Diet is one of the most important part of any training regimen, and yet it is often overlooked. Most people do not know much about nutrition or proper dieting, and simply eat whatever. I will be the first to say that this is having a negative impact on your training. I am not saying you can’t be a great fighter with a poor diet, but you won’t reach your full potential. You could be an even better fighter with proper nutrition.
Most UFC fighters have finally figured this out. Have you noticed that more and more professional fighters are hiring nutrition coaches and specialists? For awhile most UFC fighters were handling their own nutrition and weight cut during training camps. This was not wise, and they finally learned the important of proper dieting and nutrition.
One of the most common questions I get asked is “what should I eat during training” or “what is the best food to eat prior to BJJ/wrestling practice?” Personally, I know what it is like going to wrestling practice after eating a big meal. Let me just tell you it is not fun. Most professional fighters really struggle with dieting and nutrition, because they are constantly going through periods of very little food during weight cuts and then pack on a bunch of weight between training camps. This is called yo-yo dieting, and fighters don’t intentionally do it, but it is the name of the game for most professional fighters.
However, in recent years some fighters have recognized the dangers of yo-yo dieting, and have decided to bump up weight classes. For example, Conor McGregor used to starve himself and struggle to get down to 145lbs/66kgs, but now is much more comfortable at 170lbs/77kgs. I still remember the crazy picture of Anthony Johnson making welterweight! That was about a 60lbs/27kgs weight-cut for him.
It wasn’t until I started taking my training more serious that I began realizing just how important the food I ate really was. Over the past few years I have really dialed in my nutrition and studied the best diets for professional fighters. It is amazing just how much better you can feel with proper nutrition. This article is going to discuss the diets of professional fighters, importance of nutrition, and how to eat like a professional fighter.
Should Fighters Do Intermittent Fasting?
I wanted to first discuss intermittent fasting or time restricted eating. Intermittent fasting or time restricted eating is a period of time without food or any calories. Typically, people with fast daily anywhere from 14-20 hours, and some even do long fasts for periods of days. This style of eating has been on the rise in recent years, and for important reasons. Intermittent fasting has been shown to increase fat burning, boost metabolism, and increase energy levels. All these reasons are very important for athletes especially fighters.
However, most professional fighters fast unintentionally, and usually go long periods without food close to weigh ins. Most professional fighters are often required to cut weight to fight in their specific weight class. Sometimes this weight cut can be up to 50lbs/22.5kgs over the course of a few months. We’ll talk more about weight cutting down below because I feel that it’s an important topic when it comes to the diet of professional fighters.
More and more professional fighters have been switching to intermittent fasting. Mainly due to the increase in fat burning and improved energy levels it can provide. Boosting their metabolism is especially helpful for weight cuts, and improving energy levels can help for long training sessions during training camp. Fighters like Conor McGregor, George St-Pierre, and even Joe Rogan have incorporated intermittent fasting in their training. Conor McGregor once said he likes to train in a fasted state because it reminds him of being on the hunt, like a young lion.
I recommend doing your research on intermittent fasting before starting to try it. Intermittent fasting can be challenging at first, and takes time for your body to adjust. However, once you get used to it you will begin to see the benefits. Make sure to only drink acceptable beverages during your fasting window.
What Foods Fighters Should Eat
Another important aspect of proper nutrition is eating whole foods. Whole foods are essentially all food that can grow or live naturally on this earth. Not processed foods, which are synthetically made. This means minimizing junk food like chips, candy, donuts, soda, etc. Whole foods will provide your body with the nutrients it needs. This is especially important for professional fighters who train multiple hours a day. Your body can only perform as this high of capacity for so long on processed foods. However, with minimally processed whole foods you will be able to maintain that high training capacity for much longer.
Most fighters hire nutrition specialists during training camp, and they cook them all whole food high-quality meals. UFC fighters like Conor McGregor, Darren Till, and Jon Jones have all used nutritionists to prepare them high-quality meals during training camp.
Examples of Whole Foods:
- Vegetables and Fruits
- Nuts, Beans, and Seeds
- Lean Meats like Chicken, Fish, and Beef
- Organic dairy products
- Minimally processed foods
What To Eat Before Training Combat Sports
This is one of the most common questions I get from other people who train BJJ, Wrestling, and Muay Thai. Especially from those who are new to training. Most simply do not know what to eat prior to training. They either eat too much or don’t eat enough which leaves them feeling tired and weak during training sessions. Most experienced fighters have figured this out through trial and error, but we all have made the same mistake of eating too much and feeling sick during training.
