With a super bulky body and thighs that could bury you alive, sumo wrestlers aim to topple their opponent over or push them outside the ring. We’re accustomed to western fighters being ripped and lean, so why are sumo wrestlers fat? 

Sumo wrestlers are fat to make it harder for their foes to push them or knock them off their feet. Like in any other combat sport, sumo wrestlers optimize their bodies for maximum performance. Being fat helps a lot in sumo wrestling, as the more massive you are, the harder it’s to move you.

Sumo wrestlers follow a diet and training plan that aims for fat accumulation. However, despite their clearly obese appearance, they aren’t necessarily unhealthy. Read on to find out more about their diet, physique, workouts, and why they’re healthier than they look. 

How Does a Fat Physique Help in Sumo Wrestling?

You’d think being fat isn’t a good thing in fighting or combat sports, but not if you’re a sumo wrestler. Sumo wrestlers follow well-designed plans to gain weight for improved performance. So, how does it give them a performance advantage?

A fat physique means improved stability in sumo wrestling. The objective of the sport is to push the opponent out of the ring. Being heavier makes it more challenging for another wrestler to move them. Sumo wrestlers also have significant amounts of muscle hidden underneath all that fat. 

They Aim To Be Bottom-Heavy

Sumo wrestlers, or “Rikishis” in Japanese, focus on accumulating fat and achieving proper weight distribution. They aim to be more bottom-heavy for more stability since it’d be much easier to topple over a top-heavy sumo wrestler. 

That’s why you see sumo wrestlers with gigantic thighs. Because more weight in their lower body makes it harder for the opponent to knock them off balance. Their training regime involves building increased muscle mass in the hips and legs. 

Sumo wrestlers also train hard to enhance their core strength and upper body muscles. They need lots of power to push or knock over an equally heavy enemy. It’s common for rikishis to incorporate demanding exercises into their workout routines to achieve an optimally developed body for the sport.

How Do Sumo Wrestlers Gain Weight? 

The more a sumo wrestler weighs, the tougher it is for the opponent to push him out of the ring. However, the weight doesn’t have to come from being obese and unhealthy, so how do sumo wrestlers gain weight? 

Sumo wrestlers gain weight by consuming a high-calorie diet combined with a highly active lifestyle and strenuous workouts. Much of their weight gain consists of muscle and lots of fat beneath the skin. Most of their fat is not the dangerous kind of fat that covers your vital organs.

A rikishi aims to be as immovable as possible, and gaining weight plays a huge role in achieving that. However, their body comprises a calculated fat and muscle mass ratio for optimal sumo wrestling performance without putting the rikishi at any health risks. 

Much of their weight comes from their strong muscles. This enables them to push equally heavy enemies out for the win. However, they’re hidden underneath all of that fat.

How Do Sumo Wrestlers Gain Subcutaneous Fat?

Subcutaneous fat resides just beneath the skin. This is unlike the dangerous type of fat that accumulates around your internal organs and creates several health risks. But how do rikishis gain subcutaneous fat?

Sumo wrestlers gain subcutaneous fat due to adiponectin, a hormone released during a particularly grueling exercise. The hormone helps guide fat to a space underneath the skin. Sumo wrestlers combine their high-calorie diet with grueling workouts and an active lifestyle to gain subcutaneous fat.

A high percentage of a sumo wrestler’s fat is subcutaneous, but they have a lot of muscle underneath all that fat. They’re hard to push, yet strong enough to push the opponent, making it the ideal body type for the sport. 

The surface fat provides a rikishi with more mass and stability in the ring. It also acts as a cushion to absorb the impact of blows they’d take during a fight.

The Strenuous Exercise

The grueling workouts differentiate the weight gain of a rikishi from that of a morbidly obese person. They promote the release of adiponectin and help with subcutaneous fat gain. 

According to studies, adiponectin is a hormone that prevents the risks of diabetes, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular diseases.

A rikishi’s training routine starts early in the morning and adds up to 6 hours of challenging workouts. Starting as early as 5 am, a sumo wrestler’s exercise regimen includes splits, stomps, squats, and practice sparring matches. 

One of the most physically demanding parts of their workout is an activity that involves repeatedly throwing oneself at another wrestler for as long as they can. It’s called butsukari, and it goes on until you’re fully exhausted.

These workouts and an active lifestyle convert a rikishi’s high caloric intake into strong muscles and a high percentage of subcutaneous fat. 

What Do Sumo Wrestlers Eat?

Just a glance at a sumo wrestler’s body will tell you that they eat a lot. But since they’re not looking to put on fat, their diet plans are designed with the right balance of nutrients. So, what do they eat?

Sumo wrestlers primarily eat chankonabe. This is a Japanese dish consisting of meats and vegetables served in chicken or fish broth. Like chankonabe, most of their diet is protein-rich to aid muscle building. They also have lots of rice and beer. Sumo wrestlers consume 7,000 to 10,000 calories/day.

Such massive proportions of meals aren’t just to accumulate fat. The highly active lifestyle of a sumo wrestler demands a big meal to refuel them throughout the day. It’s normal for a sumo wrestler “frat house” to make a massive chankonabe batch that all the rikishis share daily. 

They Follow a Particular Eating Technique

A sumo wrestler’s diet doesn’t just involve eating as much as you can and getting fat. Sure, they do aim to accumulate fat. But they follow precise techniques with a combination of training and eating to build the correct type of fat, muscle, and an optimal physique.

Generally, the first training session of a rikishi starts in the morning, right before they have their first meal of the day. They follow it up with a colossal breakfast of chankonabe served in a rich chicken or fish broth. 

A crucial part of their eating technique is to sleep right after it. 

Since they’ve already worked out before the meal, sleeping right after it serves a dual purpose. It provides recovery for muscle building and helps accumulate fat. For sumo wrestlers, breakfast is one of their most important meals of the day, especially for gaining surface fat. 

Are Sumo Wrestlers Healthy?

Judging by a sumo wrestler’s body shape, any regular person would assume they’re pretty unhealthy. But you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, especially in this case. 

Sumo wrestlers are healthy, especially the ones with active careers. That’s because the bulkiness of their body comes from surface fat and not from organ fats, unlike an obese person. They don’t face the same obesity health risks as their fat doesn’t accumulate around the internal organs. 

We associate an obese physique with all sorts of health risks like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and blood pressure. However, that’s only true for typically obese people who have fat accumulated around the vital organs like the liver, heart, or pancreas.

The active lifestyle of a rikishi and their grueling exercise regimens promote the release of the adiponectin hormone. This moves the fat away from organs and directs it just beneath their skin.

A Sumo Wrestler’s Health Post-Retirement 

Sumo wrestlers remain safe from the risks of obesity because they don’t have much visceral fat. They also have surprisingly low cholesterol levels, which means they’re not at any significant risk of strokes or heart disease.

However, the credit goes to the amount of exercise they get regularly. But when a sumo wrestler retires and stops exercising, the risks of obesity sneak right in. According to a business insider article, retired sumo wrestlers die about 10 years younger than the average Japanese man. 

Due to these risks, sumo wrestlers need to cut their calorie intake and lose weight when they retire to avoid serious health risks.

Final Thoughts

Sumo wrestlers consume up to 10,000 calories/day, combining that with hours of extremely challenging physical workouts. As a result, they build surface fat instead of the dangerous organ fat that absorbs the impact of heavy blows from the opponent and improves stability.

Sumo wrestlers are fat because the dynamics of the sport require a hefty body that’s highly stable and difficult to move. However, they’re not like a typically obese person. They have lots of muscle mass hidden just below all that fat, and they’re way healthier than they look.

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