Dressed in a historical loincloth and wearing his hair in a topknot, a sumo wrestler’s goal is to force his opponent beyond the ring or knock him off his feet.
Sumo wrestling may seem funny or strange to a Western audience, but it’s a long-standing tradition of Japanese culture. Unlike your typical western wrestlers, sumo wrestlers are fat, but why is that?
Why Are Sumo Wrestlers Fat?
Sumo wrestlers are fat so that they don’t get easily pushed out from the ring by their opponents. Because a sumo wrestler’s goal is essentially to be immoveable to his opponent, being fat is to his advantage. The more mass a sumo wrestler has, the more force required to move him.
If you’re only starting to become interested in sumo sport, it’s useful to know the secrets behind every sumo wrestler’s exercise regimen necessary for them to achieve their ideal physique. Keep reading to learn more about it.
Why Are Sumo Wrestlers Fat and Not Muscular?
Sumo wrestlers are fat because they rely on their weight to make it harder for their opponents to push them off the ring. Although not always visible, a sumo wrestler’s body also has many muscles to help them fight in the ring.
Sumo wrestlers have a high percentage of subcutaneous fat, the fat just beneath the skin, rather than the more dangerous fat found around the internal organs. Muscle gives a sumo wrestler the strength to push his opponent, and the subcutaneous fat makes him difficult to be pushed in turn.
Additionally, sumo wrestlers have such a high concentration of subcutaneous fat thanks to a hormone called adiponectin. This hormone is released during strenuous exercise and guides fat in the blood to space under the skin.
Underneath all that fat, sumo wrestlers are typically very strong. Their training regimen starts as early as 5 a.m. every day and lasts up to six hours, including squats, stomps, splits, and sparring matches.
The most grueling part of the workout is the butsukari, where one wrestler throws himself at another in a body slam until he collapses from exhaustion.
A sumo wrestler’s hours-long exercise routine, combined with his high caloric intake, means he gains both fat and muscle.
Do Sumo Wrestlers Gain Weight on Purpose?
A sumo wrestler’s goal is to be immovable for his opponent. The more he weighs, the stronger his opponent has to be to push him out of the ring or knock him off his feet. So it makes sense that sumo wrestlers might want to weigh as much as possible.
Sumo wrestlers do gain weight on purpose–it just has to be the right kind of weight. They need to be as heavy as possible without sacrificing their muscle tone underneath. Additionally, they gain the weight they need by being extremely active and consuming a high-calorie diet.
A sumo wrestler’s weight is a unique combination of muscle and subcutaneous fat. He should be heavy enough to be difficult to move and strong enough to push his equally heavy opponent over the line.
What Do Sumo Wrestlers Eat?
According to Business Insider, the average sumo wrestler eats 7,000 calories a day. Like bodybuilders, they eat food high in protein to aid in building muscle mass. They also eat massive portions to keep up with their intense exercise regimens and gain weight.
Sumo wrestlers mainly eat chankonabe, a hearty stew made of seasonal vegetables and meats typically served in a fish- or chicken-based broth. It is rich in protein and is often served with rice. It is not particularly calorie-rich compared to other foods, though, but sumo wrestlers eat a lot of it.
Additionally, sumo wrestlers eat large amounts of rice and beer. Some can even eat seven or eat rice bowls and drink six pints of beer just to consume the thousands of calories they need for their lifestyle.
Sumo wrestlers also typically live together in large, frat house-style homes, and they make a huge batch of chankonabe every day for everyone to share. However, chankonabe doesn’t have to be just for sumo wrestlers.
If you want to make your own protein-packed stew, this video on YouTube shows you how:
Eaten in small- or medium-sized portions, it’s an excellent source of nutrients.
Are Sumo Wrestlers Healthy?
Active sumo wrestlers are healthy, but it can be hard to believe because of their appearance. Since the fat in a sumo wrestler’s body is not around his heart, liver, and other abdominal organs, he doesn’t carry the same risk of obesity-related diseases that a typical obese person does.
Because of sumo wrestlers’ high percentage of body fat, it’s easy to assume that they are prone to obesity-related diseases like diabetes.
However, active sumo wrestlers are not particularly prone to heart disease or high blood pressure. It all comes down to their exercise routine, which releases adiponectin and directs fat away from the organs.
Not all fat is the same, and subcutaneous fat doesn’t carry the same level of danger and health risk as the visceral fat found around the organs.
The key distinction is that actively training sumo wrestlers are healthy. Their organs are relatively fat-free. However, retired wrestlers often have many health problems.
If a retired wrestler continues to eat 5,000 or more calories a day but does not continue his rigorous exercise routine, he will start gaining visceral fat. This is because the wrestler is not producing large amounts of adiponectin, the hormone responsible for subcutaneous fat.
High amounts of visceral fat are associated with an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, meaning retired sumo wrestlers who continue to eat high-calorie diets are much less healthy than their active counterparts.
Retired sumo wrestlers must either consume fewer calories or maintain their exercise routine. Otherwise, they become at high risk of diabetes, heart attacks, and high blood pressure. This might explain why, on average, sumo wrestlers die ten years earlier than the average Japanese man.
Sumo wrestling is an ancient sport, and the lifestyle its participants live is highly regulated. Sumo wrestlers live, eat, and train together, keeping their traditions alive every day. While the idea of two obese men wrestling probably seems odd to an outside audience, sumo wrestlers are talented athletes.
Sumo wrestlers are incredibly agile and strong, despite what their appearance may suggest. A winning sumo wrestler has to push or topple a 300- or 400-pound man (136- or 181-kilogram)–without being pushed or toppled himself. That takes impressive strength, determination, and practice, and the extra weight certainly helps.
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- Web-Japan.org: What is Sumo?
- Business Insider: Sumo Wrestlers Eat Up To 7,000 Calories a Day, Yet They Aren’t Unhealthy
- PBS: How Do Sumo Wrestlers Avoid Obesity-Related Diseases?
- BBC Science Focus: Why Are Sumo Wrestlers So Fat?
- The Boston Globe: How to Eat Like a Sumo Wrestler
- Men’s Journal: Sumo Wrestling’s Healthy Secrets
- Livestrong: Sumo Wrestlers Compared to Bodybuilders
- VICE Asia: The 10,000 Calorie Diet: This Is What Sumo Wrestlers Eat
- NPR: Sumo Breakfast of Champions: Bowls and Bowls of Clay Pot Stew