Yoel Romero Diet – his diet no doubt contains high amount of protein & healthy fats. See below for some example diet plans.
This is my complete guide to MMA Nutrition & MMA Supplements. This page will be constantly updated & amended. You can download the guide as a pdf below…
There are several ‘Fighter Diet Plans’ below – see the infographics as well as well as the text.
The information in this post has been put together using my Sport Science degree, Master’s Degree in Nutrition, from guests on the Joe Rogan Podcast who discuss diet, including all the Dr Rhonda Patrick episodes, from scientific studies and personal experience.
Please comment below with any feedback. Thank you.
MMA Diet & Nutrition – A Complete Guide
Written by MMA Nutritionist Drew Griffiths (BSc, MSc)
Athletes are often concerned with dietary manipulations in the period around competition. However, the main role of nutrition may be to support consistent intensive training which will lead to improved performance. Meeting energy demand and maintaining body mass and body fat at optimal levels are key goals.
Nutritional Goals should include:
- Maintaining energy supply to working muscles and other tissues
- Promoting tissue adaptation, growth and repair
- Promoting immune function
- Reducing inflammation – a crucial marker in association with both recovery and general health.
Disclaimer – Consult your Doctor before adopting any dietary changes
You can download this MMA Nutrition Guide as an Illustrated PDF here
A Note about Nutrition & Science in 2019
Talking about nutrition has become like discussing politics and religion – everyone has an aggressive opinion. Nutrition is certainly no different.
Throughout my time as a student, reading Sport & Exercise Science at Loughborough and Nutrition Science at Chester; I was taught that fat was ‘bad’ and carbohydrates were ‘good’. As athletes, we were encouraged to drink carbohydrate drinks with meals for extra calories. To be fair, the high-carbohydrate protocol is supported by a large amount of research, showing that for sports such as rugby, football and boxing, it can improve performance, at least in the short term.
At this time there is emerging evidence for alternative protocols such as the ketogenic diet. These are addressed in the appendix at the end of the book. There’s no one-size-fits-all in the world of nutrition unfortunately, ideally diets would be customized according to an individual’s genetic makeup. This can now be done to a certain extent, with DNA testing from the likes of 23andme.
High carbohydrate diets, particularly high sugar diets (and other high glycaemic carbohydrates) can in some individuals, cause high levels of inflammation. Inflammation is directly linked to depression, physical diseases and poor recovery from physical activity. Again, in some, inflammation is heightened when processed foods, dairy and/or wheat is consumed.
In this book I have included carbohydrate drinks – e.g. maltodextrin based drinks as this is what research supports for optimal performance & recovery.
To avoid inflammation (and potential issues with gut flora) some may wish to replace some carbohydrate drinks and meals with those healthy fats, and sports drinks with coconut water and fruit such as a ripe banana.
Do what works for you
If you feel great, and you are full of energy and focus on a high carbohydrate diet, then great, carry on. In fact, there is a high-carbohydrate diet-plan included in this book, as research shows it can improve performance.
If however you are suffering any symptoms of high levels of inflammation, and/or high any gut problems like IBS, then consider switching to a diet with no sugar, no processed foods, and high levels of healthy fats, like those found in coconut milk, olive oil and fish.
Removing whole food groups from your diet, like diary and/or wheat is controversial, and many doctors would be against it. I however found that removing dairy from my diet completely, literally changed my life and increased my energy levels dramatically. I would recommend listening to the arguments for and against the likes of dairy, carbohydrates, ketogenic diets etc and make your own mind up. The Ted X talks on youtube are a good place to start.
As far as I am aware none of the adaptogens, supplements or herbs listed in this book are banned by the FA, IOC or FIFA, but please check with your manager or governing body.
One last thing – some of this book is written from the perspective of an MMA fighter, but the principles are pretty much universal. The main content of the book outlines a high carbohydrate diet, as this is what current research supports. From Appendix 5 onwards you will find an overview of alternative diets such as the ketogenic diet and the Paleo diet. It is up to the individual to incorporate elements of each diet into their own regime as they see fit.
General Principles for MMA Nutrition
- Focus on health & wellbeing as a base for recovery, mental focus & performance
- Eat a diet high in healthy fats and moderate in protein & carbohydrates day to day
- Eat lots of organic vegetables and fruits
- Avoid refined carbohydrates. They are useful (arguably) post match or workout when recovery is paramount. However refined carbohydrates will tend to impact gut health and cause inflammation
- Avoid vegetable oils like sunflower oil. They are high in omega 6 and have been heated so much during extraction that they become carcinogenic. Oils like olive oil are pressed and not heated during the extraction process, meaning that they are relatively healthy.
“All disease begins in the gut.” – Hippocrates
Inflammation is linked to almost all modern diseases. Inflammation often starts in the gut, and can lead to low energy levels, injury and burn-out. Importantly too – over 50% of the body’s immune system is in your gut, so you need to take care of it.
Here are some tips for improving gut health
– Improve the profile of your gut flora by consuming fermented foods and/or a probiotic supplement
– Again, improve your gut flora profile by reducing sugary, high GI carbs (unless required to meet high energy demands and for recovery)
– Drink glutamine on an empty stomach, first thing in the morning if ‘leaky gut’ syndrome is suspected
– Drink organic, apple cider vinegar – a tablespoon (or more, assess your tolerance) in water, drunk about 15 minutes before a meal improves digestion dramatically in most people.
– Gingko Biloba and NAC powder have personally helped with the IBS that I had. Gingko has a multitude of health benefits, but can thin the blood (usually not a bad thing), and increase the likelihood of a bleed on the brain
After giving up dairy and sugar I saw the biggest improvements in IBS. See appendix 1 for the FODMAP diet for IBS. The diet is a (long list) of foods to cut out for people who have trouble with IBS and bloating. Onions and garlic seem to be a problem for most people with IBS and/or bloating issues.
VSL 3 is also touted as a great supplement for those with gut issues, although I have not tried it myself yet.
