I had a Russian circus coach in his sixties, Alex, who could still do standing backflips. He was able to pluck you out of the air one-handed if you were about to land on your head; it was like being caught by an oak tree. He looked like a bear, he walked like a zombie, and his secret to maintaining his form was taking good care of his intestines.
People have strange ideas about how their bodies function.
It was a Russian coach fad at my school; fasting one day a week and fasting one week a month. It was all part of a solemn ceremony which culminating in a glorious herbal enema to keep your colon clean, supple, and rubbery like a nubile squid.
I wasn’t ready to go that far, but he afforded me this advice: Eat a grapefruit every morning; don’t eat anything cooked, never talk during a meal, always eat meat last, and enjoy a handful of organic peanuts before physical activity (softdrinks are poison, and processed food is good to make your stomach feel full, but it won’t do anything for your body).
He was my teacher, I listened, and it made sense, at least when training 12 hours a day like the good circus school students that we were.
This kind of ascetic eating regimen fit with his personality. Even his sense of humor:
One day, the denizens of a small village awoke to a loud, rhythmic pounding. Each pound was punctuated by a man’s screams of pain. The villagers, shivering in the morning chill and dressed only in their nightclothes, left their huts to find the source of the screaming. In the middle of the public square, a man was repeatedly striking his phallus [Alex always said phallus when he told this joke or any other joke that featured a penis. He always lowered his voice and blushed a little when he said it. Ever seen an embarrassed bear?] with a blacksmith’s hammer. The patriarch approached the man to ask him why in the world he was punishing his member so. “Doesn’t it hurt terribly?” “Of course,” replied the stranger, “but nothing compares to blissful respite that comes between each strike.”
My Lithuanian roommates have explained that this is actually a very Eastern European kind of joke. They tell another one that I like:
A wife walks out onto her porch where her husband is looking at the sky with a serene smile on his face. “Why are you so happy?” she asks. “Our neighbor’s house is burning down.”
I told this joke in Boston to a mixed audience of Canadians, Americans, and Bulgarians, and sure enough, the Bulgarians laughed while the North Americans waited for the punchline.
My point was that people have lots of different theories one how to best care for their body. The FDA of America has a great one, which happens to be very different from that which is professed by their Japanese counterpart. But I think that having your own cartoonish view of the human body is helpful, as long as it makes sense to you and it keeps you healthy.
For me, I believe that the key to everything is water. Lots of water. If I can keep a steady flow of water through my body, I find I can train harder without being sore the next day, I am more flexible, I have more energy, it is easier to maintain my weight (or lose weight when necessary), and I can drink alcohol with no ill effects in the morning.
For me, I see the body as a riverbed which is constantly polluted by our everyday actions (like every other riverbed you have ever seen). If you can keep that river flowing at nearly flood levels, all those pollutants (lactic acid, alcohol, excess nutrients, etc) will be washed away. I also see water as a sort of lubricant for cells, particularly muscle cells, that help them to work more efficiently.
I know that this is all a huge oversimplification and sounds a lot like a placebo (based strongly in sports medicine and common sense, of course), but it does serve as a nice little feather to hold onto when I force my body to do impossible things.