The Top 5 Sushi Rolls for Fitness

The Top 5 Sushi Rolls for Fitness
By Johnathan Zamora

Sushi is one of my favorite foods and is a very popular choice for bodybuilders and fitness athletes.  It’s been around for centuries as a method to preserve fish and now it has evolved into a unique dining experience.  Read on to learn how choosing the right type of sushi can bring you closer to achieving your fitness goals.

What is sushi?
The word sushi usually refers to the rice (the Japanese word su means vinegar and shi is derived from meshi, the Japanese word for rice).  Translated, sushi means “vinegared rice”.  In its earliest form, dried fish was placed between two pieces of vinegared rice as a way to make it last longer.  The nori (seaweed) was added later as a way to minimize sticky fingers when eating.  Pieces of sushi can be dipped into shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) or topped with wasabi or pickled ginger then eaten.

Fitness Sushi?

Sushi dishes made with cooked fish can be a relatively low-calorie, low-fat, nutrient dense meal – as long as you watch the side items that accompany it – soy sauce, mayonnaise-based sauces, etc. that can pack extra fat and lots of extra sodium.
Low in saturated fat and high in protein makes sushi a great choice for those, especially bodybuilders, looking to keep their waist trim while adding plenty of other highly nutritious compounds.   For example, the high concentration of fish oil found in sushi is one of the major factors that improve cardiovascular health.  Fish like Salmon, Sardines, & Mackerel contain high amounts of EPA & DHA omega-3 fats.  These fish are also high in Vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant, which provide such health benefits as decreasing your risk of developing heart disease and may improve immune function.

What about the Rice?

Typically, sushi is made with short grain sushi rice, otherwise known as sticky-rice.  With over 40,000 varieties of rice in the world, sushi rice is unique in its ability to bind together after cooking.   Sushi rice is white rice, measuring approximately 170 calories per ½ cup.  With a measly 2g of fiber – this type of rice is not always the best choice, nutritionally speaking, in regards to wholesome complex carbohydrates.  The lack of fiber in the white rice is made up by the fiber found in the Nori or seaweed wrapping.
More recently, brown rice sushi has made its way onto menus in the last few years.  The biggest difference between brown rice and traditional sushi rice is that it is harder and does not bind as well as sticky rice does; therefore – brown rice is usually found in hand-rolled sushi, otherwise known as maki.  In addition, brown rice is an excellent source of manganese, which provides antioxidant protection and a good source of the minerals selenium, to help repair damaged cells and magnesium, which helps ward off osteoporosis, and hypertension.  When you make brown sushi rice at home, be sure to use a short-grain variety as opposed to long grain rice which will not work for sushi applications.  Nutritionally, brown rice is higher fiber content and boasts a lower glycemic index rating – which is good news for those looking for healthier options.  Most restaurants will be happy to prepare your sushi with brown rice when requested.
The following list compares various types of sushi to help you stay lean –

Types of Sushi –

1. Sashimi – thinly sliced, raw seafood.  The main difference is the absence of sticky rice and typically served on top of shredded radish.  Accompanied by soy sauce (ask for low-sodium)

Popular types of Sashimi:

Magaro – Tuna
Toro –  Fatty tuna
Ebi – Prawn (shrimp)
Saba – Mackerel
Ika – Squid

2. Maki – Any type of sushi made with rice, seaweed wrapping and various fillings.  This type of sushi is made by taking a thin strip of rice and placing one or two ingredients along one side and rolling tightly to form the roll. 

Popular types of Maki:

Yellowtail roll – Yellowtail / scallion
Classic roll – Tuna/avocado/cucumber
Alaska roll – Salmon/carrot/avocado/cucumber
Soho roll – Crab/avocado/shrimp/smoked salmon

3. Nigiri – Rice is usually formed into an oblong shape by the chef, who places a small amount of wasabi (Japanese horseradish) over the rice then drapes various toppings.  When ordered alone (not part of a platter), Nigiri sushi is served in pairs. 

Popular types of Nigiri:

Maguro – Tuna
Sake – Salmon
Ebi – Shrimp
Tamago – Sweet egg
Tako – Octopus



4. Vegetable Rolls –Filled with your choice of fresh vegetables like sweet potato, asparagus, cucumber and pickled radish, which contribute Vitamins A, C and E, plus the minerals iron, iodine, zinc and calcium from the seaweed makes these rolls a must order.   Ask to have brown rice substituted for white rice when placing your order.

5. Rainbow Rolls – The vibrant rainbow roll has no set recipe, as almost every sushi chef has his own.  Generally speaking, the Rainbow roll has assorted fish with avocado on top of a California roll.  The name rainbow roll comes from the multiple colors of ingredients that can be seen when presented at the table.  Tuna is red, Salmon is orange, Yellowtail is yellow, Snapper is white, and Avocado is green.  As you can imagine this sushi roll is a bit calorie dense – but the health benefits are incredible!



*Note* If you are pregnant, or have concerns with the mercury content in sushi, please view this document from the Natural Resources Defense Council

Use this list as the base of your order when eating sushi to both enjoy the meal and reap all the health benefits this cuisine has to offer. Enjoy!

Johnathan Zamora
The Fit Chef

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2 Responses for The Top 5 Sushi Rolls for Fitness

  1. Maria Fernanda


    May 15, 2011 1:24 pm

    You can not imagine how happy you make me with this information about sushi. I don’t like sushi I AM ADICTED TO IT!! so much so that I try to learn myself and prepare it at home almost every weekend. My husband and my son of 4 years old are also as addicted as me, so it could be a bit expensive to go out to restaurants every time we have withdrawal jajaja!!!, so I prepare it at home. I am holding Lee’s 12 weeks lean body program and I was very concerned about eating sushi on weekends, you know…regarding carbohydrates. But if there is a small chance (and you have answered my question now) of eating sushi within this program so….I am the happiest woman in the world. I will try and get this brown shushi rice in the town to make it even better, but if not, I am sure now that I am not cheating my program if I eat it. Thanks a lot

  2. Johnathan Zamora


    May 16, 2011 7:03 am

    Thank you for the nice comment, Maria and congratulations on your decision to follow the Lean Body Promise. It’s a great resource for re-shaping your body and to naturally boost your metabolism. I’m glad you found this information useful, as there can be confusion surrounding sushi. One note, this post was intended to provide information on the types of sushi to choose to increase health and wellness. Since you are following the Lean Body Promise, please use moderation when eating sushi on the plan and always choose sushi that contains a lean protein source. The carbohydrates can add up quickly, as sushi is a nutrient dense food. Please follow the portion size recommendations for protein, carbohydrates and fats listed within the Lean Body Promise in order to see the best results.