TC's Chanko Diet

A Lesson From the Sumos

Can’t seem to put on any quality weight? Try this strategy borrowed from sumo wrestlers. And don’t worry, you won’t get fat like a sumo! Check it out.

While at the height of his career, Konishi-the great Hawaiian sumo wrestling champion-could easily down 100 beers and chomp down, whale style, at least 70 pieces of sushi. Of course, his 625-pound frame, much of it consisting of a wine-barrel sized belly filled with gallons of digestive juices, could easily accommodate a gastronomical overload that might well cause Godzilla to order a doggy bag.

Konishi, as sumo tradition demands, typically ate two huge, orgiastic, ritual meals of rice, meat, and vegetables-called chanko-each day to put on weight. Little matter that a large part of that added tonnage was fat. To a sumo, weight is weight, and the more of it you have, the better your chances of driving your diaper-clad opponent out of the ring and onto his considerable ass.

Trouble is, that kind of diet won’t cut it for a bodybuilder, although based on some of the guest-posings I’ve seen over the last few years, a lot of bodybuilders must dine liberally on chanko in the off season. Nevertheless, the idea of chanko intrigued me, and it made me re-think my whole approach to eating and gaining muscle. Believe it or not, I’ve adopted and adapted the chanko theory of eating and I’ve found it to be extremely effective in gaining weight-muscle weight, mind you.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not sitting in front of the computer surrounded by Mars-bars wrappers, potato chip crumbs, and discarded turkey legs; my belly hanging over the waist-band of my jockeys and partially concealing the mouse as I frantically scan the Internet for pictures of naked women eating pastries. Quite the contrary, by eating often, at the right times, and the right food, I’ve managed to put on muscle weight far more quickly than ever before, while at the same time becoming leaner than I’ve ever been. I owe it all to the sumos?well, sort of.

Obviously, pigging out twice a day wasn’t going to build an aesthetic physique. Eating huge amounts in one or two sittings would cause a hormonal overload and subsequent backlash, driving all the excess calories to storage. That wasn’t an option.

I found another clue in the journals of the people who had won a recent “grand spokesperson championship” sponsored by another supplement company. All the participants had transformed their physiques dramatically in as little as 12 weeks. While comparing their diet and training notes, I noticed that almost to a man, their workouts were decidedly lame. Then, I looked at their supplementation records. They all used supplements, but there wasn’t much consistency between them. Some used creatine; some didn’t. Others subsisted almost entirely on protein drinks while others only had one a day. Clearly, something else was going on. The secret, the Rosetta stone to physique transformation, became clear when I looked at their dietary records. Each had taken to eating six or seven times a day!

Regardless of whether they had tried to gain muscle or lose fat, all had religiously sat down with fork, knife, and/or blender six or seven times a day. They weren’t eating that many calories, but all seemed to make miraculous physical transformations.

It seemed too simple. Still, it deserved further investigation. I started interviewing people I knew-classic hard gainers-about their eating habits. All complained bitterly about not being able to put on muscle, despite using the most high-tech training routines known to man. Yet, when asked about their eating, most skipped breakfast, “tried” to get in three meals a day, and usually didn’t eat after 8 p.m. because they “didn’t want to get fat.” (Once in a while, these individuals might get “serious” and buy a tub of that Weider, bucket-o-sugar, instant diabetes-in-a-bucket weight-gain powder; a strategy which generally accomplishes nothing except for adding a fold or two to your belly.)

Like the sumos, the hard-gainers were only eating two or three times a day, but unlike the sumos, they were taking in “normal” amounts of calories; in fact, an amount of calories that was roughly equivalent to that of the aforementioned physique champions.

It seemed that meal frequency and meal frequency alone has the capability of having some miraculous effect on human physiology. What in the wide, wide, world of gastroenterology, endocrinology, and a whole lot of other “ologies” is going on?

Food and the Post-Digestive State

To figure out what’s going on here, we really need to take a look at how the body processes food and what effect that food has on the hormonal system.

