Mixed martial arts has become one of the most popular sports in the world, and for a good reason. It is an incredibly exciting sport to watch, and it takes a tremendous amount of athleticism and discipline to compete at the highest levels. But what many people don’t know is that there is another side to mixed martial arts that is often overlooked: the nutritional side.
MMA fighters, kickboxers, BJJ players, and others need to be extremely careful about what they eat if they want to perform at their best. In order to make weight for their fights, they often have to severely restrict their calories, which can lead to problems like dehydration and fatigue. As a result, MMA fighters have to be very careful about what they put into their bodies.
What Are the Nutritional Needs of a Mixed Martial Artist
When it comes to the nutritional needs of a mixed martial artist, there are a few things that are particularly important. Calories are obviously going to be a big concern, as fighters need to make sure they are getting enough to fuel their training while still making weight for their fights.
Some fighters will opt for measuring their food and making sure they are getting the right macronutrient balance, while others will simply eat whatever they want as long as they are staying within their calorie limit. An average active male will require about 3000 calories per day in order to maintain his weight. Some fighters know their body so well that they can eat intuitively and still perform at a high level, but for most fighters, it is important to be mindful of what they are eating.
First and foremost, fighters need to make sure that they are getting enough protein. Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue, and it is also necessary for helping the body to recover from training sessions.
Proteins in the form of fish, meat, poultry, and eggs are all excellent sources of nutrients. Fighters also need to make sure that they are getting enough healthy fats, as these are essential for hormone production and proper brain function. Nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil are all good sources of healthy fats.
A gram of protein per pound of muscle mass is a good rule of thumb for fighters to follow, and they should also aim for around 30% of their calories from fat. The rest of their calories can come from carbohydrates, which are important for energy levels.
In addition to protein and healthy fats, fighters also need to make sure that they are getting enough complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs are necessary for giving the body sustained energy levels throughout the day. Good sources of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, and oats.
Finally, hydration is extremely important for all athletes, but it is especially critical for MMA fighters. Dehydration can lead to problems like cramping, dizziness, and even unconsciousness, so it is imperative that fighters stay properly hydrated before and during competition.
Taking an iso-sport supplement before and after workouts can help MMA fighters to stay properly hydrated and to replenish their electrolytes.
How Do Fighters Cut Weight Before a Fight
While the nutritional needs of a fighter are important, so is making weight for their fights. Most MMA fighters need to make sure that they are within a certain weight class for their fights, and this often means cutting weight before competition.
There are a few different ways that fighters can cut weight, but the most common method is through water cutting. Water cutting involves restricting fluids and food in the days leading up to a fight in order to lose water weight. This can be an extremely effective way to make weight, but it is also very dangerous.
Dehydration is a serious problem, and it can lead to problems like cramping, dizziness, and even unconsciousness. As a result, fighters need to be very careful when they are cutting weight and make sure that they are doing so under the supervision of a trained professional.
In addition to water cutting, fighters may also use saunas or sweat suits to lose weight. These methods can also be dangerous if not done properly, but they can be effective when used in conjunction with a proper nutrition and hydration plan.
In regards to weight cutting and calories, it is important for fighters to make sure that they are still getting enough calories to fuel their training. It is also important to make sure that the calories they are consuming are coming from healthy sources.
If a fighter needs to lose a lot of weight, he or she should aim to lose about 2 to 3 pounds per week and still be energized enough to train properly. To lose 2 pounds per week, you need to have a caloric deficit of about 1000 calories since a pound of fat contains 3500 calories. A fighter can opt to lose more if needed; for example, 1000 calories can come from the nutrition side, and 500 calories can come from additional cardio.
It is generally easier to lose weight gradually as it is harder for the body to lose a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. Sudden weight loss can lead to problems like dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and even muscle loss. For these reasons, it is usually best for fighters to lose weight gradually over the fight camp.
Most Common Mistakes That Fighters Make When It Comes to Nutrition
Eating Too Much Junkfood
One of the most common mistakes fighters make is eating too much junk food. While a little junk food here and there is not going to kill you, eating a diet that is high in processed foods and unhealthy fats will do more harm than good.
Not only will it hinder your performance in the ring, but it will also increase your risk of developing obesity and other health problems down the road. If you want to be a successful fighter, you need to make sure that you are eating healthy foods that will fuel your body and help you perform at your best.
Not Eating Any Junkfood
On the other hand, some fighters make the mistake of avoiding all junk food altogether. While eating a diet that is devoid of processed foods and unhealthy fats is certainly healthier for you, completely depriving yourself of occasional indulgences can lead to issues as well. For one, it can make you feel like you are depriving yourself, which can lead to binging and overeating later on.
Additionally, completely restricting yourself from certain foods can cause cravings that are hard to resist. If you find yourself craving unhealthy foods, allow yourself to have a small treat every once in a while so that you don’t end up overindulging later on.