General Eating Habits for MMA
If you take one message away from this book, please remember that healthy nutrition starts with healthy nutrition, organic whole foods, preferably cooked from scratch. If you are eating protein bars full of additives and collagen, you are just being duped by Sports Nutrition marketing.
Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio
Western diets are full of Omega 6 fats, and highly processed, heated fats, that cause inflammation. Omega 6 causes inflammation, which is the enemy for recovery and general health.
The easiest way to adjust this balance is to supplement with fish oil and cook with coconut oil, instead of vegetable oils. EPA is the anti-inflammatory element of omega 3. Look for fish oil (and krill oil) high in EPA.
Addressing the omega 3 to omega 6 ratio can have a drastic impact on health and in turn on performance due to a reduction in inflammation. If inflammation is a general issue, then addressing omega 3 and 6 intake is the best place to start.
Pre & Probiotic Foods
Back in the day, we had dairy from one cow, it was raw, untreated etc. and full of goodness. Nowadays the milk (and most other products) come from about 1,000 cows, mass milked, full of drugs to make them produce more milk and anti-bioitcs to stop them getting infections, the milk has to be heated to 97 degrees so it doesn’t kill us…what you end up with, is a product that is on a different level (a lower one) to what our great, great grandparents and their mates drank.
If the balance of bacteria in our gut isn’t right, we’ll feel slugish and generally less well.
Although for most people, an imbalance in gut flora may cause mild fatigue, it can’t be over-emphasized how important this bacteria is. Imbalances have been linked to everything from autism to chronic fatigue and auto-immune issues.
Look to get some of these in your diet:
Raw honey, miso soup, kefir, dark chocolate, sauerkraut, kombucha tea (might be a bit on the yeasty side for some people), pickles and olives. Alternatively take a high quality probiotic supplement, 1 on an empty stomach and 1 later in the day with food.
High Quality Carbohydrates
Include sweet potatoes, buckwheat, quinoa and oats. Avoid sugar and High Glyceamic carbs, as sugar is highly inflammatory. The exception to this rule is when looking to increase carbohydrate intake over a short term period, or within 2 hours of an intensive exercise or training session.
Coconut milk and/or oil for extra calories
If you are struggling to consume enough calories try adding coconut milk to a smoothie with hemp seeds and fruit. Most commercial coconut milk, is 97% water and about 3% coconut milk. For extra calories get pure coconut milk, or as near as possible to pure coconut milk – try the tins or the dried coconut milk, rather than the cartons of coconut milk, which tend to be watered down.
Nuts have also been used in the past for extra calories, however recent research suggests that the human body is only able to assimilate around 70% of the calories found in nuts (source).
Avocados are also great blended in smoothies, olive oil and some people even throw in raw eggs. Having not researched the likelihood of salmonella I wouldn’t recommend the eggs myself
Consider Experimenting with Dairy and Wheat Free
Controversial but if your energy is low, this is worth a try.
It’s not for everyone, but try it for a week and see how your body and digestive system feels. Dairy is also known to cause inflammation in many people. This is an especially good idea if you suffer from any bowel complaints such as IBS.
See the appendix for the FODMAP diet for (potential) IBS treatment.
I personally used to have horrendous problems with asthma and sinusitis which have greatly improved since switching to dairy-free.
Experiment with Alkaline Foods
Some nutritionists claim that alkaline diets are superior for health and also endurance. Try adding wheatgrass and spirulina to your diet, and minimise the consumption of processed foods.
The whole alkaline diet concept remains controversial. Some claim it can prevent cancer, whilst others claim it does nothing for health. There is some research to suggest that baking soda (which is highly alkaline) can inhibit tumour growth. The alkaline diet is outlined in the appendix of this book at the end.
Buy Our Lean Mass Building Diet Plan & Recipe Guide for £4.99 (approx $7.50)
Consume natural anti-inflammatories
Ginger, Tumeric, Garlic, Onions, Red cabbage
High magnesium foods such as spinach, squash and pumpkin seeds and fish such as Mackerel
Try Pineapple for its bromelain content (you can also buy bromelain as a supplement)
Magnesium is also great for muscle relaxation if you are tense from training.
Alcohol, deep fried foods, artificial sweeteners and additives, sugar, vegetable cooking oils, dairy & processed meats as these can cause high levels of inflammation.
Nightshade fruits such as tomatoes are also linked to high levels of inflammation. Consider cutting down on these if suffering with knee, back or any joint inflammation.
Consume fresh, whole foods, in their original state if possible
Take table salt for example – consume sea salt or Himalayan salt, not table salt that has been bleached.
Another example – eat organic, grass fed beef, not processed meat. Eat organic food, that’s as fresh and ‘unprocessed’ as possible.
If you are a fan of Dr Rhonda Patrick, you may well have heard about the health benefits of broccoli sprouts. Unfortunately, you have to grow them yourself.
Broccoli sprouts contain very high levels of a compound called Sulforaphane – an extremely potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
An ideal diet would contain largely raw foods, and no supplements. Having said that, in practical terms, I still think there is a place for supplements.
There is a growing argument/movement against supplements from corners of the MMA & nutrition community, with the argument that supplements are too refined and many studies are misleading & sponsored by companies with a vested interest in selling supplements. With this in mind, it is completely up to the athlete as to whether or not they wish to take any supplements and should weigh up the for and against arguments before purchasing or taking any supplements.
Supplements to Aid Recovery
One of the most aggressively contested topics in nutrition is related to protein consumption. How much people need, and whether or not it is bad for the kidneys. Research suggests that animal protein consumed in large quantities is possibly harmful.
Looking at further research, which is the only thing you can really do, it is recommended that athletes consume between 0.6g and 1.2g of protein per pound of bodyweight. Whey, egg or hemp protein powder are usually recommended.
Research does also suggest that consuming protein after training increases muscle mass and when taken during rehab, can increase recovery rate. I would personally recommend hemp protein, but any protein powder should be consumed as a supplement to a healthy diet, and ideally use unflavoured protein powder, make a smoothie with the likes of kale, ginger, spinach, flaxseed and coconut oil.