After a meal, while lying down in a blissful stupor, Homer Simpson style, your stomach goes to work breaking down your meal into a nutrient laden goo, much of which will go towards either repairing, maintaining, or building muscle. A large influx of amino acids enters your blood stream, riding and bucking the currents like so many capsized white-water canoes. Most of this increase in blood amino acids consists of branched-chain amino acids and not lone amino acids as you might guess. This is 'cause your poor, overworked liver doesn’t contain enough enzymes to process all these branched-chain amino acids. Consequently, the liver relies on skeletal muscle to do most of the job.

Of course, even the muscles eventually reach an overload point, and the rest of the “unclaimed” branched chain amino acids float around, stranded. Luckily, they keep busy by shuttling nitrogen to muscle. Others are “reprocessed” to form non-essential amino acids. And, there’s even evidence that others might keep the numero-uno muscle-building amino acid, glutamine, from leaching out of muscle cells, which in turn might stimulate more muscle protein synthesis. It’s all pretty efficient, and pretty cool.

All of this muscle-cell/branched-chain amino acid intercourse is mediated by the hormone, insulin. (The insulin, of course, was secreted as a result of all the glucose and amino acids you ingested-pretty nifty, huh?).

Unfortunately, this anabolic state is temporary. After about three hours, maybe four, the body enters a post-absorptive state. Insulin levels decline, the influx of amino acids into muscle comes to a screeching halt. Soon after, the body actually slips into a catabolic state, and skeletal muscle, instead of taking in amino acids, starts to spit them out like candy from a Pez dispenser. To make matters worse, a lot of this amino acid is glutamine.

And yes, it’s true that the body recycles a good portion of these amino acids, but very few of them find their way back into muscles without the aid of insulin, and since you haven’t eaten in three or four hours, insulin is taking a cat-nap in your pancreas.

All of this becomes much more complicated when you throw the muscle-tearing effects of a good workout into the picture. Workout “damaged” muscles need even more amino acid influx to help repair and grow them.

Nighttime Hormonal Teeter-Totters

Typically, when you go to bed, you get an increase in growth hormone and a decrease in cortisol (and keep in mind, this is for the average, non-bodybuilder type guy). This is in direct contrast with daytime conditions when you get a concurrent-albeit sporadic-rise in both GH and cortisol. However, if you’re a bodybuilder, something weird happens at night: GH rises all right, but you also get a rise in cortisol, and cortisol is a catabolic hormone-bad for bodybuilding. Cortisol, in sufficient amounts, can make it impossible to put on muscle.

Cortisol raises blood sugar while decreasing sensitivity to insulin. This leads to a reduced use of amino acids for the formation of protein except in the liver. The liver continues to kick amino acids out into the bloodstream, but because overall insulin sensitivity is reduced by the rise in cortisol, the amino acids won’t be carried into muscle cells and thus, protein synthesis is further reduced.

What to Do, Oh My, What to Do?

Okay, to synopsize, going too long without eating during the day is at best a no-win situation. After a meal, you spend only three, or at the most, four hours in the anabolic, muscle-building state. After that, the process reverses and you spend the time until the next meal in the catabolic, muscle-depleting state.

Likewise, nighttime fasting is a bad idea. Eating, for example, your last meal at 8 p.m. and not eating again until morning is tantamount to spending approximately most of the night in a catabolic state. If you’re lucky, you can repair the damage during the day by eating consistently.

Hopefully, I’ve made a good case that you should eat more frequently, and that you should eat before going to bed. That’s admittedly a little vague, though. To do it right, you’ve got to be downright compulsive, and excuse the expression, anal.

TC’S Chanko Diet

For years, I’ve been sort of schizophrenic about bodybuilding: I didn’t know if I wanted to concentrate on being bigger or getting leaner. As a result, I lived in a kind of morphological limbo, waffling between being a little bigger and a little flabbier or a little leaner and a little wimpier.

However, after taking a long hard look at the aforementioned occurrences, observations, and facts, I got serious about eating. I ate six times a day, sometimes seven, and I started to get bigger much more quickly than I ever had before. I also got leaner; at no time did my waist size increase.

