Rob Mac asked: do you follow a specific type of diet in order to reach and sustain peak performance – it would seem highly likely that you do!!

Steve’s answer:

Simple answer to that is no.

It’s something that I’ve never found to be important. Obviously, at 63 I have to take some steps that I didn’t have to take when I was younger. When I was in the ‘fast lane’ I ate like a king but burned everything off. Now that I’ve slowed down (a little), I follow a low cholesterol diet and I don’t eat meat, although the reasons for the latter are really ethical.

But that’s just me. I’m what horsemen call a ‘good doer’, I can live on next to nothing. In Japan I had no money and sometimes didn’t eat for two or three days running, whilst training all day. It doesn’t bother me, I love good food but I can do without it. It’s not going to worry me if I don’t get my vitamin requirement or whatever.

I saw a guy, he’s a UFC champion, name escapes me. He had a little box of food for this and a box for that…and about 20 or 30 tablets of supplements. Living like that would drive me crazy. When I look at that kind of self-imposed regime, I often wonder what would happen if he lost a box? Would he freak out and not be able to fight? It can be a crutch. I’m not saying it is in this case, but if you’re relying on this intricate system of nutrition and very specific exercise programs, are you missing the forest for the trees?

It’s like when I’m training guys and they’re all reaching for the water bottle, the banana–some guys go through a three course meal in the break. I think for the amount of work they’re doing, they ain’t gonna die if they don’t have that. And psychologically, in my opinion they’d be stronger if they pressed on without it.

It’s one of those things, like needing to have a particular training routine or special gear or special bags, you don’t want to let it rule you. Personally, I’m not into the cult of the physical; I’m not going to pose. To me, there’s far more important things in my martial arts then what I eat. It’s like I said to Terry O’Neill once, it’s the neural impulses to a muscle that are more important than its hypertrophy.

And I don’t mean this as a license to let yourself go and eat pies! I just think, as a species, we would have eaten what we could have got hold of. And when you look at the work rate of people in Third World countries and then look at what they’re eating, it tells you something. Take, say, the Tamil dock workers. They’re phenomenally strong, but they’re living on very little.

But all of this is purely personal. I’m a strange example; Trish thinks I’m part camel because I never remember to drink and if I don’t eat for a day or so I don’t complain.

Maybe it’s got something to do with being a war baby; I grew up in postwar Britain, with rationing. There was very little food about. My grandad used to send my mum rabbits wrapped in bloody brown paper in the post when I was a little kid. And I was in a military family as well as serving 9 years myself. It makes you mentally tough.

You need this as a martial artist. You learn to be in control. So you’re hurt, you’re tired, cold, whatever, you don’t show it. I broke my hand during a demonstration and nobody knew. I signed autographs, shook people’s hands–and they were really giving me the macho grip and I was smiling back as the bones in my hand went CRUNCH. I knew it was broken the instant it happened, but I just carried on with the demonstration. And then afterward went and got it sorted out.

I think in the martial arts you need to find some way of testing your character, which can be done through challenging and punishing workouts. But don’t let go of it outside the gym. If you accidentally bump your elbow on the door frame, don’t make a production about it. It could be worse if you were on the street.

I’ve been hit in the solar plexus and winded, absolutely couldn’t breathe. But the guy didn’t know it. I finished the fight anyway. You don’t want to give him that information, because he’ll capitalize on it. It’s like the time I was showing a stallion to some customers and he kicked me in the balls. I just swallowed it. Afterward they came up like fucking balloons, but nobody knew except me.

To me this detachment is part of being a martial artist. So although it’s not really about food, I think it’s all about the same thing. Being in the driving seat of your emotions and your responses.