Chinese Nutritional Therapy For Athletes

Prevailing wisdom states nutrition for athletes should consider the specific sport they are preparing for. This is logical since athletic performance for activities based on strength, after all, entails various resources from the body besides endurance-based training.

But if you go past that conventional Western wisdom in nutrition and sports medicine, Chinese medicine has a lot to offer athletes – and everybody else – in the nurturing of their bodies with the proper food.

In Eastern philosophy, the Universe has two opposite and complementary forces known as Yin and Yang. Yin represents the quiet, passive, negative, and female side, while the Yang, the active, positive and male side. Yin attributes include darkness, peace, dampness, and coolness. Yan energetic properties include light, movement, dryness, and warmth.

All creatures possess a combination of both energies. But from time to time, we become deficient in yin or yang energy which causes our bodies to fall out of balance. More often than not, conventional sports medicine just rely recommending therapies or on healing injuries to resolve the problems of imbalance.

But when using Chinese medicine, selecting the correct foods to offset deficiencies of yin and yang can enhance your overall health that, in turn, can raise your athletic performance.

If you want to know if you’re inherently yin or yang, you need to take into account your natural constitution. If you chill (relax) easily and are more laid-back, you tend toward yin, and conversely, you are relatively yang if you have a tendency to run hot in temperature and personality.

An athlete’s nutrition should consider how much his/her competitor expends energy in daily training. Most athletic effort tends to be yang – the flowing out of energy. For athletes who constantly train, they’re likely to be deficient in yang. For athletes, proper nutrition should include balance.

Linda Prout, nutritionist and author of the magnificent article, Yin-Yang Balance and Food Choice, explains the differences between Chinese Food therapy and the Western food pyramid. The following is a checklist of the foods that can balance deficiencies in yin and yang:

Patterns of Imbalance Related to Yin


  • Cloudy urine
  • Postnasal drip
  • Stuffy nose,
  • Strong aversion to humidity
  • Fluid retention (edema)
  • Puffy face or eyes
  • Soft fat, overweight, or obesity
  • Mental fogginess
  • Little hunger or thirst
  • Health weakens in humid/damp weather
  • Sensation of heaviness particularly in the lower body
  • Easily short of breath
  • Bloating in the stomach

Foods that can offset dampness include kale, asparagus, turnip greens, broccoli, and lightly cooked greens. Balancing foods include poultry, roasted or grilled meats and fish. For damp pattern of disharmony, the best grains are sprouted grains, basmati, rice, jasmine, and rye. Herbs, bitter foods, green tea, pumpkin seeds, turnips, and radishes can help drain dampness.

Foods to avoid for dampness include milk, white bread, lasagna, ice cream and all starchy foods, dairy, and sweets.


  • Clear urine
  • Like heat, tendency to dress warmly
  • Tendency to defecate loose stools
  • Feeling of depression
  • A feeling of chillness
  • Fleshy soft muscles
  • Weak metabolism
  • Rarely thirsty
  • Withdrawn, quiet
  • Tendency to consume warm food/drinks
  • Tiredness, sleeps a lot
  • Health weakens in cold pressed weather
  • Likes heat, dresses warmly

Foods that dispel cold include wild salmon, trout, eel, free-range eggs, meat-based stews and soups, dark poultry, warm beef or lamb dishes.

Grains appropriate for this imbalance include buckwheat, quinoa, and oatmeal. Ideal vegetables include mustard greens, onions, baked winter squash, and cooked root veggies. Warming foods include pepper, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, butter, and seeds and nuts. Drinks and foods are best eaten when warm and cooked. Avoid iced beverages, white flour, pasta, frozen desserts, raw fruits, and salads.

Patterns of Imbalance Related to Yang


  • Thin body type
  • Rosy cheeks, particularly post exercise
  • Likeness for warm liquids in small sips
  • Night sweating
  • Menopause
  • Frustrated, irritated, or stressed easily
  • Dry eyes or throat
  • Constipation
  • Dry stools
  • Dandruff, dry skin
  • Cravings for sweets
  • Easily becomes both cold or hot

Stews and soups containing grass-fed animal fats are beneficial for this condition. Recommended foods for dryness include avocado, nuts, pork, dark poultry meat, coconut and olive oil, goat and sheep cheeses and butter, free-range eggs, and fatty fish. Beneficial fats are extremely important.

Additional moistening foods include shellfish, fermented soy, whole wheat, millet, sea vegetables, yams, winter squash, Napa cabbage, green beans, and black beans.


  • Dark urine
  • Aversion to hot weather
  • Ruddy complexion
  • Easily angered, irritable, or impatient
  • A feeling of feel warmness
  • Tendency to talk a lot
  • Restless sleep, disturbing dreams
  • Often thirsty and craving for cold drinks
  • Bleeding, nose bleeds, headaches
  • Canker sores, fever blisters
  • Constipation
  • High blood pressure
  • Dresses in short sleeves

Foods that can offset excess heat include cooked leafy greens including watercress and spinach, cucumbers, and salads. Meats should be avoided while vegetables of all kinds are recommended.

Additional cooling foods include non-spicy soups, sushi, mung beans, bean dishes, pears, and melons. Drink lots of water. Avoid sugar and alcohol. Avoid onions, ginger, garlic, and pepper while mint, which is a beneficial cooling herb is recommended.

Knowing your balance of yin and yang allows you to become more aware of your own constitution helping you to react to your environment in the proper way.

DeJongh Acupuncture Clinic
2929 SW 3rd Ave #610
Miami, FL 33129
(305) 677-3214