Bruce Lee died at the age of 32 of cerebral edema (1). He was on the cusp of Hollywood greatness, having recently finished filming his first and only American movie. Star of dozens of Chinese martial arts films, Bruce Lee was voted one of the ten most influential people of the 20th century by Time magazine (2).
As well as being a legend in the martial arts world, Bruce Lee was also a philosopher, poet, teacher, screenwriter, and producer. In this article, we’re going to look at how he fueled all this activity by lifting the lid on the Bruce Lee diet
Bruce Lee was not a big man by today’s action hero standards. He would be dwarfed by the likes of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and even Jason Statham. But what Lee lacked in pure muscle size, he made up for with definition. Bruce Lee was ripped!
On-screen, this meant Lee looked incredibly impressive and far bigger than is 135lb bodyweight suggested. Bruce Lee combined intense training with a healthy diet to achieve the kind of muscle separation that made many bodybuilders envious.
He was a fan of jogging and weight training and also practiced martial arts every day. He typically worked out for four hours at a time, with very few rest days. Needless to say, such dedication to training requires attention to nutrition, and Bruce Lee was VERY detail orientated.
Bruce Lee died in 1973, but all these years later, his training philosophies and dietary concepts live on.
Bruce Lee Diet
What Diet Did He Follow?
The first thing to understand about the Bruce Lee diet is that, really, there is no such thing! He didn’t follow a strict or regular diet plan like keto, the Zone, or paleo.
Instead, he ate a variety of foods based on what he felt his body needed, what was good for his health, and what he actually enjoyed. So, how did he get so lean? The simple answer is through exercise and favorable genetics.
Bruce Lee trained obsessively, burning hundreds of calories every day. He was also a classic ectomorph, meaning is was lightly muscled and unlikely to gain lots of body fat.
Combining eating sensibly with avoiding junk food and long and intense workouts, he achieved the enviable level of leanness that added so much to his appearance. Because of his Asian heritage, and despite being born in America, Bruce Lee ate a lot of Chinese food as, he said, Western food just wasn’t very tasty.
Like most people, Bruce Lee ate a wide variety of foods, so this is just an example of what his diet would consist of:
Breakfast: Muesli, semi-skimmed milk, orange juice, green tea.
Snack: Protein shake made from instant milk powder, eggs, wheat germ, bananas, peanut butter, and Brewer’s yeast.
Lunch: Stir-fried meat or chicken and vegetables with noodles or rice.
Snack: Protein shake (as above)
Dinner: Meat or fish, steamed vegetables, and rice or noodles.
Lee was a “big eater” and often went back for seconds. That’s hardly surprising given that he exercised intensely for four hours a day!
What Was His Favorite Food?
Bruce Lee mostly ate a varied, healthy diet. After all, to perform and look as good as he did, he had to provide his body with the right fuel. That said, and contrary to popular opinion, Lee WAS human and enjoyed the occasional dietary treat.
Bruce Lee especially enjoyed steaks, McDonald’s burgers, ice cream, and apple pie. However, he ate these things infrequently and always in moderate amounts. Bruce Lee did NOT believe in binging!
Was He a Vegetarian?
Many Asians are vegetarians. Bruce Lee was not vegetarian or vegan but did eat meat-free meals from time to time. It is rumored that he tried vegetarianism for a while, mainly for spiritual reasons, but noticed it affected both his strength and energy levels. Subsequently, he reintroduced meat.
Because of his intense training regimen, Bruce Lee consumed a lot of protein. From his books and nutrition diaries, it looks like he consumed much more than one gram per pound of bodyweight, which is the usual recommended amount for exercisers.
Getting that much protein from a vegetarian diet IS possible but would not have been easy. It’s easy to see why Bruce Lee chose to eat eggs, meat, fish, chicken, etc.
What Foods Did He Avoid?
Although his diet was very flexible, there were a few foods that Bruce Lee avoided. There were certain foods he chose not to eat because of how they affected his energy levels, mental focus, or impacted on his health.
The main foods that Bruce Lee avoided were:
Refined flour products, such as white bread, cookies, cakes, and bagels. Quite rightly, Lee called these foods “empty calories” as they provided no beneficial nutrients. He also noted that they caused bloating and fluctuating energy levels.
Dairy: While Bruce Less DID drink skimmed milk and eat the occasional bowl of ice cream as a treat, the rest of the time, he avoided dairy and ate very little cheese. This was mainly to avoid the fat calories found in dairy. Any diary he did consume was low fat.
Sugar: Lee recognized that sugar was both devoid of nutrients and a very concentrated source of calories. Eating too much sugar would affect his legendary leanness. As such, Bruce Lee did not consume any refined sugars, preferring instead to eat naturally sweet fruit.
Alcohol: Bruce Lee drank alcohol infrequently, and only ever in very small amounts. It affected him badly, and even a small serving gave him a headache the following day.
Coffee: Maybe it was the taste, but Bruce Lee didn’t enjoy coffee. However, he rarely turned down a cup of green tea, which suggests he wasn’t overly sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
What Supplements Did He Take?
During the 1960s and 70s, many of the sports supplements so popular today didn’t exist. Whey protein, creatine, branch chain amino acids, and pre-workouts were not available. Instead, supplements tended to be things that increased health and energy, rather than sports performance. Ever the student, Bruce Lee experimented with a range of different supplements to enhance his energy and his mental and physical performance.
Bruce Lee’s supplement regimen included:
- Vitamin C – to boost immunity and energy
- Vitamin E – for healthier skin and for its antioxidant properties
- Lecithin granules – for improved cardiovascular health and better digestion
- Bee pollen – for immunity, energy, and to speed up healing
- Rose hips – a concentrated source of vitamin C, and also good for joint health
- Wheat germ oil – an excellent source of minerals, including zinc and magnesium
- Acerola – high in vitamin C
- Folate – a source of B vitamins, essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates
- Ginseng – for energy, vitality, and focus
In addition to these supplements, Bruce Lee juiced raw fruits and vegetables to increase his intake of vitamins and minerals. He also consumed homemade protein shakes 1-2 times per day, made from milk powder and other natural ingredients. Remember, this is before whey protein was available.
In so many ways, Bruce Lee was well ahead of his time. He was an exemplary martial artist, a charismatic actor, a successful movie producer, and screenwriter. He had a thirst for knowledge and was on a never-ending path of self-improvement.
He was never afraid to experiment and based his entire martial arts, training, and nutritional approach on one principle – use what works and discard what does not. So, while there is no actual Bruce Lee diet to follow, you can use his guiding principles to create your ideal eating plan.
When deciding what to eat, just ask yourself if it will do you good. If it won’t, you probably shouldn’t eat it. Apply this standard to everything you eat and drink, and you’ll find it much easier to reach your health and weight loss goals.
- Cerebral Edema, https://www.healthline.com/health/cerebral-edema
- TIME 100 Persons of The Century, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,26473,00.html