwiches that were a bit hard to swallow.

Pizza? Athletes eat pizza??

Pizza? Athletes eat pizza??

Taking a wider view, I learnt eating like this takes time – lots and lots of time. For full-time professional elite athletes with the backing of sponsors and sports bodies maybe this isn’t an issue. They have personal chefs at home and at the training venues. Nutritionists and sports scientists to tweak the diets for competitions, tapering and off-season training. They are the people we know about though, the Michael Phelps, Mo Farahs. However these people are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many thousands of athletes who haven’t made it yet, or are in disciplines that don’t receive sponsorship or state funding that have to prep, eat and cook like this all by themselves, who rely on massive amounts of free help from family and friends. Obviously these athletes then have to train and for a lot of them they work as well. To do all of this day in day out takes discipline and sacrifice.

And so my message to you..

To get the most out of your Kung Fu training you could do the same too – think of yourself as an athlete. You don’t need to rise at five to cook everything or spend your evenings digesting kilos of pasta. You do need to look at what you are eating and when, you do need to get up ten minutes earlier and eat a proper breakfast. I would suggest keeping a food diary to see if you are getting the required carbohydrates and protein. Talk to your instructor and research on the web to see how many calories an active person of your body weight and size needs per day.

This is half a kilo of pasta with carbonara

This is half a kilo of pasta with carbonara

This diet was a low-residue high in refined carbohydrates plan for fuelling the tall, fit frame of a competitive swimmer.  I normally eat more of a standard balanced diet, including the recommended quantities of fruit and vegetables, but I’m rethinking how I eat to pace my energy levels.

What I ate:

I based the diet on this BBC article on Phelps:

Breakfast: Three fried egg sandwiches; cheese; tomatoes; lettuce; fried onions; mayonnaise; three chocolate-chip pancakes; five-egg omelette; three sugar-coated slices of French toast; bowl of grits; two cups of coffee
Lunch: Half-kilogram (one pound) of enriched pasta; two large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise on white bread; energy drinks
Dinner: Half-kilogram of pasta, with carbonara sauce; large pizza; energy drinks.

My stomach refused the two large ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch but I did have some extra yoghurt and cake for dessert in the evening.

Using MyFitnessPal, the total amount of calories I consumed was 9,481.

No more, no more...

No more, no more…

Breakfast: 3,189 cal
Lunch: 2,532 cal
Dinner: 3,454 cal
Snacks: 306 cal”