How traditional Chinese treatments can help you run a marathon
The city’s fastest and fittest will hit the streets of Hong Kong this Sunday for the Standard Chartered 2011 Hong Kong Marathon.
We asked Lee Wai Hang and Doris Mok, both registered Chinese medicine practitioners and Hong Kong University Bachelor of Chinese Medicine Alumni Association Chairmen, how traditional Chinese medicine can help runners perform at their peak.
“If Western medicine is on a microscopic level, then Chinese medicine is macroscopic,” says Mok. “We look at the general state of the body to determine what is excessive and what is deficient.”
Traditional Chinese medicine often comes under fire by its Western
counterparts, but from their perspective of Mok and Lee, Chinese and
Western medicines aren’t necessarily contradictory. “They can work
together,” Mok says.
She defends the trade by citing a long history of use and practise. “We can’t use scientific views to see how these types of medicines work,” says Mok. “But it’s proven with experience.”
Nourishing tonics are recommended by Mok and Lee to keep the body's energy at an optimal balance, both pre and post-marathon.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, runners are typically deficient in qi, the basic element of change and transformation in the world.
“In the human body qi is represented as the flow of nutritive substances as well as its functional activities,” says Mok.
Symptoms of qi deficiency are fatigue and a pale complexion. Runners are also vulnerable to a lack of yin, since it is released from the body through fluids like sweat.
To remedy or prevent this, Lee recommends drinking herbal tonics. Lee is a marathon runner himself and found these soup recipes specifically alleviate symptoms typical to runners. (See recipes for the soups on the second page).
He recommends drinking a pot of hairy mountain fig soup twice a week, for the month leading up to the marathon. It helps to alleviate muscle pain by boosting the body’s qi.
Mulberry twig (桑枝) targets upper limb fatigue, while milletia speciosa (牛大力), and hairy mountain fig, (五指毛桃) helps relieve lower back pain.
After the marathon, relieve fatigue and shorten your recovery period with ginseng soup. It is derived from a recipe made famous by the Empress Dowager Cixi who nearly died from a qi deficiency and was saved when a doctor prescribed her a special medicinal soup.
A pot of this soup twice weekly will alleviate qi deficiency and improve post-marathon fatigue.
Pork is used in these recipes for flavor and can be omitted for vegetarians without interfering with the soup’s beneficial properties. As well, diabetics and those with digestion problems should omit the fructus jujubae (蜜棗).
Also note that if you’re suffering from a cold or flu, you shouldn’t consume these soups.
All of these recipes can easily be made at home and ingredients can be found at any Chinese medicine shop.
For both recipes, boil ingredients in two litres of water over high heat for 15 minutes, then simmer at medium-low heat for one hour. Then add salt to taste.
Avoid using metal pots or cooking utensils for preparing these soups as adverse chemical reactions could be produced. Instead, use a clay pot.
Along with drinking the soups mentioned above, runners can improve their performance and relieve muscle fatigue using acupressure.
“There are 365 acupoints, 12 meridians and 8 extra meridians on the body,” says Lee.
Each meridian is associated with different organs in the body, and by applying pressure to specific acupoints you can improve the pathway of qi and blood flow in the body.
The zu san li (足三里) acupoint boosts the qi of the spleen and stomach, which in turn can have beneficial effects for the whole body. The Chinese name of this acupoint translates to "three mile feet," reflecting a traditional saying that regular acupressure applied to this point can enable the immobile to walk for three miles.
Spasms of the calf muscle can be relieved with acupressure to the cheng shan point. First, lift your heel to locate the acupoint. Then relax your leg and apply pressure. This acupoint also works well for lower back pain.
Naseau, vomiting and abdominal pain can be treated using the nei guan point, located four finger-widths below your wrist.
Acupoint therapy can be beneficial not only for runners, but for anyone suffering from the symptoms described. Apply moderate pressure for three to five minutes every day at any time.
A bit of numbness or soreness in the area is okay and can actually mean that you’ve located the correct spot.
These acupoints can be challenging to find on your own, so it’s best to visit a registered Chinese medicine practitioner first. They will determine whether these treatments are suitable for you, as well as teaching you how to locate the acupoints.
Those with skin diseases, fractures or joint swelling are recommended to consult a practitioner before trying out these techniques.
Click to the next page for recipes.
From the HKU Bachelor of Chinese Medicine Alumni Association
Hairy mountain fig soup
30g Ficus-hirta /Hairy-Mountain-Fig (五指毛桃)
30g Milletia Speciosa(牛大力)/ Moghania philippinensis(Merr.et Rolfe)Li (千斤拔)
30g Ramulus Mori / Mulberry Twig (桑枝)
2 granules Fructus Jujubae(蜜棗)
500g Pork Shank (豬展肉)
Radix Panacis Quinquefolii Soup with Herba Dendrobii and Rhizoma Dioscoreae
15g Radix Panacis Quinquefolii / American Ginseng (西洋參)
15g Herba Dendrobii / Dendrobium Herb (石斛)
30g Rhizoma Dioscoreae / Rhizome of Common Yam (淮山)
30g Radix Glehniae / Root of Coastal Glehnia (北沙參)
30g Rhizoma Polygonati Odorati (玉竹)
2 granules Fructus Jujubae (蜜棗)
500g Lean Pork