To eat, or not to eat? That's always a tough question for people interested in fitness, and it is even more true in China. Chinese food, although diverse, is high in fats and features a great deal of fried fare.
Many Chinese bodybuilders nowadays prefer western style food like boiled chicken breasts and steamed broccoli rather than Chinese food due to its often deep-fried cooking methods, heavy amounts of soy sauce and sugar coated items like lemon chicken. It is fair to say that many of these foods are caloric bombs waiting to destroy your physique.
"I think Chinese food tastes fantastic but is something of a guilty pleasure, while Western fitness food is much cleaner and physique-friendly," a fitness amateur surnamed He said.
Although China's various regional cuisines contain unhealthy dishes, not all Chinese food is marked by unhealthy cooking. There are plenty of options that are fairly healthy and lean by most standards. For example, Chinese cuisine treats vegetables as meals rather than add-ons, as in the case in many types of western cuisine. This creates a number of culinary opportunities for those interested in cooking and eating healthy food.
"There are lots of foods that can influence workouts, and the most fundamental task is educating people to make correct choices," said Wang Ru, vice dean of the School of Kinesiology, Shanghai University of Sport.
"There is a common saying that carbohydrates are the culprits of all chronic diseases. But that depends on the types of carbohydrates, not all carbs are bad," Wang said. "For example, there is a rich variety of cereals in China which are very healthy carbohydrate sources with a large portion of dietary fiber. Such kind of cereals can reduce toxin absorption, lower blood sugar, increase feelings of satiety, and promote gastrointestinal motility."
Wang added that China has some foods that are high in carbohydrates such as Roujiamo, the Chinese-style burgers that are roughly analogous to hamburgers in the west.
"Therefore, healthy eating depends on the food itself, and it should not be designated according to different dietary habits in western and eastern countries. The basic rule to avoid misdirection is that healthy eating should not go against the basic human needs," Wang said.
Zhou Zhijia, a Chinese restaurant boss, says in his daily diet he opts for fresh instead of fried foods, forgoing fried rice and opting for steamed vegetable dumplings, or steamed brown rice.
"Braised beef brisket with tomato is a good choice and boiled fresh fish or steamed fish head can also provide quality protein with low saltiness," Zhou said. Some people go vegetarian with their Chinese meals just to try to keep the calorie count down, but the absence of protein could set you up for a sharp blood-sugar spike, encouraging fat gain and increased hunger.
Wang Xuan, CEO of a company called Dream Muscle School, said that as long as balanced meals are provided and fat contents are kept low, fitness gurus can still enjoy Chinese food. She recommended am appliance called an Air Fryer, which can fry foods like potato chips, chicken, fish, and steak while using between 70% and 80% less oil than a traditional deep-fryer.
"Try some of the claypot offerings (usually stewed or braised items) and steamed dishes. Even lamb hot pot, or roasted duck but without the crispy skin," Wang said.
Fats also play a major role in the ideal bodybuilding diet. Dietary fats help us absorb important fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin E, D, and A. The survey showed that fats also slow the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream which keeps blood sugar levels from spiking. Besides, many hormones in the body that are important to an active lifestyle, including testosterone, are dependent on fats for optimal production and function.
Wang pointed out that there are good fats and bad fats. The fats in certain cold-water fish and vegetables contain many healthy nutrients. Some fats, called omega 3 fatty acids, should be supplemented in your bodybuilding diet.
Che Lu has more than 10 years of gym experience. The gymrat has noticed a gradual change in fitness diet recent years in China.
"Years ago, I could barely eat out. Almost everything served in the restaurants are wok fried in oil, cooking with loads of fat, sodium, sugar," Che said. "But nowadays, at more and more restaurants you can have any dish specially ordered. For example, ask chefs make some of the sauces without sugar when you order it. You can also substitute different veggies in the dishes, which shows that the health consciousness of China is improving day by day."
Xinhua sportswriters Zhu Hong and Guo Jingdan contributed to this story.