Eat Like an Athlete! Tips for a Balanced Japanese Diet & Healthy Lifestyle

In the lead up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, interest in ‘food for athletes’ has grown. At Tokyo Athlete Restaurant for example, the menu (overseen by Professor Nagashima from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya) is based on the principles of sports nutrition. Meals are designed to help diners access five key food groups including carbs, protein, minerals, fat and vitamins through nutritionally balanced meals. Balance and variety is at the core of Japanese cuisine and plays a part in Japan’s high life expectancy and low obesity rates.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are just a few weeks away now, and as competing athletes prepare their bodies and minds for intense competition, we take a look at how the Japanese diet and attitudes to food can help support your health and wellbeing.

Japanese Longevity  

It’s no secret that people in Japan live longer than the majority of the world’s population, but you may be surprised to learn that Japan currently has over 80,000 centenarians! The longevity in Okinawa is particularly impressive, and this area of southern Japan has been designated as one of the world’s five ‘Blue Zones’. These zones are designated to parts of the world where life expectancy is considerably above average and also include Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California. Japanese longevity has been attributed to decreasing rates of heart disease and cancer which is in part due to low obesity levels throughout the country. So, let’s take a closer look at the Japanese diet and lifestyle for some health and wellbeing inspiration. 

Balance, Variety and Moderation

Typical Japanese meals are often served as one soup and three dishes (ichiju-sansai). The main and two sides can contain meat, seafood, tofu, or vegetables and are suitable for vegans and vegetarians. The meal also comes with the staple japonica rice and pickles. Traditional Japanese cuisine (washoku) is based on balance and variety and enhances the natural flavours of seasonal ingredients. Japanese meals usually contain fresh vegetables packed with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients and are naturally low in sugar and animal fats too. Being an archipelago, delicious fish and seafood is the basis of many meals in Japan and is packed with protein and heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids. 

Small portions of food, served in individual bowls or on small plates also helps to moderate the amount of food consumed during a meal. The phrase ‘moderate eating’ was actually coined in Japan’s Edo period and basically means eating until you feel satisfied but not full. More recent research by Dr. Daisuke Koya of the Kanazawa Medical University Hospital has shown that eating only until you feel 70% full leads to better health and in turn a prolonged lifespan.  

Healthy Japanese Breakfasts

Breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day, breaking your overnight fast and gives you the energy to have a productive day. A bowl of sugary cereal and toast piled high with chocolate spread might give you a short-lived energy boost to wake you up in the morning, but over time sugary snacks like this may lead to weight gain and lethargy. 

If you’ve ever been to Japan you may have noticed that their traditional breakfast options are a little different to those in the UK and include a variety of dishes such as rice, soup, protein, vegetables and preserves. This nutritional breakfast gives you a balanced and varied start to your day, with the added benefit of staving off mid-morning hunger pangs! Team it with a delicious matcha latte, which will give you the energy boost of coffee, but without the caffeine crash.

Walking Your Way to Health

The convenience of public transport means that many of us are leading a much more sedentary lifestyle, which can have a negative impact on both our physical and mental wellbeing. While you may not be doing intensive training like an Olympic athlete, walking is an easy, accessible option for the majority of people. Not only will this help to get you outdoors into the fresh air, but will also raise your heart rate and burn calories, all things which can help to keep mind and body in good shape. 

Many of Japan’s cities are extremely walkable, and there is a strong walking culture throughout the country. In Matsumoto, Nagano for example, officials have implemented over 100 walking routes, designed to get residents walking to encourage a healthy lifestyle. 

Head to the Japan Centre recipe section on our website for a wealth of delicious, healthy recipes. You may also enjoy our Top 10 Japanese Superfoods blog post for a more in-depth look at some of Japan’s most nutrient-dense ingredients. 

Enjoy all this and more by shopping in-store at Japan Centre Leicester Square, Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City. Alternatively you can get fresh produce delivered straight to your door by shopping online at the Japan Centre website.

Words by Emily Lovell

Image credits

Mendhak via Flickr CC: