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Sushi: The Ultimate Sports Supplement?
By Denis Faye
Everyone loves the idea of fitness, but actually doing it is a different story. It all sounds so wonderful until you realize you need to exercise every day and, even worse, cut all the good stuff out of our diet.
However, it’s not all that bad. In fact, some of the foods you consider indulgent can offer huge health benefits. (The exercising part is a whole other story. You’re on your own for that one.) One perfect example of this is sushi. If done right, it’s not just good for, it’s a great way to get the nutrients you need to propel that active lifestyle. Let’s take a closer look at everyone favorite Japanese culinary contribution.
But before I start, I need to throw down a few caveats. First off, I’m not talking about those Double-Rainbow-Spicy-Crab-Inside-Out-California-Detroit Rolls that many consider crucial to a visit to sushi bar. They’re usually loaded with sodium-rich or fatty sauces and the minute amount of fish within has usually been fried or mayonnaised into nutritional oblivion. I’m talking straight sushi or sashimi: a nice slice of raw fish (sorry, unagi lovers), maybe a little rice, or maybe a simple maki: fish and rice a little nori (seaweed) wrapped around it.
Also, keep the soy sauce to a minimum. Exercise tends to drain the body of sodium, so the physically fit can get away with more salt intake, but there are still limits. Stick to low-sodium sauce and dip the fish part of the sushi instead of saturating the rice part. If the fish is good, you won’t want to drown out the flavor anyway!
Finally, moderation is key. When it comes to eating healthy, if you need to loosen your belt after a meal, no matter how nutrition it was, you blew it. But as long as you don’t get carried away, fish is one of the healthiest sources of protein you can get. The main reason for this is the super-healthy fat that comes with it.
While many people mistakenly avoid all fat when trying to eat right, the truth is, fat is a vital nutrient. It’s crucial that you have it in your diet. Most fish is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which help brain function and act as an anti-inflammatory – a great asset when dealing with bodily stress induced by hard, physical training. Salmon and tuna are both high in omega-3s, as is mackerel, but as you know, the mackerel used in sushi tends to be cured in salt, driving up the sodium count.
As for mercury-in-seafood debate, unless you’re pregnant, nursing, or a small child, you generally don’t need to worry about it. For the rest of us, the omega-3 benefits are worth a little mercury. As long as you limit fish intake to 4 servings a week or so, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.
Now, onto the rice. Generally speaking, brown rice is healthier for you. It’s higher in fiber, which slows absorption into the blood stream. That’s a good thing, because absorbing too many carbs too fast can lead to blood sugar spikes, which, in turn, can lead to type 2 diabetes and obesity. But there are a couple factors here that make white rice okay. First, while you don’t have the fiber to slow absorption, the fat and protein in the fish can serve the same function; so make sure your chef is generous with the fish. And, in the event that you do overdo the rice, here’s a neat thing about working out: After intense exercise, especially when it involves anaerobic (or weightlifting) activity, your blood sugar drops because you were using it as fuel. So, whereas that influx of carbs (white rice) into your system might be bad at other times, post-workout, it serves to top off your tank and rush other nutrients into your system faster. In the fitness world, we call that kind of timed nutrition a recovery meal.
Finally, seaweed is so good for you on so many levels. For the athlete, it’s packed with minerals, or electrolytes, which are often wicked out in training. It also has antioxidant properties, which strengthen the immune system – something else that can get compromised after intense workouts.
So work hard and eat right, but treat yourself to a sushi meal every now and again. It’s the right thing to do. Who knew eating right could be so much fun?
Starting out as “weight challenged,” Denis Faye dropped 50 pounds following a 5-year jaunt through Australia, a trip that helped him become the extreme fitness and sports enthusiast he is today. He’s been a professional journalist for 20 years, writing for Surfer, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Outside, Wired, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, GQ, Surfer, and Pacific Longboarder. His sports include swimming, scuba, trekking, rock climbing, mountain biking, spelunking, and — most importantly — surfing. Denis writes for Beachbody, which provides effective and popular exercise videos including the well known P90x program.