There a large body of research suggesting that leucine content is important in regards to the protein-synthesis that a particular protein source promotes. Whey protein has the highest concentration of leucine. Interestingly however, the research into leucine has been largely funded by the Dairy Council (making some people very cynical about the claims related to it), and it has also been linked to accelerated tumour growth – especially in prostrate cancer.
Hemp seeds, blended with other whole-foods make a great alternative to protein powders. Quinoa can also be used.
The Biological Value or protein, is a measure of the protein quality. Whey protein & egg are among the highest quality sources of protein. If you get all of your protein from vegan sources, for example, you will probably need to consume a great number of grams of protein per day. (see study on vegan athlete diets here)
Great for performance & Wellbeing
Look for fish oil with a high EPA content. This is the element of omega 3 that has anti-inflammatory properties. Supplement with 1 to 12g per day depending on the EPA content and your own muscle and joint soreness.
Salmon roe is a great source of omega 3 too. It has been touted as the best form of omega 3 for those at risk of degenerative brain diseases.
Great for performance & Wellbeing
A great anti-inflammatory supplement that also enhances mental performance. If you are looking to increase energy levels, mental focus and/or enhance recovery rate, consider supplementing with Ginkgo Biloba.
Great for performance & Wellbeing
If you struggle eating enough organic fruit & vegetables, consider supplementing with ‘greens’ powders such as wheatgrass and spirulina.
There is some research to suggest that Leucine greatly enhances protein synthesis via the mTor pathway – however there is also research to state the it increases the growth & division of prostrate cancer cells. So use with caution.
Magnesium – Great for performance & Wellbeing
Magnesium is required for muscle relaxation. If you suffer from sore muscles and a stiff back and neck, try supplementing with magnesium. Check your tolerance though, as it can cause loose bowels if you take too much. Chelated versions of magnesium are absorbed most efficiently, but can make you feel tired in the short term so take before bed.
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)
Found naturally in coconuts, MCTs can provide extra calories when required and possess many health benefits. They are said to have benefits for the gut and to possess anti inflammatory benefits.
Creatine – Consume Daily – Ideally Post-Training
Creatine monohydrate, consumed with simple carbohydrates such as dextrose have been shown in dozens of studies to enhance intermittent high intensity exercise performance. Research suggests ‘loading’ (taking 20g of creatine a day for 5 days) is not necessary. Instead consume 3g a day with 20-30g of dextrose or another simple carbohydrate such as maltodextrin. Post-training is the ideal time to consume a drink containing creatine and carbohydrate.
Research also suggests that consuming 1000mg of alpha lipoic acid immediately before consuming a creatine/carbohydrate drink, enhancing skeletal muscle uptake.
There are some concerns regarding creatine supplementation and kidney issues. Research suggests that creatine supplementation is safe, unless you have an underlaying kidney/renal issue. Study here.
Carbohydrate & Electrolyte Drinks
Important to consume during and after training and fights. Research suggests that consuming some carbohydrate during training is important to prevent a dip in immune-system-functioning.
A ripe banana and coconut water is a nutritious alternative to a carbohydrate drink, or 500ml water, juice of half a lemon and a pinch of Himalayan salt. To make the drink higher in carbohydrate, add 20g of maltodextrin. Maltodextrin has the optimum osmolarity for rehydration according to research.
CBD – Cannabis Oil
CBD has a range of benefits for gut health and for reducing inflammation
Made famous by Nate Diaz in the McGregor post fight press conference; CBD is great for sleep quality (THC can actually reduce sleep quality so be aware of this) and reducing inflammation.
Supplements for Energy & Focus
Acetyl-L-Carnitine – Consume pre-training / fight
Great caffeine free supplement for enhancing mental power and physical energy. Try a small amount to begin with, as it can cause stomach upset if you are not used to it. I use 200mg for an endurance boost, but others advocate 2-3g. Please note, although prior research suggested that L-carnitine was good for the heart, recent research suggests it may change gut bacteria if used frequently, which in turn can accelerate atherosclerosis.
Caffeine – Consume pre-training / fight
Some experts state that caffeine, taken for prolonged periods at high dosages can lead to adrenal fatigue. Either way, it does dramatically enhance endurance.
Caffeine can be consumed with beta alanine or acetyl l carntine. Caffeine is relatively safe; however I was unable to find any research on the safety of long term use of beta alanine or acetyl l carnitine.
2 issues with using caffeine for MMA – it can cause additional stress and dehydration. Experiment before training and see if it helps.
Supplements for Muscular Endurance
These are often more suitable for a fight-day, as they won’t cause any anxiety & muscle tension, unlike caffeine.
Beta Alanine – Consume pre-training / fight
This amino acid raises carnosine levels, which helps to buffer the influence of H+ ions which cause acidity and fatigue. Watch out for the tingling!
Baking soda is a good alternative to beta alanine – don’t consume with meals and assess tolerance however, as it can cause GI distress.
Research suggests drinking around 140ml (2 shots of ‘Beet-it’ shots of beetroot juice, 2-3 hours before an endurance ‘event’ can significantly decrease blood pressure, and increase endurance, thanks to the nitrites. Again, use with caution, as unfortunately a high consumption of nitrites, is linked to an increased prevalence of some cancers.
If you ‘suffer’ from pumped up muscles, stiff shoulders when striking and/or pumped forearms when grappling, that weaken your grip, then taurine may very well help. Consume 3g about 30 mins before training. Do not take at the same time as beta alanine, as they will compete for absorption.
Sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda reduces the acidity in the muscles during exercise. This reduces the impact of lactic acid, allowing your to work harder for longer. Great supplement and cheap, just start with a small amount like 5g in a large glass of water, as too much makes you poo your pants. Baking soda is amazing for grappling-endurance.
Medicinal Mushrooms – Great for performance & Well being
No, not magic ones, no for sports nutrition anyway. However mushrooms including chaga and Lions Mane, may help recovery and also improve alertness.
