One of the questions I get asked the most is about the Shaolin diet. I'll go into the specifics of food in a later article, but here's a 6 Step Plan to get you started!
1) Eat Early
I'm not suggesting you get up at 5 am like we do at the temple but make sure that you eat a good breakfast within an hour of waking. A study from the University of Texas showed that the fewer calories people ate early in the day, the more total calories they ate during the day as a whole. Try to eat at least 25% of your calories for breakfast.
2) Eat Before Exercise
Eating before you exercise enhances your martial arts training and increases fat burn. Research has shown that the body burns more calories during exercise after a meal. If it's a big meal then allow four hours, if it's a small meal allow two hours, if you're training early in the morning then make sure you eat a smoothie like the one I make in Urban Warrior ( see below). Ensure it contains nuts and seeds and more vegetables than fruit.
3) Eat After Exercise
There is a two hour window after exercise when it's best to eat food. During this time the body burns calories faster as the metabolism is still working faster. Eating a meal that contains protein, carbohydrate and water helps the body to recover, replenishes the martial artist's glycogen stores and maximizes muscle to fat ratio.
4) Eat Mindfully
At the Shaolin Temple we eat in silence so we can meditate on our food. Try doing this in McDonalds and I think you will be put off your food. Eating mindfully helps us to really tune into our body therefore aiding our desire to eat healthy foods. It helps us to eat slowly which means there's more time for us to feel full. Research has shown that mindful eating leads to eating less.
5) Eat Healthy
Not all calories are the same. Eat lean protein, fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy oils and snack on nuts. Pizza is high calories with very little nutritional benefit. Nuts are high in calories and high in nutritional benefit. Try to eat food that is as close to nature as possible and stay away from processed foods. I'm not a fan of energy drinks or protein shakes. I never heard of these things till I came to the UK. While I know some of my students like to use them I don't believe they are necessary. Best to get all your nutrients from natural food.
6) Eat Less
If you've got into very bad eating habits, my advice is don't change them. Just start training in both Kung Fu and Qigong. These martial arts change your body holistically from the inside out and you'll be surprised to find that your body craves healthy food without you having to push yourself, you'll also find that you naturally eat just as much as you need. Remember, if you don't eat well then you can't train well.