What Do Sumo Wrestlers Eat? A Lot. They Eat A Lot.

A sumo match

These guys definitely aren’t vegan.

Have you ever envied the physique of a sumo wrestler? Who hasn’t? Sumo wrestlers can not only intimidate with their girth alone, but are also revered as celebrities in Japan because of their weight. (Or rather, how they use their weight.)

And like celebrities everywhere, there’s fascination with every aspect of their lives: what they wear, who they date, what they eat. But with sumo wrestlers, it’s the reverse of what we might ask about western celebrities. Instead of asking “what does he eat to stay so thin?” you might ask yourself “what does he eat to get so big?”

Sumo wrestlers live in houses (called stables) with one another where everything is extremely regimented. Not only are there the daily workouts to build up the brute strength of the sumo wrestler, but there are tons of other aspects to sumo life that are pretty routine too.

Part of the routine is the sumo diet. Unlike most other forms of wrestling or boxing, there aren’t any weight divisions in sumo wrestling. Because of that, sumo wrestlers pretty much want to be as big as humanly possible so they can use their weight to push around opponents.

But you can’t gain a whole lot of weight on the traditional Japanese diet, so to bulk up, sumo wrestlers eat their own special type of food. It’s called chankonabe. Chankonabe is essentially a stew served in a giant pot (nabe means pot) and is a staple of the sumo wrestler diet.

What Makes Chankonabe?

A bowl of chankonabe

The unique thing about chankonabe is that there isn’t really a set recipe. Chankonabe changes depending what sumo stable you’re in, what the cook has on hand, and what the wrestlers like to eat. There are a few rules of thumb to making chankonabe: it has to have a ton of protein (tofu, chicken, fish, beef), and lots of veggies. Everything else – what kind of veggies, broth, meat – is completely up to the cook (or the most senior wrestler).

Some wrestlers have superstitions about what kind of meat to use. Fish and cows can be considered bad luck because unlike chicken, they don’t stand on two feet like a good sumo wrestler should. That’s why at many sumo tournaments, chicken is the only choice of meat when it comes to chankonabe.

Chankonabe is sometimes served precooked, but often it’s brought to the table along with a hot plate and a bunch of ingredients for you to cook yourself, shabu shabu style.

Putting on the Pounds

But it takes more than just a special diet to gain the kind of weight that sumo wrestlers put on. In order for them to pack on the weight, they’ve got to go above and beyond. There are several little tricks that sumo wrestlers use to assure that they put on (and keep on) those pounds (or kilograms).

Sumo wrestlers do things like exercising on an empty stomach and sleeping after eating in order to keep on the fat. Whether these old traditions have any scientific basis is a bit dubious, but it’s still very much a part of the sumo wrestler routine as much as their morning exercises and junior sumo wrestlers doing chores for their elders.

Sumo Restaurants

After a sumo wrestler’s career ends, it can be tough to start a new one. After all, if the only thing on your résumé is “can push dudes around real good,” then you might not be the most employable person in the world.

A pot of chankonabeWhat do you like in your stew? Oh, everything?

Fortunately, chankonabe is so awesome and delicious that many former sumo wrestlers can earn a living off of making the stew. Lots of former sumo wrestlers open up restaurants that specialize in chankonabe because after all, they’ve had years of experience making the stuff.

These restaurants are usually around the Ryogoku area of Tokyo, the Mecca of sumo wrestling. Ryogoku not only has sumo restaurants, but tons of sumo stables and a huge sumo stadium.

[hr]

Have you ever been to a chankonabe restaurant? Visited Ryogoku? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. Bulking up on chankonabe? Follow us on Twitter.
P.P.S. Wish there was a “diet” version? Like us on Facebook.


[Header Image]

  • Kyoshi

    This makes me regret even more that I never visited Ryogoku when I stayed close to the next station! I will next time, surely. 

  • bfee

    I hit Ryogoku every time I visit Tokyo, but it’s for the craft beer joint ポパイ (Popeye), not the sumo: 
    http://www.lares.dti.ne.jp/~ppy/index2.htm
    70+ beers (nearly all 地ビール) on tap. 
    Though I have literally run into sumo just outside the train station.

  • bfee

    I hit Ryogoku every time I visit Tokyo, but it’s for the craft beer joint ポパイ (Popeye), not the sumo: 
    http://www.lares.dti.ne.jp/~ppy/index2.htm
    70+ beers (nearly all 地ビール) on tap. 
    Though I have literally run into sumo just outside the train station.

  • Tyrone Olds

    I was able to catch a tournament in Ryogoku, and thought I’d try out the sample nabe during the early matches.  But I wound up in the sit-down restaurant, with a gas grill and the whole nine yards in front of me.  It was one of the most delicious ordeals of my life.

  • http://www.callistospatches.com Callisto

    So it’s *not* like that episode of Ed, Edd ‘n’ Eddy? Actually, chankonabe looks pretty tasty, but probably isn’t something I need to be eating.

    “Sumo wrestlers live in houses (called stables)”
    Not sure if trolling…
    *google*
    Oh, they really call them that? Huh.

  • YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

    That stew makes me hungry..

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    You and me both!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Definitely! Let me know how it goes :)

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Haha, it’s kind of an unfortunate name, yeah. And besides, we never troll anybody here at Tofugu :x

  • http://divita.eu/ seifip

    lol, what a coincidence… just posted: What sumo eat: The sumo wrestler bulk-up diet – http://nihongoup.com/blog/what-sumo-eat-wrestlers-diet/

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Wow, I’ll have to check that out if I’m ever in the area.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Sounds awesome! I bet you were super full afterwards.