Lions Mane mushrooms for example can be purchased in powder form. They have been shown to increase nerve growth factor and increase alertness. As a result I believe they could increase performance and cognitive abilities.
Why it’s so hard to evaluate the effectiveness of supplements
I used to check the effectiveness of supplements, by going to Google Scholar online and checking out the studies that relate to the supplement. However, having looked into it a bit further, many studies are potentially misleading and sponsored by companies that have an financial interest in them. For example the dairy industry is said to have sponsored a number of whey protein and leucine studies.
Who knows what goes on really though, studies tend to give you a good idea if something is effective or not, just don’t treat them as gospel.
Adaptogens are a group of herbs and foods that are able to offset some of the effects of physical and mental stress on the body.
If you are struggling to recover in between training sessions, then they are worth considering as part of your nutritional regime.
The most famous adaptogen there is. Stacks of research to show that this herb increases immune functioning and reduces fatigue. Study
Rhodiola rosea is a flowering plant, which resides in all the ridiculously cold regions of the world. Including Iceland, North America, the Artic and the UK. It has been showed to reduce fatigue and enhance mental clarity. Study
Also known as ‘Indian Ginseng’, this herb is a powerful antioxidant. Studies suggest that this herb not only reduced stress and cortisol levels, it also ‘fights’ cancer. It is also a strong anti-inflammatory, suggesting that it will help enhance recovery. Study
Natural Testosterone Boosters
These supplements have limited impact (don’t expect miracles or steroid like muscle-gain) but as a man in my mid-30s, I have personally found them useful for recovery.
It won’t make a huge difference to testosterone levels but can make you feel more vitality and perhaps help with recovery. Buy the powder from an Asian food store, not an overpriced supplement version. More info here.
Mucuna pruriens AKA Velvet Bean
Limited evidence for its effectiveness but I personally find it helpful. Use sparingly, as these herb also affects dopamine levels. Taken at night time, it also results in crazy dreams! More info here.
There is a notorious amount of fake tongkat ali on the internet, but if you can get the genuine stuff then it’s been proven to reduce estrogen and libido. Limited research on its ability to directly increase testosterone.
Ideally add zinc to your diet by consuming zinc-rich foods such as spinach.
For a full list of testosterone boosters, see the Examine.com webpage
The Glycemic Index
The Glycemic Index (GI) is basically an update to the concept of simple and complex carbohydrates. It is a measure of how quickly carbohydrates raise blood sugar level following consumption. It is relative to pure glucose. For example, if a piece of white bread has a GI of 70 – it would indicate that white bread raises blood sugar at a rate 70% as much as pure glucose; over a 2 hour period.
Generally an athlete should look to consume foods with a GI of 60 or below. It is important to note however, that as low GI foods take longer to digest, than can cause GI distress in some individuals. It is also less practical to get all of an athletes carbohydrate requirements purely from low GI carbohydrates. A mixture of GI types/scores is therefore often recommended. GI has little impact on carbohydrate loading.
The Glycemic Load (GL) is a number that estimates how much a food will raise a person’s blood sugar level by. High GL foods, like high GI foods cause blood sugar to rise rapidly. Very high GL foods should ideally only be consumed within 2 hours after a training session or fight.
GI aside, appropriate timing of carbohydrate intake is also vital. Research has shown that carbohydrate supplementation during soccer matches has been found to result in muscle glycogen sparing (39%), greater second-half running distances, and more goals being scored with less conceded, when compared to consumption of water. Carbohydrate supplementation has been recommended prior to, during, and after matches.
In a separate study, movement analysis of a 4-a-side indoor soccer game lasting 90 min was undertaken following 48 h of high (approx. 8 g/kg/day) or moderate (approx. 3 g/kg/day) carbohydrate intake. The high-carbohydrate diet increased muscle glycogen by 38% and allowed soccer players to complete approximately 33% more high-intensity work during the game.
If you weigh 80kg, 8g per kg per day is 640g of carbohydrate and 2560 calories just from carbohydrate. This is a lot of carbohydrate to eat daily! This is especially true if you rely on whole foods, with low GI properties to be the primary source of carbohydrate in your diet. Smoothies and drinks are a great way to get more carbohydrate in an athlete’s diet, whilst minimizing GI discomfort and bloating.
To ensure that the ideal amount of calories are being consumed, a coach should monitor the team’s body fat percentage, and waist circumference. An athlete can work out their approximate calorie requirements by doing the following:
– First start by working out Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) using the below equation (or just use an online ‘BMR calculator’):
For men: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) + 5
For women: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) – 161
– Then use the Harris Benedict Formula, to work out your calorie requirements, based on your physical activity levels:
– If you exercise 1-3 days a week, x your BMR by 1.375
– 3-5 days a week BMR x 1.55
– 6-7 days a week BMR x 1.725
– if you have a physical job and train most days, BMR x 1.9
Author’s note – Although research suggests a high carbohydrate diet is the mainstay of any athlete’s diet and results in an enhanced athletic performance in most sports lasting longer than 60 seconds; consuming a vast amount of carbohydrate every day, may cause inflammation and not be the best for long term health. To offset any negative health effects of ‘sugary’ carbohydrates; consume high GI carbohydrates within 2 hours of training and the day before a fight.
Some nutritionists and recent research suggests that eating fats from nuts, fish and hemp for example, may be a more healthy way to reach calorific needs day to day. Then 2 days before a fight or competition increase carbohydrate intake and decrease fat intake to load the muscles and liver with glycogen (carbohydrate). See the next section on Ketogenic diets.
