What sumo eat: The sumo wrestler bulk-up diet

Also read: Tough times for sumo: Japan’s ‘national sport’ and its recent scandals

It’s ironic that the national sport of Japan—who’s inhabitants are some of the skinniest and most gentle in the world—involves two overweight men trying to shove each other out of a ring.

Sumo

The truth is that it’s not just flab that makes a sumo wrestler’s girth; there’s a whole lot of muscle underneath it all.

The ideal weight for a sumo wrestler is anything from 400 to 600 pounds. This means that it takes not only strength and flexibility to be a sumo—it also takes the right diet. Eating is an essential part of their training.

Sumo-size me

A typical sumo wrestler eats a daily diet of 20,000 calories, which is pretty astounding when you consider that the recommended daily intake for a healthy, active male is 2,500. They eat 10 times what a normal male eats and all of it’s done in two massive 10,000-calorie meals. The sumo’s diet is an expression of my favorite Japanese cultural trait—never doing things halfway.

Here is a typical sumo wrestler daily eating schedule:

Skip breakfast

A sumo wrestler’s day starts at four or five o’clock in the morning with training and exercise. Surprisingly, breakfast is not served. Skipping breakfast and working out instead slows down the wrestler’s metabolism, so they usually don’t eat until around 11am. It also gets them hungry enough for that 10,000-calorie lunch.

Bulk load

The main dish that sumo wrestlers eat is a stew called chankonabe (ちゃんこ鍋). It sounds a little like ‘chunk nabe,’ which is somehow oddly appropriate. This is a stew filled with fish, vegetables, meat and tofu. Nabe (鍋) is a traditional Japanese stew, but chankonabe is the supersized version, stuffed full of extra everything for the sole purpose of providing calories.

Chankonabe sumo meal
Photo by acme

To complement their mighty meal, sumo wrestlers eat around 5–10 bowls of rice and copious amounts of beer, required for empty calories. A healthy rikishi (力士, sumo wrestler) may down as many as 6 pints during the midday meal.

Take a siesta

After lunch, there’s one more essential bit of training—the nap. How could you not pass out after a meal like that? Sumo wrestlers take a siesta for as long as 4 hours after lunch, in order to slow down their metabolism and add everything they just ate to their girth.

Dinner and lights out

At the end of the day, sumo wrestlers eat another massive meal and call it a night. While
they sleep, the day’s protein and calories work their magic and they wake up in the early
morning ready to smash their bodies against each other.

Chankonabe: Recommended by sumo wrestlers – it has to be good

Although hearty, chankonabe is actually quite healthy. It’s not your triple Whopper or deep-fried pizza. The stew is full of fresh veggies, tofu, fish and either pork, chicken or beef.
In case they aren’t full after the goodies are eaten and there’s just soup left, the sumo often dump a pile of noodles into the bowl.

You can eat chankonabe at restaurants throughout Japan. It comes in a number of different flavours including salt, soy sauce, miso, kimchee and more. Just bring a good appetite.

The restaurants in the Ryogoku area of Tōkyō, known as “Sumo Town” because it’s the home of the Japan Sumo Association, are particularly popular. You can also find other restaurants there that tailor to rikishi and serve ridiculously large dishes of curry and other typical meals.

Editor’s note: The National Geographic video below is worth watching if you’re interested in this topic:

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Originally from the States, +Greg Scott has gone native in Chiba, Japan, where he lives with his wife and two children. When not writing, he plays drums like a meth-crazed gorilla in several Tōkyō bands.

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  • bee

    skipping breakfast does not slow anyone’s metabolism.

    • http://divita.eu/ seifip

      It most certainly does… (here’s but one of the many sources stating the fact: http://www.livestrong.com/article/330856-ways-to-slow-down-metabolism/) This is one all weight-reduction guides urge one not to skip breakfast.

      • Mike OD

        It most certainly has never been proven in a study (nor does that article even show one reference for their assumption). Just because people “say” something, doesn’t make it true. 