Still, just eating six times a day isn’t specific enough; I had to get a plan that was fairly precise and easy to do. No one in their right mind-least of all me-has the time to sit in the kitchen all day playing Julia Child. On the other hand, I couldn’t live exclusively on protein shakess. However, as flawed as they are (and that’s the subject of another article), protein shakes are indispensable. They save time, and besides, where else can you get that much protein in a single sitting without keeping a herd of cattle in your yard?

The first thing each morning, I blend up a mixture of skim milk, a serving of protein shake, a handful of frozen fruit, and a teaspoon or two of flax seed oil (in addition to providing me with hard-to-get essential fatty acids, the oil serves as a type of “nuclear control rod,” slowing the absorption of the drink from my stomach and ensuring a smooth insulin response).

During the day, I have another one of these drinks, minus the fruit. Prior to going to bed, I have another one, and despite all the new-age diet advice, this nighttime repast is not going to make you fat. Quite the contrary, because of the hormonal effects, it may well lean you out!

Of course, I couldn’t very well live exclusively on protein shakes-I’d probably lose all my teeth from not ever chewing on anything, and I’d probably end up going postal from the sheer monotony of it all. That’s where my sumo buddies came in. I had to invent my own brand of Chanko.

I bought a rice steamer, the kind they have in a bewildering assortment of choices in any Chinese or Japanese grocery store (of course, you can find at least one or two kinds in practically any store). These things cook rice fast, and they’re virtually infallible-you can’t screw up. Every morning, I steam up an entire day’s serving of rice. Twice a day, I scoop out a cup or two of steamed rice, and I mix in half a can of corn and one of those small 3 ounce cans of albacore tuna (since the rice and corn contain complementary proteins, I don’t need more tuna than the small can provides). For flavor, I add some “lite” teriyaki (the lite version actually tastes better than the regular version).

In addition to all of this, I have a perfectly normal dinner that does not contain corn, rice, tuna, or anything remotely resembling a protein shake.

What I’ve done is provide myself with 6, sometimes 7 calorically-controlled meals (none greater than about 400 to 450 calories). If I ate this many calories in two or three sittings, I’d soon look like Konishi. But by spreading them out, the body is able to utilize the bulk of the calories and keep my hormonal levels favorable to growth, in addition to keeping a steady-state supply of amino acids flowing to my muscles. And, as mentioned, my waist size never increased.

In a little over two months, I gained approximately 14 pounds and my strength has gone up considerably. No, I didn’t do any lab tests; I didn’t have any skin-fold tests done, and no, I didn’t weigh my food. This was decidedly unscientific, but it was, at the same time, a decidedly high-tech manipulation of my body chemistry; something that is relatively easy, relatively inexpensive, and can be done by anyone.

Here again is a synopsis of my “Chanko” muscle-building diet (obviously, it doesn’t matter how you divvy these meals up):

Meal 1

  • 14 to 16 ounces skim milk
  • 1 serving Metabolic Drive Protein
  • 1 small handful of frozen fruit
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of flax seed oil

Meal 2

  • 1 to 2 cups rice
  • 4-6 ounces corn
  • 1 can of albacore tuna (3 ounces)
  • A splash of lite teriyaki sauce

Meal 3

Meal 4

  • A normal, “sensible” dinner

Meal 5

  • 1 to 2 cups rice
  • 4-6 ounces corn
  • 1 can of albacore tuna (3 ounces)
  • A splash of lite teriyaki sauce

Meal 6

Your serving sizes will vary, depending on your age, size, and metabolism. Since I weigh about 225 pounds and have a relatively fast metabolism, I tend to have larger portions. You’ll have to guesstimate at first, but after a week or two, you’ll get an innate sense of how big your portions should be.

If losing weight is your goal, you can, believe it or not, adopt much the same routine. However, you might opt to replace the skim milk in your protein drinks with plain old water, and use one cup of rice instead of two in your chanko.

Granted, this approach seems simplistic, but if you’ve tried everything else to no avail, give this routine a try. It’s really pretty remarkable. Besides, you might like the whole chanko thing so much that you’ll end up going gung-ho on the sumo thing-adopting their orgiastic, twice-a-day feedings-and move to Japan to pursue your new career.