Tips from Top S’pore Runner Marcus Ong on Staying Healthy during Chinese New Year

During the Chinese New Year Festival, elite runner Marcus Ong, 30, will be out of the house – visiting friends and relatives from 9am in the mornings all the way until 11pm most nights.

This routine would be the same for roughly the first three to four days into the Chinese New Year, for Ong, a national 5,000m and 10,000m runner who holds down a day job as a Project Manager.

Marcus Ong is one of Singapore's top runners.

Marcus Ong is one of Singapore’s top runners.

Will ensure that he does his long runs 4 – 5 times a week

But despite that, Ong will still make sure that he does long runs 4 to 5 times a week through the festive period.

His long runs last typically between 30 minutes to one hour and he will continue this routine till the end of the Chinese New Year period – after which he will incorporate more SpeedWork sessions into his regime, as he gears up for the 10km race at the Gold Coast Marathon in July this year.

Added Ong, “Doing this should not be too disruptive to my normal sleeping habits. I am usually in bed by 12 midnight and I normally wake up to run at roughly 7am. As long as I maintain this sleeping pattern then I should be okay.”

However, Ong stressed that he would not follow his rigorous training pattern though, if he is feeling particularly lethargic.

Ong would not compromise on his running routine for Chinese New Year.

Ong would not compromise on his running routine for Chinese New Year.

Explained the runner, “I believe that if the body is tired, do not train – by pushing your body too much, you may risk yourself developing an injury. Though I may plan to run that morning, I will choose to sleep instead if I feel particularly lethargic in the morning. It is okay to take one or two days off to enjoy the Chinese New Year festivities.”

But Ong pointed out that there is a difference between being lethargic and simply being lazy though.

He said, “If you are finding that your whole body is tired and cannot train as you normally would, you are fatigued and should take a break. But if you feel that you just want to sleep instead, chances are that you are being lazy.”

Not tempted to overeat when he visits friends and relatives this Chinese New Year

On the other hand though, Ong admits that unlike many Singaporeans, he won’t really be tempted to overeat during the festive season. This is because he prefers to bake his own Chinese New Year goodies rather than buying them at the shops.

Said Ong, “The Chinese New Year goodies that you buy, usually contain a lot of preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients which poison your body and make you fat. So I would rather not eat them.”

Ong would usually not touch the Chinese New Year goodies.

Ong would usually not touch the Chinese New Year goodies.

However, when pressed further, Ong did admit that he had one guilty pleasure during the festive season though – Bak Kwa.  But he quickly added that he would eat a very small portion, about one-tenth of a regular sized piece, just to get a taste of it.

Said Ong, “I won’t want to disrupt my normal everyday routine and cheat on my diet, even if it’s the Chinese New Year season. No matter what you are eating, try to minimise the quantity. Of course going overboard and eating say, 20 pieces of Bak Kwa in a single sitting, is simply asking for trouble. If you really love Bak Kwa, about one or two pieces a day is enough.”

His family bakes their Chinese New Year goodies

Other than that, Ong admitted that he and his family usually bake their Chinese New Year goodies at home.

This is because according to the runner, by baking your own cookies, you can control exactly what you are putting in them – and can ensure that no harmful chemicals are entering your body.

By baking his own New Year goodies, Ong can control exactly what's in them.

By baking his own New Year goodies, Ong can control exactly what’s in them.

He explained, “You never know exactly what they are putting into the store-bought stuff to make them taste so good.”

For Ong though, fortunately his brother is an executive chef in one of the top restaurants and has recently baked some healthy pineapple tarts for the family.

Said the runner, “I make sure that he puts in less butter and salt, and no MSG or preservatives. The pineapple filling is also freshly ground from real pineapples, so there’s no sugary jam used. But because they are so fresh, they must be consumed within seven days.”

Ong himself has also attempted to prepare a healthy version of Bak Kwa.

He explained, “The recipe is still in the research phase but so far the best versions we have come up with, use the grill to make grilled Bak Kwa or else we pan-fry it with vegetable oil.”

Maintaining self-control

To Ong, maintaining self-control is very important especially for him, as an elite runner. He said, “Basically it is your choice, whether you want to keep healthy or if you want to eat junk food all the way through the festive season.”

Ong's home-made chicken "nuggets" are more healthy than the fast-food version. [Photo by Marcus Ong]

Ong’s home-made chicken “nuggets” are more healthy than the fast-food version. He would typically either roast or pan-fry the “nuggets” and the accompanying potatoes.
[Photo by Marcus Ong]

He added, “Even if it is your favourite food, exercising self control is important. For me, I really love my deep-fried chicken nuggets, but I don’t eat them all the time. I restrict them to only either before or after my races, taking about 30 to 40 pieces at one go. Apart from then, I don’t eat them.”

Ong admitted though, that he has tried to bake his own healthy version of the deep-fried chicken nuggets but he admitted that no matter how much the recipe is modified, it can never taste the same as the ones he buys.

He explained, “The version I make is pan-fried and there is no MSG or other unhealthy chemicals in there. It may not taste quite the same as the traditional version, but then again, healthy food is never usually the best food in terms of the taste and flavour. And although you may like your healthy versions yourself, it all still boils down to personal preference as your friends may not feel the same way about your healthy take on these unhealthy foods.”

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