Chances are you know the famous actor and martial artist, but what was the “Bruce Lee Diet” really like? You might know him from films and TV shows such as Enter the Dragon and The Green Hornet, but Bruce Lee wasn’t born a martial arts prodigy. Instead, he developed exceptional martial arts skills through years of dedication and training. He’s considered by some to be the founder of mixed martial arts (MMA). But, it’s more accurate to say that he developed his own martial arts philosophy, Jeet Kune Do.
Tragically, Bruce Lee passed away at the age of 32 due to complications of a prescription painkiller. His legacy lives on with fans all over the globe who dedicate their lives to learning Jeet Kune Do.
About The Bruce Lee Diet
Bruce Lee was incredibly muscular. People who worked with him on movie sets often made comments about how impressive his muscular definition was. He was a master of sticking to a diet while also balancing an intense exercise regime. His diet was full of energy-boosting foods to keep him going through long days and rigorous workouts.Bruce Lee weighed approximately 61 kilograms. Lee also achieved a low body fat percentage of around 6-8 percent. No one would ever dream of calling Bruce Lee fat- celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger commented that Lee “probably had one of the lowest body fat counts of any athlete around.”
Let's get it out of the way right off the bat- there is no strict, "Bruce Lee Diet." Lee always stuck to a few key diet principles instead of a rigid meal plan. Not every intricate detail is known about what Bruce Lee ate, but in general, Bruce’s philosophy about food was focused on eating nutritious food and not over-indulging in unhealthy snacks. This is great advice for anyone who’s prone to overeating, mindless snacking, and binging. Transforming your attitude about food and nutrition can sometimes be more helpful than sticking to a strict diet, and will take you closer to Bruce Lee muscle than an extreme diet.
What kind of food did Bruce Lee eat?
He avoided cheese.
It’s rumored that Bruce Lee avoided dairy at all costs. However, Bruce’s trainer, Danny Inosanto, wrote in “The Art and Philosophy of Bruce Lee” that this was not true. While Bruce Lee may have avoided cheese, Insanto noted that he drank milk and occasionally ate ice cream. It’s unclear if Lee’s avoidance of cheese was for health reasons or personal choice.
He ate primarily Chinese dishes.
Lee made comments that American food was bland, so he gravitated to Chinese dishes. His favourite dish was said to be beef with oyster sauce. Lee ate a wide variety of Chinese dishes and didn’t shy away from eating organ meats, which are high in B-vitamins and minerals. He also loved Italian food and would gobble up spaghetti whenever his wife, Linda, made it for him. It wasn’t that Lee had anything against American food, he just found Chinese food was more nutritious and he preferred the taste.
Lee took it easy on sweets and refined carbs.
Unlike many modern dieters, Bruce Lee's diet didn’t avoid carbs. He wasn’t in the kitchen whipping up Keto cauliflower rice or avoiding grains. He carefully chose which carbs would best for his body and performance. Lee ate a lot of rice and carb-heavy vegetables because his body required carbohydrates to fuel him during his intense 2 hour workouts. Not all carbs are equal, though. You wouldn’t find Lee snacking on a daily assortment of biscuits, cakes, and snacks to provide some pre-workout energy.
He drank a lot of tea.
No coffee for Bruce Lee, just tea. His favourites were Lipton black tea and Lei Cha (Southern Chinese milk tea). He would take his tea black, with honey, or with milk and sugar.
Lee took a variety of supplements.
According to his family, Bruce took a variety of vitamins and minerals. A balanced diet will provide most (if not all) of your body’s necessary vitamins and minerals, but supplements can provide an extra boost.
Some of the vitamins and supplements Bruce took include:
- Vitamin C
- Lecithin Granules
- Hi Bee Pollen C
- Natural Vitamin E,
- Rose hips (liquid),
- Wheat germ oil
- Natural Protein Tablets
- Acerola-C, B-Folia
- A-Veg and E-Plex
Bruce Lee didn’t drink alcohol.