  • http://twitter.com/spellbunny Stacy Dewing

    I went to Ryogoku in 2008 and went to a match, there was an incredibly long match – I have it up on youtube here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmhslhC4JYU

  • http://twitter.com/spellbunny Stacy Dewing

    I went to Ryogoku in 2008 and went to a match, there was an incredibly long match – I have it up on youtube here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmhslhC4JYU

  • http://twitter.com/Landorien Lan’dorien

    If the only thing on your résumé is “can push dudes around real good,” then you – have a shining career in middle management ahead of you :P

  • Abc

    They eat a lot of rice.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Christopher

    How to become as big, or bigger, than a sumo wrestler:
    eat like a westerner (in other words, lots of beef and potatoes… and fake stuff)

  • http://shoujikishindoi.blogspot.com/ Rene

    I went to Ryogoku earlier this year and there was a sumo match going on. But the tickets was too expensive so I ended up watching it on tv. There’s also this Edo Tokyo Museum around that area which is quite an interesting place.

    The chakonabe looks really good. Definitely going to try it next time. Thanks for the interesting article!

     

  • Gibubba

    I went to the last Saturday session in Ryogoku on 24 September.  It was an amazing area.  When we stepped off the train, we looked around trying to know where to go when these four sumos walked by.  I said “we should probably just follow them.”  We were very surprised that they took the train like everyone else.  It was also MUCH more violent than what I usually see on TV.  In the lower ranks, I think folks were proving themselves so there was a lot of going for the neck. 

  • Jasdev

    I’m confused, how does exercising on an empty stomach keep the fat on? Only asking because I exercise on an empty stomach (due to a lack of time during the rest of the day) and I exercise to keep thin!

  • http://profiles.google.com/jonadab.theunsightlyone Jonadab the Unsightly One

    “When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs
    Every morning to help me get large
    And now that I’m grown I eat five dozen eggs
    So I’m roughly the size of a barge.”
    (I don’t know how many dozen times my sister watched that movie, but I think everyone in the family has the entire thing memorized.)

  • http://profiles.google.com/jonadab.theunsightlyone Jonadab the Unsightly One

    “When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs
    Every morning to help me get large
    And now that I’m grown I eat five dozen eggs
    So I’m roughly the size of a barge.”
    (I don’t know how many dozen times my sister watched that movie, but I think everyone in the family has the entire thing memorized.)

  • Josephjarrold

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xDZp5vW1yw&feature=related at about 4:50 it goes on to showing sumo food and restaurant, its a pretty cool idea, and looks quite fun.

  • http://www.japaneseties.blogspot.com AdelaideBen

    The real question is how do they drop the weight once they retire?… Not a pretty thought (and I can’t help but get a mental image of “Fat Bastard” off Austin Powers….I know it’s a totally inappropriate mental connection, but I just can’t help myself).

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Christopher

    The way they layer fat is different from a couch potato. Instead of going between muscles and organs it is all in one place, or so I’ve heard. This makes it easier for the body to use. Plus, sumo wrestlers have a lot of muscle, so that helps.
    Besides, they train everyday so when they retire they probably keep that habit.

    In case you were wondering, the information I gave at the beginning may be incorrect as it is old. As in, a memory of some sciency-health show… or t.v. in general.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Christopher

    The way they layer fat is different from a couch potato. Instead of going between muscles and organs it is all in one place, or so I’ve heard. This makes it easier for the body to use. Plus, sumo wrestlers have a lot of muscle, so that helps.
    Besides, they train everyday so when they retire they probably keep that habit.

    In case you were wondering, the information I gave at the beginning may be incorrect as it is old. As in, a memory of some sciency-health show… or t.v. in general.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Christopher

    The way they layer fat is different from a couch potato. Instead of going between muscles and organs it is all in one place, or so I’ve heard. This makes it easier for the body to use. Plus, sumo wrestlers have a lot of muscle, so that helps.
    Besides, they train everyday so when they retire they probably keep that habit.

    In case you were wondering, the information I gave at the beginning may be incorrect as it is old. As in, a memory of some sciency-health show… or t.v. in general.

  • Clement Gervaise

    There’s a chankonabe near my appartment, in Kitasenju.. Indeed a retired sumotori is preparing food..

  • Techandrey

    Thanks for this article. I am actually trying to gain worthy. I’m skinny and can’t gain weight. I really don’t like eating. That’s probably my problem why I can’t gain any weight lol.

    I was hoping to find out if there was a way to gain weight without eating.

  • daniyal chaudhry

    how can we apply for a boy in a sumo school? the boy is 11 years old and 100 kg of weight.

  • Murray

    Sumo Wrestling is only a paying sport in Japan. So unless you want to move over there just for his possible sumo career, you should probably just encourage him to pick up a different sport. Rugby maybe. That and try to get him eating healthier.

  • vanessa

    by exercising on an empty stomach meaning they dont eat all day except night time. By that time their appetite is increased greatly and metabolism is slowed down so they feast alot. Some even eat till 10,000 calories before going straight to bed

  • jayden robinsen i love him

    you should give answers do questions we ask <3

  • Roger

    how about drinking water right after waking up? does that considered as breakfast? since it it said it could rise your metabolism..