By Chikara Shima / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer A growing number of everyday people are turning to meals designed for athletes, spurred by a growing interest in sports ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and people moving away from excessive limits on carbohydrates and other nutrients.
The special meals are called, among other things, “asu-shoku,” an abbreviation of a Japanese term meaning meals for athletes, and “supo-meshi,” an abbreviation of a term meaning sports food.
The menu at Kanoya Athlete Restaurant, located in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, is supervised by the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, Kagoshima Prefecture. Every day when the clock strikes noon, it bustles with office workers.
“My body feels lighter after I eat [here],” said a 41-year-old self-employed man who visited the restaurant in early December. “I come several times a week.”
The menu for the restaurant is based on the science of sports nutrition: one bowl of soup, one bowl of rice and three side dishes. Diners can choose the three side dishes from about 15 varieties, in line with such goals as getting lots of protein or cutting back on fat.
“It’s important to be conscious of what kind of nutrition you’re getting,” said Mioko Nagashima, a senior assistant professor at the university.
According to Nagashima, food for athletes does not necessarily mean a fixed menu, ingredients or cooking method. It is comprised of “good, nutritionally balanced meals,” Nagashima said. Food for athletes helps people effectively get five main nutrients — carbohydrates, fat, protein, minerals and vitamins — in a balanced way.
After achieving this balance, people can customize their dish for athletic competition and training, such as adding more protein if they want to increase muscular strength, or by getting extra carbohydrates to boost stamina.
Sugar-restricted diets have recently gained attention, and certain ingredients have come into the limelight as though they were cure-alls.
“Your body won’t work properly with an unbalanced diet,” Nagashima said. “There are many women and elderly people who don’t get protein, which builds muscles. I hope that learning about food for athletes leads them to reconsider their eating habits.”
On the plate at home
Food for athletes is also making its way onto tables at home.
Last year, the accumulated total number of people who have taken a course aiming to acquire Athlete Food Meister, a private qualification for those who wish to provide nutritional support for athletes, exceeded 10,000. The qualification attracted public attention when it was obtained by Mai Satoda, a TV personality and the wife of Masahiro Tanaka, a pitcher for the New York Yankees.
“Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, I think that more people enjoy jogging and other [types of exercise], and there’s greater interest in sports and nutrition,” said an official of the company that developed the qualification.
Shiho Minamiya, a 46-year-old homemaker in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, is also one of the people who holds the qualification. For her second daughter, who would come home from high school cheerleading practice exhausted but with little appetite, Minamiya made such efforts as ensuring she got carbohydrates through tubers and roots, and protein via soy milk soup.
“One day I realized my whole family had stopped getting colds,” she said with a smile.
Her daughter’s cheerleading activities are now over, but Minamiya said she still utilizes her knowledge about food for athletes by restricting fat that is difficult to digest for her daughter, who is preparing for university entrance exams.
Blogs and books about food for athletes are also becoming more popular. Rieko Yamase, wife of pro soccer player Koji Yamase, has published over 100 recipes online based on her experience supporting her husband’s diet. She also holds lectures.
“When I give talks at schools, not only the mothers who have children involved in sports activities, but also children not involved in such activities and their mothers are interested. It reminds me that sports, food and health are all [connected],” Rieko said.
Satoko Shiibashi, a registered dietitian knowledgeable about sports and nutrition, said: “If you understand the mechanisms of the body and nutrition and introduce food for athletes into your daily life, it’s good not only for your body, but also for your mental health in such ways as improving concentration. To start, have a bowl of soup and three side dishes as a rough indication of a well-balanced meal.”
Main menu at Kanoya Athlete Restaurant
■ Vegetable-centric main dishes
— Tomato and hijiki seaweed salad
— Steamed eggplant with Japanese leek sauce
— Bamboo shoots and wakame seaweed dressed with vinegared miso
■ Main dishes with vegetables, meat, fish and eggs
— Beef and bell pepper stir-fry
— Tatsutaage deep-fried pork liver
— Steamed chicken and smashed cucumber banbanji
■ Meat, fish and egg-centric main dishes
— Stir-fried pork with ginger
— Simmered meat and tofu