I recommend eating a small nutritious meal about an hour before training. You don’t want to eat too close to the time you are training, so I recommend about an hour before which will give your body plenty of time to digest the food. The small nutritious meal should be primarily carbs and protein. The carbs will give your body energy for the training session, and protein will make sure you are in an anabolic state. Meaning, your muscle will be fueled and able to grow.
A sample of a good nutritious meal prior to training would be an apple and whey protein shake. A piece of fruit is always a good choice because it provides medium digesting carbohydrates that will fuel your session. An apple is one of the best medium digesting fruits. Some people like bananas prior to training as well, they offer good carbohydrates and a good source of potassium as well. I recommend a source of protein as well such as a whey protein shake, chicken, or eggs. Around 20-30grams would be a sufficient amount prior to training.
What to Eat After Training Combat Sports
The foods you eat after training is just as important, if not more important than what you eat before training. What you eat after training is crucial for recovery following a hard training session. After training is when your body needs nutrients to recover! Just a single workout session can totally deplete your body of stored glycogen within your muscles. Not only that, but it can switch your body into a catabolic state. Meaning, it can start eating away at hard earned muscle.
The best way to replenish the lost glycogen in your muscles is to eat fast digesting carbohydrates within 30 minutes of training. I recommend a fast digesting fruit such as melon or oranges. Melons are some of the most fast digesting fruits available. Post workout is the only time I recommend having a sugary meal or gatorade, etc. These fast digesting sugars will be used to replenish glycogen rather than being stored as fat. You actually want to spike insulin levels following a training session, because it will help with recovery.
Lastly, you want to consume a high-quality protein source after training. This is the best time to drink a whey protein shake. Whey protein shakes are some of the fasted absorbing protein available, which is what you need immediately following a hard workout. I recommend having 25-40grams of protein within 30 minutes of your training session. Make sure to pair the protein and fast digesting carb together for the ultimate recovery.
How Much Protein Should Fighters Consume
Protein is another very important part of a proper nutrition plan. We all know that protein is essential for building lean muscle mass, but it is also important for burning fat. It is crucial for professional fighters to eat high quality protein and keeps their protein intake high. I recommend eating 1g-1.5g per pound of bodyweight. So for a 170lb/77kg man this will equal 170grams-255grams of protein. This may seem like a lot, but it’s what your body needs to build high quality muscle. Especially, if you are training hard throughout the day. The easiest way to reach this amount of protein is to eat lean meats like poultry, seafood, and beef.
Also, eggs are very high in protein as well. Just one egg has 7 grams of protein! Another way to increase your protein intake is to incorporate protein shakes. Make sure to get a high quality protein, I recommend a good whey protein or mixture of whey and casein. Check out my article here on the best protein powders for fighters.
How Professional Fighters Cut Weight
Traditionally, most fighters cut weight very dangerously. Some still do, and will cut the last 10-20lbs/4.5kgs-9kgs off their body within the last 24-48hours. I strongly discourage anyone from doing this, because it comes with several health risks such as organ failure, severe dehydration, Hyponatremia, etc. Weight cutting has gotten better over the past few years with the increasing number of fighters hiring personal nutrition coaches. However, there is still a lot of professional fighters who cut weight unsafely.
I recommend losing weight slowly about 1-2lbs/0.5-1kg a week is a safe way to do it. You can achieve this by cutting your basal metabolic rate by 500-1,000 calories. Remember to include your exercise into this. So if you have a fight coming up in a few months start early, because it will give your body more time to adjust to the lower weight.
Nutrition is hands down one of the most important aspects of training. No matter how much work you are putting in the gym or during practice you will not see the results you want with a poor diet. Most professional fighters have finally realized the importance of nutrition. In the past few years most UFC fighters and boxers have hired nutritional specialists to monitor their diet and recovery. With proper nutrition professional fighters are now training longer and harder than ever before. How do you think fighters are able to train 3-4x a day during training camps? The only way is with a solid diet.
I recommend doing your research before switching to any particular diet plan. Also, stay consistent and keep it simple. Most professional fighters stick with high quality whole foods and supplement with BCAA’s and protein powders. That is how they ensure they are getting the right amount of protein intake throughout the day. Make sure to get your pre and post training meals dialed in. You will feel the best while training when you have a small nutritious meal prior to training. Then make sure to have protein and fast digesting carbs after training to get the best results and recovery.
Trust me when I say that you will notice when you start taking your nutrition plan seriously. You will feel stronger, faster, and more energized throughout the day and during training sessions. Remember that everyone is different so the best diet for you may not be the best diet for someone else. The most important thing you can do is listen to your body and learn through trail and error.