It's the diet, says Andrew Freund, director of the California Sumo Association. "The wrestlers start out as great athletes, really muscular guys, and make themselves big over time," Freund explains. "Pro sumo guys in Japan have a special ritual. They wake up at about 5 a.m. and train until noon without eating breakfast. By then they've lost 10 to 12 pounds of fluids. They eat a big meal and take a nap. Then they do some chores, eat a really big dinner, and sleep."
To reach the preferred size and bulk, a professional sumo must consume around 5,000 to 6,000 calories daily.
What do sumo wrestlers eat to meet the 5,000-calorie count? One word: chankonabe. It's a centuries-old traditional Japanese stew of meat, fish, and vegetables. Sumos live communally in stables, and each stable has a different recipe, but a typical chankonabe would include fish balls or pork belly, chicken, daikon radish, tofu, mushrooms, bok choy, cabbage, and leeks.
This one-pot dish is served at both the afternoon and evening meals. The meal is less about flavor and more about giving the wrestler the maximum amount of protein and calories without too much sugar or fat. Sumos consume the stew in mass quantities with several bowls of rice. This protein- and complex-carbohydrate-rich diet is actually healthful, and according to Freund, sumos are really quite muscular (with some extra padding).
If sumo diet and training sounds extreme by American standards, think twice. On the ProBodybuilding.com website, the diet for an advanced male bodybuilder suggests a daily intake of about 5,000 calories. The diet consists mainly of eggs, chicken, and whey shakes. All things equal, bring on the chankonabe.