Sumo wrestling is not a popular sport in the rest of the world apart from Japan and other neighbouring countries that have started adopting it. The wrestlers are usually very big, somewhere between 300 and 400 pounds. What most people wonder is what a sumo wrestler diet is made up off.
Being over 300 pounds is not a joke. Sumo wrestling as a sport requires athletes to be large and heavy. The larger and heavier you are, the more of an advantage you have (8). With that said, what is sumo wrestling? What do sumo wrestlers eat? Are sumo wrestlers healthy? These and many more questions about this unorthodox sport will be answered in this amazing read.
What Is Sumo Wrestling?
Before we can go into what their diet is composed of, it is important to know what the sport is all about. Sumo wrestling originated as part of Shinto religious ceremonies to welcome a new year. Sumo wrestling is a type of sport where one’s objective is to force their opponent to the floor with all the other parts of their body apart from their feet. So if any other part of your body touches the floor you lose. You also win if you are able to make your opponent step out of the ring (4). Unlike other types of wrestling across the world, closed fists are not allowed in sumo wrestling. Pulling of hair is also not allowed (6).
Just like the normal wrestling you know, every match is officiated by a referee. The referees are usually referred to as ‘gyoji’. In addition to the referees, there are also judges who are usually ringside. These judges are referred to as the five shimpan. The work of these judges is usually to review and confirm the decisions made by the gyoji (referee) (6).
Sumo wrestlers are usually referred to as rikishi. Being a rikishi is not easy at all and it requires hard work, determination and discipline. The sport itself is not easy hence you don’t expect being a rikishi to be easy. When a sumo wrestler is beginning their wrestling career, they usually join a stable. A stable is a place where the rikishi live, eat, workout, drink and do everything throughout their sumo wrestling career (6).
Hierarchy Of Rank
In the stables, rank is very important. For this reason, hierarchy of rank is highly respected. Sumo wrestlers of lower rank are responsible for doing most of the chores in the stables. This includes chores like cooking, being sent to the market, preparing the ingredients of the food, cleaning the stable and all other chores involved that have not been mentioned. In addition to this, low rank sumo wrestlers only eat after high rank sumo wrestlers have eaten (6).
Sumo wrestling is a very unique sport. Rikishi’s are always supposed to be wearing traditional Japanese attire. They are also supposed to have the traditional topknot hairstyle. Another thing that distinguishes rikishi’s from other athletes is how big they usually are (6).
Sumo wrestling is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. This is not to say that only the Japanese can practice this sport. Many foreigners have been able to take up the sport over the years and even go ahead to dominate the sport. Foreigners must follow the same guidelines that the locals follow. This is to say they must join a stable just as the locals do (6).
When a rikishi comes to the end of his career, a ceremony is usually held to celebrate them. During this ceremony, the sumo wrestler’s topknot is usually cut. This is done to show the end of their career (6). That is basically the gist of what you need to know about sumo wrestling.
Japanese Sumo Wrestler Diet
When it comes to sumo wrestling, the bigger and stronger you are, the more of an advantage you hold. Unlike other sports, sumo wrestlers do not depend on supplements to get as large as they do. They achieve their size and strength through vigorous training and a healthy balanced diet.
What Do Sumo Wrestlers Eat?
The staple food for sumo wrestlers is chankonabe. This is the main food consumed by the rikishi. Chankonabe provides the wrestlers with the necessary minerals, vitamins, proteins and all other nutrients as well as helping them gain weight.
There is no set way of making chankonabe (10). Different stables and different cooks make their chankonabe differently. Chankonabe is basically a soup that is served while very hot. Although there is no set way of making this broth, the ingredients mostly used are the same across the board.
To make chankonabe you need proteins. Some of the commonly used proteins are fish, beef, chicken, pork and even tofu. Another thing you need is vegetables. Some of the commonly used vegetables are potatoes, mushrooms, radishes, cabbage and others (10). Although there is no set way of making chikonabe, here is a simple recipe to give you a rough idea on how this amazing soup rich in nutrients as well as calories is made.
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How To Make Chankonabe
To make chikonabe as good as sumo wrestler’s do, this is what to do (1):
You need ingredients to make the meatballs that go into the soup as well as ingredients for the soup:
What You Need For The Meatballs:
- 1/2 lb ground or minced pork
- 1 or 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon of miso paste
- 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon of soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon of sake
- 1 onion that is minced or cut into very small pieces
What You Need For The Soup:
- 6 1/4 cups of fish broth
- 4 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons of sake
- 3 tablespoons of mirin
- 1/4 cup of daikon. They should be sliced
- 2 medium carrots. They should be sliced
- 1/4 cup of shiitake mushrooms. They should be sliced
- 1 bunch of nira. They should be chopped. (Nira are smaller green onions)
- 1 bunch of green onion. They should be chopped into 1-inch pieces
- A handful of cabbage. The cabbage should be chopped
- A handful of bok choy. They bok choy should be chopped
- 12 ounces of firm tofu. The tofu should be sliced
- The first thing you need to do is make the meatballs. To do this, you take a large mixing bowl and mix all the meatball ingredients highlighted above together. Then using wet hands, roll meatballs into 1-inch balls and refrigerate until ready to use. The purpose to refrigerating is to ensure the different ingredients combine well and settle in together.
- Secondly, take a medium-sized pot, and warm up the fish broth, together with soy sauce, sake, and mirin until hot.
- Then take you chopped daikon and carrots and add them to your pot. Cook them over medium heat for 5-10 minutes.
- Then take the pork meatballs you made earlier and add them into the pot. Let this cook for 10-15 minutes.
- Then take your sliced shiitake mushrooms, your chopped nira, your chopped 1-inch pieces of green onions, your chopped cabbage, and your chopped bok choy, and add them to the pot. Cook this for 10 more minutes.