It’s been confirmed by his daughter, Shannon Lee, that he didn’t drink alcohol.
Shannon Lee mentioned in an interview with the South China Morning Post, “My father did not drink, that’s true...[he] did not have a problem with people who drink occasionally...He was never knocking drinks out of people’s hands if they were having an enjoyable time.”
It’s unclear if his reasons were for personal rather than health reasons, though. Of course, alcohol can contribute to a myriad of health issues so it would make sense if Lee avoided alcohol due to health reasons.
He allowed himself “unhealthy” foods in moderation.
Robert Clause, the director of Enter the Dragon, noted that Lee would have a soft drink or two each day. This could’ve been a habit that he had when he was on set, or all the time. It was also reported that he sometimes ate American foods like burgers.
What are the benefits of the Bruce Lee Diet?
Bruce Lee’s diet did more than help him achieve low body fat percentages and build muscle. Many aspects of Lee’s diet are also beneficial for overall health and wellness. It’s important to pick a diet that’s beneficial for your well-being if you’re trying to build a healthy lifestyle. Crash diets with extreme calorie restriction can lead to rebound weight gain.
Benefits of drinking black tea
Many people tout green tea for its weight loss benefits, but what about black tea? It turns out black tea has many health benefits that evidence seems to back up.
- Antioxidant properties, so it can help decrease the risk of chronic disease
- Potentially lower “bad” LDL cholesterol
- May reduce blood pressure
- May reduce the risk of stroke
- May help improve gut health
- Can potentially lower blood sugar
In addition, black tea is relatively cheap and easily available. This makes it a great alternative to soda or sugar-packed artificial fruit juices. Keep in mind the studies involving black tea also involve drinking tea without sugar or milk. Be sure not to add heaping tablespoons of processed sugar to your tea if you’re looking to get the full health benefits.
Benefits of eating multiple small meals per day
According to BruceLee.com, Lee ate multiple small meals per day instead of the traditional 3 large meals. Contrary to what you might’ve heard, there’s no solid evidence to back up the rumour that eating frequently “boosts metabolism”. That being said, eating smaller meals can still be beneficial for a variety of reasons.
For example, research suggests that eating smaller meals more frequently may help improve insulin levels. Eating smaller meals frequently also can help some people avoid overeating. On the other hand, some people can be prone to overeating if they eat too frequently. Individuals who aren’t active don’t necessarily need to eat frequently, as their body isn’t using up energy at an increased pace. Eating smaller meals doesn’t work for everyone so make sure this approach is right for you before you jump on this bandwagon.
Benefits of limited sweets and processed carbs
Most people eat more sugar than what’s recommended by the NHS. Some people have a sweet tooth while others unknowingly ingest heaps of sugar in processed products like ketchup and salad dressings. Bruce Lee was sure never to over-indulge in any type of food that didn’t serve his body, and that includes sugars and fried foods.Cutting back on sugar is linked to a variety of positive outcomes, such as decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and reducing inflammation.
Benefits of organ meats
The classic combination of liver and onions is still somewhat popular, but most organ meats and offals have made their way out of many UK and American kitchens. Many people turn up their nose at the thought of eating tongue or sweetbreads, but there are benefits to eating organ meats. For example, the liver is full of essential vitamins and minerals such as B Vitamins (B9, B2, B12), Vitamin A, Iron, and Copper. It’s also lower in calories and fat compared to steak or lamb chops. There are risks to eating some organs, such as intestines and brain meat. Do your research and be careful before consuming offal.
Benefits of royal jelly & ginseng
Lee would add a mixture of royal jelly, ginseng, and honey into his tea. He drank this concoction to balance his energy levels and to perk him up before workouts. A double-blind study found that royal jelly increased the production of red blood cells, glucose tolerance, and mental health. In another study, royal jelly reduced total cholesterol (TC) and LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels. Ginseng has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to help improve insulin resistance. The honey that Bruce Lee stirred in his tea would have provided him with a burst of energy. Honey packs about 16 grams of carbohydrates into one tablespoon. Plus, fructose and glucose can enter the bloodstream in about 60 seconds to deliver a quick burst of energy if your blood sugars are low.