Example High Carb Meal Plan
High protein porridge (oats, ground almonds, banana, coconut milk, raw honey) – 350 calories
Consume maltodextrin/carbohydrate drink during training (150 calories)**
Protein & carbohydrate drink (30g whey/hemp protein, 10g flaxseed, 10g coconut oil, 10g oats) + banana – 350 calories
Jacket potato / sweet potato, tuna, salad with olive oil or hemp oil & handful of almonds. Raw Cacao chocolate bar. – 750 calories
Super Lazy Smoothie*
Handful of mixed nuts – 500 calories
Main meal – Noodle stir fry* – 500 calories
Handful of mixed nuts & glass of coconut milk (unsweetened & no additives) – 250 calories
Rice cake with peanut butter – 200 calories
Consume at least 2 litres of water (preferably filtered and with a pinch of Himalayan salt OR coconut water)
Snack on fruit such as organic goji berries, nuts, mulberries & pumpkin seeds
**Alternatively drink coconut water during training
Experiment with meals and carbohydrate content of day to day meals during the off season, and monitor the effect on performance and energy levels.
The quality of the meal plan and the nutritional content depends largely on how the food is sourced. For example, if the 1pm salad contains homegrown organic watercress, spinach, carrots and tomatoes, it will have many more micronutrients than a pre-packaged salad bought from a high street store.
This applies to all the food in the meal plan. Peanut butter for example should be organic, and contain no added sugar or preservatives, just peanuts and a small amount of added oil. Honey should be raw and not a ‘blend’ of filtered honey. Manuka honey is regarded as the most nutritious, but is also very expensive.
I would recommend high carbohydrate meal-plans on training days and the day before a game or competition. Recent research suggests that once your body’s carbohydrate/glycogen stores are full in the liver and muscles, you will produce palmitic acid; which in turn can lead to insulin resistance. See study here.
Supplements such as whey protein can be replaced with whole foods such as hemp seeds (blended) to make a more nutritious post workout/training shake.
A Quick Note on Ketogenic Diets
This is where it gets somewhat confusing. A growing number of nutritionists and athletes are now recommending ketogenic diets over high carbohydrate diets – not only for weight loss, but for athletes. This goes against ‘traditional’ thoughts in sports nutrition, as to enter ketosis, an average person would have to eat less than 40g of carbohydrate per day.
There is some research to suggest that high carbohydrate diets (especially high GI) and grains can cause systemic inflammation which is a primary marker for many diseases and also has major implications for recovery and performance.
This is not something that I can claim to be an expert on. However, having given up sugar and replaced it with coconut milk as my main source of ‘additional’ calories, I have noticed a marked decrease in inflammation and bloating.
If you are interested in a ketogenic diet, then have a read of Rob Wolf’s and Mark Sisson’s blogs. There is research suggesting that when an athlete’s body does become ‘fat-adapted’, it can enhance endurance performance. See a study here.
Benefits of the keto-diet i(some proven, some not) include:
Improved blood lipid profiles
Lowered body fat
Increased energy – ketones are touted as a superior fuel for focus and physical energy
Stable blood sugar levels
Reduced Inflammation and neuroprotection (protects brain cells and/or brain function in some manner)
Research in regards to ketogenic diets is very promising, although I’m not 100% convinced on the suitability of the diet for power athletes. At this point in time, I’m personally sticking with a diet with moderate amounts of carbohdrates, and healthy fats. No sugar, no grains. I’m also slowly introducing MCTs into my diet.
Remember that it can take a month to become ‘fat-adapted’ and during that adaptation phase, you can feel pretty lousy.
Making Weight in Boxing or MMA
General tip – never trial something new the week before your fight. Be well prepared in all areas, this includes weigh cutting protocol
Always seek professional supervision. This can be highly dangerous
To ‘comfortably’ make weight for a fight, you need to get to be within 20lbs of your target weight, a week before.
If you’re 30lbs or more over your fight weight, 6 weeks before you’ll need to start dieting with 5 meals a day. High protein, moderate carb diet, with large amounts of fresh and organic vegetables and meats, large amounts of omega 3, and low amounts of sugar.
– You will need a diet that produces a calorie deficit.
First start by working out your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) here – http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/
Then use the Harris Benedict Formula, to work out your calorie requirements, based on your physical activity levels: – If you exercise 1-3 days a week, x your BMR by 1.375 – 3-5 days a week BMR x 1.55 – 6-7 days a week BMR x 1.725 – if you have a physical job and train most days, BMR x 1.9
I’m 5ft 10, 200lbs and train about 4 times a week. So my calorie requirement would be 3060 calories.
If you want to lose 10lbs in 6 weeks, you’ll need to produce a calorie deficit over those 6 weeks of between 20,000 and 35,000 calories; depending on how fat you are. To lose 1lb of fat, in theory you’d need a deficit of 3,500 calories. So to lose 10lbs, you’re looking at 35,000. So you’ll require a calorie deficit of between 500 and 800 calories per day.
Here is a possible 3,000 + calorie diet plan.
Basic Principles/Theory behind final weight Cut
1 gram of carbs, stores an additional 3 grams of water, so carbs need to be reduced – Sodium/salt makes the body retain water (so don’t have any) – Drinking lots of water, according to Martin Rooney, makes the body trigger hormones, which in turn, cause the body to excrete more water than normal. So by drinking 2 gallons, and tapering it down to no water at all, the body will lose more water weight.
Protocol to lose around 15lbs in a week
6 Days out from the weigh in:
Day 1: Increased water consumption effects the regulation of aldosterone, a hormone which influences water retention and sodium: Drink 9 litres of water (some people recommend distilled water) Eat around 50-60g of carbs Plenty of protein and fats, within 3 or 4 meals, no snacks Plenty of organic veg, omega 3 etc. You’ll need nutrient dense food to stop you feeling too run down. This is the same for every day except the weigh in day. No Salt
Day 2: Drink 4 litres of water Eat around 50g of carbs Plenty of protein and fats, within 3 or 4 meals, no snacks No Salt
Day 3: Drink 4 litres of water Eat around 50g of carbs but no starches or sugar Plenty of protein and fats, within 3 or 4 meals, no snacks No Salt
Day 4: Drink 2.5 litres of water Eat around 50g of carbs but no starches or sugar Plenty of protein and fats, within 3 or 4 meals, no snacks No Salt
Day 5: Drink 2.5 litres of water Eat around 20-40g of carbs but no starches or sugar Plenty of protein and fats, within 3 or 4 meals, no snacks last meal by 6pm No Salt It is generally agreed that you should be about 3-6lbs over your weight-in weight, the time you go to bed before the night before the weigh-in.