- Then lower the heat and add the sliced tofu (do not boil in high heat). Cook over low heat for 5 minutes.
- Add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add soy sauce if you like.
That is how you can create chankonabe of the same quality as that of sumo wrestlers.
How Many Calories Do Sumo Wrestlers Take In A Day?
This is a question that baffles many people. To be over 300 pounds it means you have a very high calorie intake. Many different people have different answers to this question. According to some of the retired sumo wrestlers, they consume somewhere between 7000 to 10,000 calories in a day (9). Yes, those are the calories you should consume if you want to have as much weight as sumo wrestlers do.
Sumo wrestlers get most of their weight from eating chankonabe. Although this soup is rich in calories, the amount the sumo wrestlers take at a given time also works to help them get to their weight gain goals. A rikishi might eat up to ten bowls of this broth together with rice or noodles (5).
What Are The Eating Habits Of Sumo Wrestlers?
Most people think that sumo wrestlers just sit down and eat all day. That is actually not true at all. The rikishi wake up as early as 5 in the morning (7). They do not have breakfast (2). Instead, they head straight into doing chores and training. Their training sessions are usually gruesome and tiring. They train for a minimum of 5 hours. The reason they don’t eat breakfast in the morning is due to the gruesome training they undertake. If they were to eat breakfast while doing such extreme exercises, it would result in them getting sick.
The benefit of doing such exercises, apart from getting them ready for their matches of course, is that it helps them build up their appetite. They eat their first meal at around noon. This is how they are able to eat up to ten bowls of chankonabe. After eating these many calories, the sumo wrestlers usually take a much needed nap. The nap takes an average of 4 hours. When they wake up, they eat their second and last meal of the day.
Other components of a sumo wrestler’s diet are:
Hydration Is Important
This goes without saying. After all those exhausting training sessions they usually undergo, they have to replace the water they lost. They do this by drinking a lot of water and green tea (3).
Rice Is A Crucial Part Of Their Diet
This is in the aim of gaining even more calories. The rikishis eat many bowls of rice on any given day. This helps them pack on extra pounds and gives them the competitive edge they require (3).
Noodles Are Also Part Of The Diet
If you want to become a sumo wrestler, you should learn to love noodles. Sumo wrestlers eat big portions of udon noodles. Just like the rice, noodles are used to help the wrestlers gain weight (3).
Competition Days Are Chicken Days
On normal days, they eat chankonabe made from any protein. It can be beef, fish, pork, tofu, chicken and so on. On competition day, they only eat chankonabe made from chicken. There is an underlying tradition to this. They eat chicken because chickens only walk with two feet on the ground, and that’s how sumo wrestlers win — by keeping two feet planted squarely on the ground. Hands and feet would make four legs, and that would mean a loss (3).
Beer And More Beer
Although their diet is highly nutritious, beer is an important part of their culture. Sumo wrestlers indulge in beer after eating on most days (8).
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Are Sumo Wrestlers Healthy?
The rikishi eat around 7000 to 10000 calories in a day. This does not sound like a healthy lifestyle right? Most people with obesity store the extra fat they have deep inside their abdomen. This extra fat wraps around their pancreas, liver, and other vital organs of the body. This fat is usually referred to as visceral fat. The visceral fat is more metabolically active than other types of fat and can increase inflammation and insulin resistance.. It is for this reason, abdominal obesity is associated with health conditions like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and other cardiovascular conditions.
This might be surprising but sumo wrestlers don’t suffer from these symptoms. Sumo wrestlers don’t have visceral fat. If they do have it, it is in very small quantities. The rikishi store their fat just underneath the skin (11). This makes them have normal levels of triglycerides and low levels of cholesterol. These low levels help them lower the risk of getting cardiovascular diseases (11).
How are they able to achieve this? They are able to achieve this through the gruesome workout sessions they undertake. These workout sessions prevent the buildup of visceral fat. Exercise increases a hormone called adiponectin (11). This hormone is responsible for guiding glucose and fat molecules out of the blood stream and instead stores them as fat underneath the skin.
It is important to note that these advantages go away when the wrestler retires (11). When they retire, they have to seriously lose a lot of weight or the same cardiovascular conditions that affect other obese people will also affect them.
The Bottom Line
The sumo wrestler diet is quite straightforward. As long as you know how to make chankonabe you should be okay. Sumo wrestlers usually eat in groups. This is because community eating makes them eat more than they would eat if they were eating alone. Sumo wrestlers are some of the most healthy athletes even though they don’t look like it. This is because they don’t eat processed food, junk food, sweetened foods and so on. Their hard and tiring workout sessions also play a role in ensuring they are healthy. Once they retire, sumo wrestlers are usually advised to cut their pounds so that they can reduce their chances of getting cardiovascular conditions.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Chanko-Nabe Recipe (2017, vice.com)
- Gain weight like a sumo wrestler (2010, nutrition.wonderhowto.com)
- How to eat like a sumo wrestler ( 2018, mashed.com)
- Introducing The Soup That Sumo Wrestlers Eat Daily (2016, foodrepublic.com)
- Sumo Diet & Lifestyle: The Chunkiest of Chanko Nabe (2016, gurunavi.com)
- The art of sumo wrestling: From religious ritual to elite sport (2018, independent.co.uk)
- The Real-Life Diet of a World-Champion Sumo Wrestler (2015, gq.com)
- The Special Stew at the Heart of Sumo Wrestling (2018, atlasobscura.com)
- The Sumo Wrestler’s Diet (n.d., livestrong.com)
- What Do Sumo Wrestlers Eat? (2018, theculturetrip.com)
- Yes Sumo Wrestlers Are Obese — But Are They Unhealthy? (2016, medium.com)