By Jillian Bullock
There’s no denying that mixed martial arts fighters, males and females, are some of the toughest athletes in the world. When they prepare for a match it’s like they are going to war. To match the intensity their body will have to endure to prepare for a fight most MMA practitioners also realize that nutrition is a vital part of their training process and proper foods, along with vitamins and supplements, will help repair muscles, strengthen joints, reduce injuries and illness, and help them with recovery.
Why Nutrition Is Vital
A body that is filled with lots of fat and sugar will limit a fighter’s ability to perform at his best. His body will become slow, lethargic and be more prone to illness, injury and unwanted pounds. On the other hand healthy, nutritious foods help the body heal and recover faster, keep off the excess weight, and allows the athlete to perform at a higher level of excellence with greater power and intensity.
To endure hours upon hours of training each day the body must be fueled with the proper foods. The three necessary components are carbohydrates, which can be found in foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes, fruit and vegetables. Carbs provide a great source of energy when a mixed martial artist trains. Therefore, these foods should be eaten about an hour before a training session.
Protein is important for body growth and repair of muscles. Some of the foods that are loaded with protein include fish, eggs, cheese and low-fat dairy. Fats, which usually get a bad name, are essential to the body. Good fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, are converted into energy when you train; they’re also good for your heart and your cholesterol level. It also keeps the brain, heart and joints healthy. Consume fats that offer the most benefits such as nuts, soy, milk, avocados, olives, sunflower, sesame, and peanut and canola oil, and fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, trout, herring). Avoid trans fats, think fried foods, processed foods, fast foods, and cookies, candy, or ice cream, chips, crackers, baked goods, coffee creamers, dips, gravy mixes, many salad dressings and breakfast cereals. The goal is to have as little trans fat in your diet as possible because eating this form of fat is like putting cheap gas in your sports or luxury car when you should use premium.
So, Let’s Make It SIMPLE Eat Loads of:
- Vegetables (the greener, the better),
- Whole wheat bread and grains (brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes),
- Meats (chicken, fish, turkey, lean beef),
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashew, pecans),
- Beans (lentil, kidney, chickpeas, black, edamame, navy),
- Dairy (low-fat milk, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese)
When cutting weight for a fight, stay away from beef and other meats (pork, lamb), it is harder and takes longer for the body to digest. Also remember to reduce your sodium intake. And aim for five to six small meals a day, with breakfast being the most important meal. Don’t skip this meal because you must rejuvenate your body after not having eaten for at least eight hours while you slept.
Part of a good nutritional plan also comes in the form of what you drink. Substitute the beer, wine, soda, and fruit juices for low-sugar drinks and mostly water; add lemon or lime wedges if you can’t stand the taste of water. Plus, as an MMA fighter you have a higher than average need for water because of the intensity of your training. Since you lose a great deal of fluids during training, set your goal to drink 1-1 ½ gallons of water a day.
UFC Fighter Rich Franklin states, “You need to drink at least a gallon of water every day. The only way to keep track is to measure it. Otherwise, you will just assume you have had enough — and possibly not reach your goal.“
Not Making Weight
There have been many MMA fighters who go to the pre-fight weigh-in and they don’t make weight. This happens when a fighter doesn’t pay close attention to a strict regimented diet. When this happens, the fighter who doesn’t make weight gets hit with a penalty – 10-20% of his earnings goes to his opponent. If a title match was scheduled that now has to be postponed. The other opponent can also refuse to fight. Unfortunately for the fighter who is the correct weight, he now has to fight someone who could be 10-20 pounds heavier.
Mike Dolce, a nutritionist and the creator of The Dolce Diet is something of a miracle worker when it comes to temporary cutting weight of MMA fighters. Dolce has been known to get a call from a fighter or his team the day of weigh-ins.