Weigh in Day: 2 very small meals less than 10g of carbs No water or salt until weigh in
Weight Loss through Sweating
– VERY dangerous and potentially damaging to performance
Be aware of physical effort and energy expenditure if making weight for a fight. You can do low intensity cardio wearing heavy or waterproof clothing the day of your weigh in. Weigh yourself at 5 minute intervals.
You can soak in a hot bath the night before the weigh in. Weigh yourself at 10 minute intervals. Put everything in the water, except for your mouth and nose. Towel off after each interval and weigh yourself, do not shower, as this can make you gain more weight. Take 5-10 minute intervals between 10 minute bouts in the bath.
Pooing out the Pounds Martin Rooney “By taking the gentle, natural laxative before you go to bed the night before the weigh in, you should wake and clear your bowels completely. Remember that you would only do this if you felt you were not going to make the weight with the methods listed above.”
Diuretics If completely necessary, then use the day before the fight. Dandelion root 250mg-500mg 3 times a day. If required you can also consume caffeine to increase dehydration and to help with pooing out some more pounds also. Consume 200mg with meals also.
Rehydration After Weigh In
– Sip on 1L of distilled water as of 5 mins of weigh in Distilled or purified water is absorbed more efficiently than tap water. Add sodium and 40g of maltodextrin to every 500ml of water. Gastric emptying is imperative for rehydration, and of all carbohydrates, maltodextrin has the least detrimental effect on the rate of gastic emptying. Consume 1 litre of water, every hour. – Within an hour have a Cool Bath – soak in a cool bath for 15 minute intervals. Consider adding Himalayan salt and epsom salts to the bath in quantities large enough to replenish electrolytes. Consider adding glycerol to the bath too.
Drink 2-3L of water with Glycerol, maltodextrin, whey protein, sodium & ALA – When the fighter is within 20% of his ‘fighting weight’ he can add glycerol to the water he/she is consuming. This is something that MUST be piloted months before a fight to make sure you can tolerate high amounts of glycerol. Consume around 50g of glycerol in 1 Litre of water. To pull even more water into the body and muscle cells, you can also consume 3-5g of creatine with every litre of water (don’t consume more than 10g in a day). Again, consumption of creatine and tolerance to creatine needs to be understood well before the fight. Creatine should be consumed with caution, especially when dehydrated as it can be taxing on renal function. – To increase insulin secretion (and therefore glycogen loading) add 10g of protein for every 40g of maltodextrin. – Again to increase glycogen loading, consume 250g of Alpha Lipoic Acid before every litre.
– Eat small meals every 30 minutes, high in carbohydrates with a pinch of salt. – Keep an eye on the colour of your urine. If it’s clear, this should mean you’re rehydrated (as long as you’ve been sipping water and not downed 2 gallons in one go).
– It is possible to ‘hyperhydrate’ whereby the fighter puts on more water-weight than before the start of the weight-cut. This can actually improve strength and endurance but depends on the individual. Again, this something that needs to be trailed and tested. Hyperhydration would entail consuming more glycerol, creatine, alpha lipoic acid and maltodextrin. This needs to be done with caution; the glycerol can cause stomach cramps if the fighter is not used to large amounts.
Day of the Fight
– Either way, consume distilled water, with sodium and maltodextrin, 1L per hour, until 3 hours before the fight.
What to consume the 3 hours before the fight is again tailored to the individual. I would normally recommend consuming the water, sodium and maltodextrin drink solution, but at lower amounts, up until 45 minutes before the fight. – Consume a high carbohydrate breakfast, with protein. E.g. oats/porridge, banana and ground almonds. – Eat another meal of similar macronutrient content, every 3 hours.
Personally I struggle to eat anything on the day of a fight, so normally blend a smoothie of hemp protein, oats and a banana. – Eat a meal with protein, medium/low GI carbs and water 3 hours before the fight. E.g. Sweet potato chips Broccoli Haddock or chicken breast 300ml water with 15g maltodextrin and a pinch of salt – Eat a carbohydrate snack such as a banana 90 minutes before the fight.
Do not consume solid food after this point. – Continue to sip on a carbohydrate sports drink if required. Take any pre-fight supplements 30 minutes before the fight. Avoid stimulants if it’s your first fight. I would recommend taurine or beta alanine, but that’s another article…
Tip – you should have at least 1 ‘trial run’ of a diet and final weight cut protocol, before you have to do it for a fight
Additional Thought about the 6 week weight cut
After writing this part of the book, I’ve thought of a slightly more accurate way of using the Harris Benedict Formula to calculate calorie needs. You just need to accurately work out the calories you expire during a week’s training. I work out my calorie needs this way: According to http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/ my BMR is about 2000 calories. Multiplied by 1.2 this gives 2400 calories just to maintain my weight if I DON’T train (according to the Harris Benedict Formula).
Multiplied by 7 that’s 16,800 per week I would require to maintain my weight during a sedentary lifestyle.
Next work out how many calories you expire during your training sessions. I do weights 3 times a week, and jiu jitsu once a week for about 2 hours. Weight training probably burns about 600 calories per session, jiu jitsu probably about 800 (only about 30 mins of the session is actual rolling). I’m not sure if there’s a really accurate way to calculate the calories, but it’s more specific than the “3-5 days a week” of the Harris Benedict formula
The amount of calories you burn will depend on your exercise intensity, gender and bodyweight. So this is an extra 2600 calories I need per week. I have a sedentary job, so don’t need to take that into account.
If I add in my exercise calories to the 16800 I need for a sedentary lifestyle, that gives 19400 calories per week that I require to train and maintain my bodyweight.
Divided by 7; that’s around 2800 calories per day I need
The best thing to do is monitor your weight and body fat very closely during a weight cut and adjust calories accordingly.