        Here’s a study on 1 vs 3 meal when eating the maintenance calories just in different ways. Both groups stayed the same weight. The 1 meal a day crowd did not have a “slowed down metabolism” leading to weight gain. 

      • Randell1985

        metabolism doesn’t even determine your weight in fact studies show that fat people tend to have faster metabolisms not slower ones

        • IEatBreakfastIAmThin

          It is good to eat breakfast in the morning because it jumpstarts your activation energy and activates your metabolism. Your body needs to replenish what it has burned off when you sleep and if you do not feed it, it starts to burn off your reserves, that is why when you don’t eat for a while and then you eat a lot, you don’t feel as hungry and you gain weight because your body is trying to resupply what it lost.

          Mike OD, bee and Randell1985, pick up a middle school bio book. Metabolisms are faster for those who are bigger because the more you weigh the higher your BMR. If you eat, eat, and eat and don’t burn it off, your weight won’t change even if you have a higher metabolism.

          There could be endocrine and thyroid problems as well. Also eating breakfast makes your brain work better. Malnutrition affects thinking as your brain is composed of fat and water. Eating nothing by sat and trans fat and not exercising (not giving enough oxygen to your brain) will make you fat and less intelligent as it is harder to learn since one cannot concentrate. This relates to the big push for school lunches as most kids (poor and not poor) come to school hungry.

          • I-Do-IF-I’m-Thin-And-Fit

            Ever heard of Intermittent Fasting? Martin Berkhan, Ori Hofmekler, and Brad Pilon are clearly all fat and stupid, amirite. You see, not eating breakfast doesn’t send your body into starvation mode. It takes longer than that for it to happen. If you exercise, count your calories, eat clean and track your macros the way your meals are spread through the day doesn’t matter. Some people, like me, end up eating a lot more if they constantly “graze” the whole day and have breakfast – I always feel hungrier in the evenings, no matter how much I eat for breakfast. Also “Eating nothing by sat and trans fat and not exercising (not giving enough oxygen to your brain) will make you fat and less intelligent as it is harder to learn since one cannot concentrate.” – how does this directly relate to not eating breakfast? If your “metabolism jumpstarting” breakfasts are made of trans fat and refined carbs (saturated fats are a different story), and you don’t exercise, you’re going to gain weight anyway. The extra empty calories are making you fat, not your “slow metabolism”.

  • http://japan-australia.blogspot.com/ Japan Australia

    I love a good chankonabe (ちゃんこ鍋). In winter not a week goes by when we don’t have some kind of nabe.

  • Schoolfresh9

    vending services isn’t something you’ve got to tackle all on your own either. American healthcare is at the forefront of international news,Fresh Healthy Vending has to offer and do your part in making America feel better about itself committed to assisting locations across the US provide healthy snacks conveniently.
    http://fresh-vending-food.com/

  • Anonymous

    I had the pleasure of enjoying a real ‘chanko’ meal at a restaurant in Tokyo somewhere that specialized in that, with my Japanese wife and some of her friends.  Quite the pile-o-chow!  Hontou oishii-n-da yo, ne!

    • Greg

      Chanko nabe is certainly a massive meal. Talk about carb overload! I guess that’s why it works.

  • Zhangbin

     Happy life, entertainment life.

    http://www.runescapegold100.com

  • Dr Scuff

    Somebody should tell Sumos that alcohol hinders the body’s ability to add muscle, and that the body can only absorb so much protein per meal.

    There’s a reason Bodybuilders choose 5-6 meals a day over the traditional 2

    • Greg

      Those sumo-size meals where they pack it in definitely sound painful to me. Can’t imagine adding beer to the equation!

    • Randell1985

      it must work for them because they have been found to have an abnormally high amount of muscle for their appearance. the beer is also to minimize the fat. there goal is not to get fatter but larger(there is a difference) and studies show that beer does not give you a belly but burn fat

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  • http://twitter.com/jseb_92 Seb

    wow :D

  • tee

    Very fun part of our homeschool lesson about Japan today. Thank you!

    • Gregsnz

      Thanks for reading, tee!

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  • minitrooper

    my point of view is maybe they eat to much macdonalds. just my opinion