What does a Bruce Lee Diet meal plan look like?
Other than his close friends and family, no one can say for certain what Bruce Lee ate every day. We can try our best to determine what his diet plan might have looked like based on books and anecdotes.
Disclaimer: Check with your doctor before starting any new diet or exercise plan, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions. Your caloric and dietary needs may be vastly different than Bruce Lee’s, so you should make sure you understand how to eat in a healthy caloric range for your specific body, activity levels, and goals. Remember, there is no formal "Bruce Lee Diet" that applies to everyone. Attempting to mimic Lee’s diet does not guarantee the same results he achieved.
Meal 1 - Breakfast
- Lipton black tea with honey, royal jelly, and ginseng
- Liver congee
- Orange juice
Meal 2 - Mid-morning snack
- Bruce Lee Protein Shake
- Powdered milk, eggs, water, ice, eggs, brewer’s yeast, peanut butter, wheat germ, inositol, lecithin, and bananas.
Meal 3 - Lunch
- Garden salad
- Beef with oyster sauce
- White rice
- Lei Cha
Meal 4 - Late Afternoon Snack
- Homemade carrot and apple juice
Meal 5 - Dinner
- Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
- Small side salad
- Glass of 2% Milk
While there isn’t any information available on whether Bruce Lee was strict about counting calories, it’s safe to say that he had a good idea of what he was putting into his body. He also tried to avoid empty calories. After all, you don’t get to his level of body fat percentage by gobbling up excess calories.
Did Bruce Lee Eat Fast Food like McDonald’s?
While fast food presumably wasn't a staple of Bruce Lee's diet, yes, Bruce Lee did eat McDonald’s! While this wouldn’t be a daily occurrence, it’s safe to say that Lee probably enjoyed a hamburger every now and then. But this doesn’t mean you should also indulge in McDonald’s if you want to look like Bruce Lee. A couple of cheat meals won’t completely derail you if you consistently stick to a diet and exercise regime.
Remember, Bruce Lee believed food was fuel, and he only wanted to put good fuel into his body. Having an occasional hamburger at McDonald’s is not the same as embarking on a fast food binge.
How to Combine the Bruce Lee Diet and Workout
“ Some guys may not believe it, but I spent hours perfecting whatever I did.” - Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee was a world-class martial artist. He was dedicated to finding ways to increase his strength, endurance, and technique. Some of his workout diary entries are recorded in The Art of Expressing the Human Bodyby John Little.
He recorded that he once did 2,000 punches in one day! He was a fan of long workouts, often training for 2 ½ hours throughout the day. He didn’t just practice martial arts, he also did strength training and endurance exercises. Lee would often go for runs in the morning and complete the rest of his workout later in the day. Having multiple meals and protein shakes would come in handy for him because he was active throughout the day, not only during isolated workout hours.
He also required premium equipment in order to train well, and made comments in his workout notes that good punching bags helped improve his performance. He would also use training equipment such as kicking shields and leg stretchers. Bruce Lee also helped popularize nunchaku (nunchuks), which he regularly practiced with.
When you’re training at full-throttle like Bruce Lee, it’s important that your body has readily available energy so you can execute explosive movements like punches and kicks with power. Carbohydrates are converted to energy faster than protein and fat, that’s why many high performance athletes prefer to “carb up” before a workout. That’s not to say protein and fat aren’t important. Bruce Lee’s diet included a healthy mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.Overall, Bruce Lee’s diet was inspired by Chinese cuisine and his pursuit of becoming the best martial artist. He was a master of sticking to a diet and choosing the right foods to fuel his body.