A Pro MMA Fighter’s Thoughts on Weight Cutting
Just to emphasis the importance of trialing things yourself, and using what works for yourself, here’s my coach’s thoughts:
“I never do the distilled water thing. It makes me feel like complete **** lol. After weigh in I immediately have:
500 ml water
Pinch of pinch salt
1 tablespoon Honey
2 tablespoon of chia Seeds
Then next hour I consume 1 litre of water slowly with some fruit
Hour after that I have fats, usually Nuts and avocado
Then I have a carb meal…
Every individual is different though…
Another thing is if I weigh in on Friday I cut the salt out on Tuesday. Any earlier and it really effects how you feel and digest food up to the weigh in which I have found to make the weight cut harder…”
Fight, Match or Sparring Day Nutrition
Any change in diet should be piloted during a training session as changes in food types etc. can cause stomach upset; which could obviously cause problems on the day of a fight.
Goals of Fight or Match Day Nutrition: – Provide carbohydrate for energy during a fight or sparring session & to Provide electrolytes to prevent cramps and fatigue. Recovery also needs to be optimised
If a fight/match starts at 8pm in the evening:
A fighter/player should eat a high carbohydrate, moderate protein meal in the morning. The meal should mainly contain low GI carbohydrates that provide a slow release of energy. Porridge with ground almonds and a banana would be ideal. For those people who are fine to eat gluten, whole-wheat bread with jam or even peanut butter would be a good choice also.
Research suggests that some ‘sugary’ carbs such as maltodextrin are okay (but not ideal), as long as the main source of carbohydrate is low GI and therefore slower releasing. In order to maximise hydration, a drink of between 300 and 600ml of water can be consumed with every meal on fight day.
Sugary carbs may be best for recovery and short term for performance but I would definitely stick to whole foods or healthy fats for additional calories on non-training days and for a long term, sustainable healthy diet.
If competing in a hot or humid environment, a fighter can super-hydrate by consuming fluid with meals, and an extra 200ml every 15 minutes; until 60 minutes before the fight. The fluid should contain electrolytes and should be 5-8% carbohydrate. Maltodextrin is the best form
Large bowl of porridge oats, with coconut milk, ground almonds and a banana
Separate drink – 300ml water with 20g maltodextrin and a pinch of Himalayan salt / or – a smoothie made with pure coconut milk and a small amount of berries and flax powder
2 poached eggs on rye bread
300ml water with 20g maltodextrin and a pinch of Himalayan salt / or coconut water
Sweet potato chips
Haddock or chicken breast
300ml water with 15g maltodextrin and a pinch of pink salt / or coconut water
50g rice (white or wholegrain, depending on individual preference)
sweetcorn & peas & carrots
300ml water with 15g maltodextrin and a pinch of pink salt / or coconut water
Whey protein in water
Hemp seeds, fruit, cashews – blended in water
Continue to sip on an isotonic drink up until 30 mins pre-training
and some protein. Avoid high fat foods are these take longer to digest. Carbohydrate consumed within 4 hours of a session, may decrease lipolysis. The carbohydrate amount consumed should therefore be large enough to offset any negative effects caused by this reduction in fat oxidation.
Ideally – avoid eating solid food 90 minutes before competing
Between 2 hours & 90 minutes before the fight or session is a great time to eat a banana. Some studies have proven that consuming foods with a high GI within an hour of exercise can actually lower blood glucose, thus damaging performance levels. Consuming low GI foods an hour before training however, can affect blood flow to working muscles, as food is still being digested in the gut.
The only recommended carbohydrate to consume an hour before a fight/session, would be to sip on a sports drink. The sports drink should only contain maltodextrin as this has minimal effect on gastric emptying which in turn influences hydration. 2 hours before the fight/session, a fighter should sip on a carbohydrate and electrolyte drink. Ideally the carbohydrate should be maltodextrin to ensure gastric emptying is optimised.
30 minutes before the fight /training
Consume any pre-training supplements such as BCAAs, baking soda and/or beta alanine.
Please note that fight day nutrition has to be tailored to meet an individual’s needs
I personally struggle to each much on a fight day, so will sip on a carbohydrate drink throughout the day and may have to resort to eating some sugary snacks to get some carbohydrates in addition to a couple of bananas & electroylte drinks to prevent cramping.
Nutrition During a Match or Fight
Many fighters choose only to take a small sip of water. In theory a sports drink containing maltodextrin and electroyltes would be consumed in small amounts, but in practical terms, it is difficult to tolerate much fluid intake in between rounds. If possible look to consume around 150ml of coconut water or a sports drink every 15 minutes. Add a mouthful of a ripe banana if possible.
Post-Fight / Match Nutrition
Rather ironically, chocolate milk has been proven in one study to enhance recovery from exercise more effectively than a commercial sports drink.
Immediately following training, a fighter should consume a drink containing high GI carbohydrate, some electrolytes, and some protein. For optimal recovery, creatine and alpha lipoic acid can be taken to with the drink. Insulin levels are highest immediately after the session, and remain elevated for approximately 2 hours.
Chocolate milk contains protein, some sodium and some high GI carbohydrates and therefore is a good option for a ‘recovery drink’. Ideally however, a whey protein, maltodextrin and electrolyte drink should be consumed.
The drink could contain:
- 25-30g whey protein
- 50-100g maltodextrin
- 2 pinches of salt (ideally Himalayan salt, or use coconut water)
- 5-10g creatine
- 1000mg alpha lipoic acid (antioxidant that enhances creatine uptake)
consider adding an anti-inflammatory food source such as turmeric or ginger to enhance recovery.
Consume the drink then eat a banana.
Current research suggests that whey protein is the superior protein source to enhance recovery and adaptation to training. However more and more athletes are going down the route of a vegetable based, supplement free diet for optimised health in the medium and long term.