Not Eating Enough Carbs
Carbs get a bad rap these days, but the truth is that they are an important part of a fighter’s diet. Carbs provide energy, which is essential for training and fighting. Without enough carbs in your diet, you will quickly fatigue and lose steam during both training and fights.
Additionally, carbs help with recovery after workouts and fights. If you are not eating enough carbs, your body will not be able to replenish its glycogen stores properly, which can lead to Muscle weakness and soreness. So be sure to include complex carbs such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet so that your body has the energy it needs to perform at its best.
What Should a Fighter Eat on a Typical Day
Since, more likely than not, a fighter will have two to three training sessions per day during their fight camp. The first thing plenty of fighters do is go do road work early in the morning; however, running on an empty stomach is not the best idea.
Before going on a run, it is recommended that you eat a small snack, such as an energy bar or a banana. This will help to give you some energy and prevent you from running out of steam too quickly. My favorite snack was a banana with two slices of toast and some honey.
After your morning run, you should have a hearty breakfast that includes complex carbs, protein, and healthy fats. A good breakfast option for fighters is oatmeal with some fruit and nuts mixed in, or eggs with toast and avocado.
After your next training session, an electrolytes drink and some fruit are good choices to help you refuel and rehydrate. Berries are a great option because they are packed with antioxidants, which can help to reduce inflammation.
For lunch, you should aim to include lean protein, complex carbs, and vegetables. A salad with grilled chicken or fish is a great option, or you could have a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread.
If you believe you can afford a snack, a piece of fruit with some yogurt or a protein shake are good choices.
After your evening training session, you should have a light dinner that includes both protein and carbs. This will help to replenish your glycogen stores and promote muscle recovery. A simple dinner option for fighters is grilled chicken or fish with a sweet potato or some brown rice. It is important to have a smaller dinner since you will be able to fall asleep sooner due to your glycogen-depleted state.
What Supplements Should a Fighter Take To Improve Their Performance
I believe that a fighter only needs four supplements:
Whey Protein: To help with muscle recovery and growth
Creatine: For energy and power
Fish Oil: For joint health
Magnesium: For muscle cramps
I believe that these four supplements are all a fighter needs to perform at their best. Of course, there are other supplements out there that claim to help with performance, but I believe that the vast majority of them are unnecessary and a waste of money.
Are There Any Foods That Fighters Should Avoid Altogether
Of course, there are more than a few foods that fighters should avoid altogether. Here are a few of the most common offenders:
Alcohol: Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it will dehydrate you. Dehydration is one of the worst things for a fighter because it will sap your energy and make you more susceptible to fatigue. Additionally, alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain, which is the last thing a fighter wants.
Fried Food: If you don’t want to feel sluggish during your training sessions, then it is best to avoid fried foods. Fried foods are high in unhealthy fats and calories, which will drag down your energy levels.
Potato Chips: Potato chips are another food that fighters should avoid because they are high in calories and unhealthy fats. Additionally, potato chips are loaded with salt, which can cause you to retain water and bloat.
Soft Drinks: Soft drinks are packed with sugar, which can lead to weight gain. Additionally, the caffeine in soft drinks can cause you to feel jittery and increase your heart rate.
Healthy Snacks a Fighter Can Eat Regularly
Fruit and Nut Bars: These store-bought bars are a great option for when you’re on the go and need a quick pick-me-up. We like Larabars and RxBars, which are made with all-natural ingredients and contain no added sugar. For a more affordable option, try Clif Bars.
Homemade Trail Mix: Skip the unhealthy bags of trail mix from the gas station and make your own mix at home! This is a great way to control the ingredients that go into your snack, and you can tailor the mix to your own taste preferences. Simply combine your favorite nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and whole-grain cereal in a Ziploc baggie, and you’re good to go.
Veggies and Hummus: This one might sound a bit strange, but trust us – it’s delicious! carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, bell peppers – these veggies are all great dipped in hummus. Not only is this snack extremely healthy, but it’s also very filling, thanks to the protein in the hummus.
Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt is packed with protein, which makes it perfect for satisfying hunger pangs. top it with some fresh fruit or a handful of granola for some extra flavor and crunch.
Whole Grain Crackers: Crackers are often thought of as being unhealthy, but that doesn’t have to be the case! There are plenty of brands that make whole-grain crackers that are low in saturated fat and sodium.
Kale Chips: If you’re craving something salty but don’t want all the health risks that come with traditional chips (think heart disease and high blood pressure), kale chips are a great alternative. You can make them at home with just kale leaves, olive oil, and salt.
Low-Calorie Ice-Cream: Yes, you read that correctly – there are such things as low-calorie ice-creams! Halo Top and Enlightened are two brands that make delicious guilt-free ice-creams in a variety of flavors.
So there you have it, a look at the nutrition of a professional fighter. As you can see, fighters need to eat a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. Additionally, fighters should supplement with whey protein, creatine, fish oil, and magnesium. And finally, fighters should avoid alcohol, fried foods, potato chips, soft drinks, and processed sugars.