“I get phone calls the week of, or the night before weigh-ins sometimes,” Dolce said. “I’ve taken same- day requests. I’ve gotten there on the day of the weigh-ins, got in there and gotten it done. I’m able to work a little magic then, but if they’re calling me at that point, they already screwed up.“
If a fighter gets to the point where he must retain the services of Dolce he has not been diligent when it came to his diet during his training phase or he put on so much weight between fights that he can’t get it off without professional help. However, cutting weight too quickly is harmful to the body and can result in a poor performance inside the cage as well as create some health issues, especially mentally. It has been documented in a study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that athletes who lost more than four percent of their body mass before a match showed “significantly higher levels of confusion on the day of the competition.”
Many MMA fighters find cutting weight, even when it’s done correctly, is very stressful on the mind and body. This level of stress is intensified if a fighter rushes to cut weight shortly before his fight. More stress is compounded when you must face the organizer of an event, say Dana White, the UFC president. Not making weight looks bad in his eyes, and leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the opponent, the fans, the promoters, the sponsors, and the organization.
Take for example welterweight fighter Thiago Alves, who in the past has had a problem making weight. After missing weight with his bout against Jon Fitch, White expressed his disappointment and frustration. Now Alves relies on Dolce to help him make weight for matches.
Dolce states that making weight is one thing, but being able to still perform at a superior level is what is most important, so the right diet is key along with ample time before a fight.
Vitamins and Supplements
It is difficult to get adequate amounts of vitamins and supplements through foods alone. Even though a good diet consists of eating every two-three hours, one would have to eat extremely large amounts of food to get all the vitamins needed for a professional athlete.
Many MMA fighters rely on supplements such as protein shakes to help keep their weight up or to lose weight, and to provide the necessary protein needed on a daily basis. Protein is vital to one’s body to help protect bone, skin and other tissues, and keep muscles lean. It also restores muscle glycogen after an intense workout If you are in need of more protein and you can’t eat at a particular time during the day a protein shake can do the trick. Protein powder can be mixed in a blender or a shaker, and some shakes come in easy to use, ready-to-drink cans or foil packs.
The recommended daily intake of protein for competitive athletes, like MMA fighters, is 1-2 grams of protein per body weight.
Since there are various forms of protein powders (milk, whey, casein, egg and soy) you may have to experiment with what works best for you and your nutritional needs. The best form of protein for most athletes is whey and casein. Whey should be taken after an intense workout and casein should be taken before bedtime, since it is slow absorbing and releases through your body as you sleep.
To recover faster from workouts and prevent constant injuries vitamins are essentials. Starting with a good multi-vitamin, other vitamins can be added depending on your needs, age, gender, and fitness level.
Add to your nutrition program:
Vitamins A, E, D and C which helps protect your immune system, insulin metabolism and healthy blood pressure.
Without taking glutamine, recovery and recuperation of muscle tissue will be slow and strength will be limited. Glutamine is used as a post workout supplement that helps with recovery for your next intense workout.
Isoleucine, Leucine and Valine, or Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), cannot be produced by the body so a supplement is needed. When you train intensely, and especially if you’re limiting calories to cut weight, your body breaks down muscle tissue if you don’t have enough BCAAs in your body.
If you want to train to get stronger when weight training and to last for a longer period of time then you should introduce Creatine into your nutritional plan.
ZMA: Zinc, magnesium and vitamin B-6 all can be used to support healthy testosterone levels in men.
For joint support try Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM, which can be found in one pill. This supplement helps flexibility and mobility, along with repairing collagen and reducing inflammation in the joints and ligaments.
For all the abuse you put your body through incorporate vitamin K into your diet. This vitamin is used to reduce blood clotting. Research has also found that vitamin K helps strengthen bones. This is especially necessary for female MMA fighters if they are deficient in vitamin K in order to reduce fractures and bone density.
If you are on prescription medication, check with your doctor before taking any vitamins or supplements as they can interact with your medicine and caused unwanted side effects or they can possibly reduce the effectiveness of them.
Every MMA fighter has different nutritional and gear supply needs. You can get started by seeking out articles on fitness websites or in fitness and nutrition books and magazines that are geared to boxers and martial artists and wrestlers. However, if you can afford to spend the money on a certified nutritionist or registered dietician it would be well worth the money. Leading up to a fight, MMA fighters definitely need to focus on what they put into their bodies. It could mean the difference between a win or a loss.
By Jillian Bullock
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