Travel: China and US Fitness
Stephen Gainsburg, BA, NSCA-CPT
Hey Sweat Fam, greetings from the other side of the Earth. Although I've only been gone for 6 weeks, I've noticed a couple "slight" differences between fitness culture here in China versus back in America, and figured I'd share a couple of my favorite and notable ones. So, sit back, grab your shaker bottle, and enjoy some international education gains.
Here in China, the clients at a gym operate a little differently than they do back in America. Here, rules are... less stringent. One common practice here is to not wipe down gym equipment after usage. No cleaning wipes or spray are available to clients or trainers alike, but equipment is cleaned in the morning before the day starts. The other strange quirk of gyms here are there appear to be limited clothing requirements for men. Whereas women in China go to the gym fully covered in clothing (sometimes even wearing dresses), I have witnessed several instances of men using a treadmill or other piece of equipment shirtless and have seen my fair share of barefoot leg pressing. Suffice to say, no shoes, no shirt, no problem here.
Actual Gym Equipment
When it comes to the actual gym equipment, gyms here maintain a good variety of weights and equipment. The gym I currently use has dumbbells up to 90lbs, multiple bench press racks, along with a squat rack and smith machine. The gym also has several plate and weight stack-based machines along with a good selection and quantity of cardio machines. The one different aspect here is all the weights are listed in kilograms. So those 90 lbs. dumbbells? Here we call them 40 kg dumbbells. 45 lbs. plate? Actually, pass me the 20 kg plate. In order to switch from kilograms to pounds, multiply the weight by 2.2, and you'll get an approximate weight in pounds. Good luck on hitting that 102 kg bench press!
Unlike American gyms, the fitness industry isn't too focused on early risers and late-night grinders. In the US, commercial gyms will open around 5 am close anywhere from 11pm to 1am. Most gyms in China will open around 9 or 10 am, and usually close around 10 pm. For people with day jobs, this can be a bit of a hassle, as odds are work starts when the gym opens, and once work is finished the battle versus exhaustion begins.
As one would expect, the diet of a Chinese citizen vastly differs from that of an American citizen. One of the first difference you'll notice immediately is the lack of whole wheat/grain products. Whole wheat breads and pastas are not common in grocery stores, and products such as brown rice are not easy to find either. Rather, white bread, dough, white rice, and rice noodles are extremely popular (and tasty) in the area.
This lack of whole grain products can lead to a lack of fiber in one’s diet, which has led to some unique solutions here. My favorite product to combat this problem is Sprite Fiber+. Yes, that Sprite. China has incorporated fiber into soda products as a way to combat fiber deficiency. However, plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits are available, which provides a great and healthier alternative for incorporating fiber into one’s diet.
Another important dietary component is the high fat content of food in the area. Foods here are commonly cooked in various oils that, although they do provide a great deal of flavor and spice, also do pack a caloric punch. Also, Chinese food places use the entirety of animals for meat products, meaning you shouldn't expect any lean cuts of meat when ordering at restaurants. And unlike America, finding a plain grilled protein can be difficult at times. Just like back home, the best way to ensure your food is made in a healthy way is to buy and cook food at home.
Nutrition labels here in china are very basic and contain limited information about food products- some products don't even include an ingredient list. The only similarity to an American nutrition label is the presence of the amount of carbs, fats, protein, and sodium in a product. This means that if you're trying to monitor your levels of sugar and saturated fat intake, you're practically left guessing as to the amount in a product. Also, calories here are listed in kilojoules rather than the plain calorie amount we're used to in the States. However, this too can be converted- to get from kilojoules to calories, divide the number of kilojoules by 4.
Another common information piece left out here is serving sizes. Rather than list what a serving size of the product is and the macronutrients within a serving size, products in china simply have the nutritional information for 100 grams of a product. This means in order to find out how many calories or an amount of a certain macronutrient are in an entire product, some math is needed. For instance, a product's nutritional label may state that it has 5 grams of fat per each 100 grams. But if that product weights 500 grams, it actually contains 25 grams of fat. Like the US, China also requires nutritional literacy in order to make smart decisions when buying products.
Here in China, fitness supplements are hard to find, and quite pricy. Very few stores carry any form of protein powder, and often if they do the product is either quite low in protein, or high in an unwanted nutritional group, such as sodium. Protein powder here is also expensive, as the average container has about 16 servings, and costs about 20 dollars for the cheapest one. If you wish to have an imported, higher quality brand, prices can run about 40-50 dollars and will only provide about 23 servings. With regards to protein powder, it's both cost and time effective to instead focus on getting ample protein from foods rather than searching for an optimal powder.
With protein bars, companies such as Quest do not have a market out in China, and the existing options are average at best. I have found one protein bar so far here, and it costs around 1.2 US dollars and has 8 grams of protein per bar. The protein bars here also come in some unique flavors, some that would probably not market well back in the States. So far, I have tried a sea salt and cheese flavored protein bar, and although it wasn't my favorite, it did not taste nearly as bad as one might imagine. Although protein bars are not as prevalent here as they are in America, affordable options do exist if you can find a store that sells them.
Overall, the fitness climate here in China, while different, still gives someone a decent chance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Although some aspects may be a little more difficult than back in America, it's nothing a little determination and will power can't combat.