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Sumo Wrestlers Compared to Bodybuilders

author image Matthew Lee
Matthew Lee has been writing professionally since 2007. Past and current research projects have explored the effect of a diagnosis of breast cancer on lifestyle and mental health and adherence to lifestyle-based (i.e. nutrition and exercise) and drug therapy treatment programs. He holds a Master of Arts in psychology from Carleton University and is working toward his doctorate in health psychology.
Sumo Wrestlers Compared to Bodybuilders
Bodybuilders standing next to each other. Photo Credit Jerod Harris/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The traditional Japanese sport of sumo bears little resemblance to the world of competitive bodybuilding. While both sumo wrestlers and bodybuilders are known for their massive sizes, an exclusive focus on muscle mass is unique to bodybuilding. Despite their different physiques, however, bodybuilders and sumo wrestlers share some similarities.

Caloric Intake

In a 2005 study published in "Ageing Research Reviews," John Phelan of UCLA and Michael Rose of the University of California Irvine compared the caloric intakes and lifespans of male athletes and nonathletes. While the average male diet contains approximately 2,300 calories per day, these researchers found sumo wrestlers ate 5,500 calories per day, on average. This high caloric intake is similar to that of bodybuilders attempting to bulk, or gain muscle mass. According to registered dietician Nancy Clark, you should significantly increase your caloric intake if you are bulking. Although their goals may be different, sumo wrestlers and bodybuilders both consume an above-average amount of calories.

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Life Expectancy

Despite the beneficial effects of regular exercise, the life expectancy of competitive athletes varies depending on their sport. Phelan and Rose note that high daily caloric intake is linked to reduced life expectancy, with the average male sumo wrestler living an average of 20 years less than the average male. Although this may be due to the higher body fat percentage of sumo wrestlers, the high protein consumption of bodybuilders may have similar effects on life expectancy. As noted by Dr. Joel Fuhrman of Disease Proof, high-protein diets are associated with life expectancies at least 10 years shorter than the North American average.

Fat-Free Mass

Fat-free mass, defined as a combination of skeletal muscle and internal organ mass, is a measure of nutritional status used for predicting sport performance. In a 2007 study published in "International Journal of Sports Medicine," a team headed by Taishi Midorikawa of Tokyo, Japan's Metropolitan University compared the fat-free mass of athletes and nonathletes. Their study found that athletes, including sumo wrestlers, had much more fat-free mass than untrained people. In addition to these findings, Midorikawa and his colleagues note that past studies have found bodybuilders to have approximately 45 lbs. more fat-free mass than nonathletes, while sumo wrestlers have more than 65 lbs. more fat-free mass than untrained people of the same height.

Cultural Ideals

In addition to their physical and lifestyle similarities, sumo wrestlers and bodybuilders share similar roles in their respective cultures. According to Helen Gremillion of Indiana University in Bloomington, sumo wrestlers are a reflection of Japanese traditions and ideals. In her 2005 review published in "Annual Review of Anthropology," Gremillion further notes that bodybuilders are a reflection of current, Western ideals of power. Although she does not believe that people aim for these body types for cultural reasons, she argues that bodybuilders in North America and sumo wrestlers in Japan reflect and represent their respective cultures and traditions.

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