A recovery drink based around this mindset could include:
- 30g hemp seeds
- 2 bananas
- 2 pinches of Himalayan salt
- 15ml olive oil
- 5g Turmeric & 1g ground black pepper
- -blend all the ingredients-
Some people who are looking for an akaline-based diet may also add lots of wheatgrass, or spirulina
General Recovery Tips after a Match or Training Session
For optimum health, and recovery, an athlete may wish to consume a smoothie or shake made from whole foods, like blended fruit and hemp or quinoa for protein. Interestingly, high carbohydrate intake will spike insulin levels – which may help in terms of ‘glycogen-recovery’ but may actually decrease testosterone and growth hormone release.
I would therefore recommend a high intake of carbohydrate post fight or post training, if physical exercise is planned again the next day, otherwise opt for a moderate carbohydrate meal or drink, of 30-40g of carbohydrates.
evels will be higher, meaning that more carbohydrate will be utilised to replenish muscle glycogen.
If you are training or competing the next day – Ideally, 1-1.2 g per kg Body Mass of carbohydrate should be consumed every hour for first 4 hrs in order to optimise glycogen refueling. If physical exercise is not planned for the following day, then this amount of carbohydrate would not be necessary. Do NOT drink alcohol after a sparring session or a fight. Turmeric, consumed with black pepper, should ideally be part of a meal or even a drink, consumed with an hour of a fight or any striking-session. The spice turmeric has been shown to minimise, in mice at least, damage caused to the brain by pressure or impact. Alcohol does the opposite.
General Recovery and Injury Prevention Tips
It is highly recommended that any change in routine is piloted in training, before a competitive fight , as individual preferences and tolerances impact the effectiveness of each strategy Extensive warm up
In cold environments, muscle temperature should be increased as much as practically possible. This reduces the chance of injury and increases maximum power-output.
The increased power output of course, consumes more calories (as more physical work is done). The extent of the warm up may need to be tailored to offset any risk of dehydration and fatigue; in warm and human environments for example.
Sip on a carbohydrate/electrolyte drink during the warm up to offset any dehydration.
Dynamic stretching is recommended as part of a warm up as opposed to static stretching – the warm up should built up in intensity and replicate as closely as possible, the actual movements and actions of the game to come.
Cool down Light dynamic stretching, 20 min cycle/low impact low intensity exercise. Foam roller. Will enhance recovery. Consume foods with anti-inflammatory properties within 5 hours of a fight; including turmeric, ginger, pineapple and/or oily fish.
Ideally we would all be living in caves, drinking milk from our goat and foraging for berries, then cooking meals from scratch. In practical terms however, when faced with the goal of eating 3,500 calories a day, one typically, will need to fall back on a few ‘lazy’ tactics to get enough consumed per day.
Eat fresh, organic foods whenever possible, and cook from scratch whenever possible. If it’s not possible, try blending stuff. I personally don’t eat or recommend dairy; so where milk is used I would substitute with coconut milk or coconut oil instead of butter.
Healthy Fish & Chips
Defrost some frozen fish of your choice (preferably wild, dolphin friendly fish (farmed fish is full of carcinogens and synthetic chemicals)
Preheat oven to 200ºC
Slice sweet potato into wedges, cover in black pepper, Himalayan salt and olive oil
Cook for 35 to 40 minutes
Fry fish in frying pan with olive oil or coconut oil
or poach salmon in a pan full of hot water and butter for 15-20 minutes
Serve fish with sweet potato chips and a large handful of spinach
40g hemp seeds or whey protein (unflavoured ideally)
1 handful of raspberries
30g porridge oats
5ml hemp oil/olive oil
1 pinch of Himalayan salt
10g Flax-seed powder
5 Spinach leaves
50-100ml of coconut milk
Blend all the ingredients for 30-60 seconds
Super Lazy High Protein Porridge
20-30g ground almonds
50-100g of porridge oats
Handful of raisons
100-200ml of coconut milk
Optional – 20g whey protein
Mix all ingredients except banana in a bowl and place in microwave for 2 minutes / mix in a pan on the hob for 2/3 minutes. Serve with sliced banana
Ideally you would make your own pasta sauce using fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, black pepper and vinegar. Freeze the sauce and reuse with each pasta meal.
Alternatively (and less healthily) use a commercial sauce
100g of pasta
Tin of tuna or salmon
Bring a pan of water to the boil
Stir pasta and leave to simmer in the water for 5-10 minutes
Drain pasta in a sieve and then place back in the pan.
Mix in commercial or home-made tomato sauce and then the tin of tuna or salmon.
Serve with a handful of spinach.
Chicken Stir Fry
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
Thumb-sized piece of fresh root ginger , peeled and grated
Pack stir-fry vegetables
Pack straight-to-wok noodles
Meat: beef/chicken etc, roughly cubed.
Place noodles in a bowl
Add boiling water
Stir gently to separate
Put oil in pan
Stir fry meat until cooked. Set aside
Stir fry ginger and harder pieces of veg for 2 mins
Add noodles and rest of veg, stir fry over high heat until just cooked
Add back the meat with soy and sesame oil.
Fry for 5 minutes.
Protein Balls – very easy snack!
30g of pure peanut butter and/or almond butter
Handful of raisins
Handful of oats
15g of raw honey (has to be raw!)
Mix together and form the balls with your hands.
Always use 100% pure peanut butter. Definitely without palm oil!
Healthy Shopping List
Fruit & Veg – Organic if possible
Red grapes Sprouts
Buckwheat Wholegrain bread*
Quinoa *Contain gluten
Peanut butter Ground almonds
Almonds Mixed nut bars
Mixed nuts and seeds
Olive oil Coconut oil
Meat & Fish
Wild Salmon Grass fed Beef
Fish oil Coconut milk (not watered down cartons)
Wheatgrass Raw honey (not a mix of filtered honey)
Flax seed powder
I would recommend if buying from in the UK – a website such as bulkpowders.com or the proteinworks.com and if possible, buying unflavoured versions of supplements.
Protein Powder such as – Hemp Protein, egg protein, whey protein. Protein powder is more convenient, but I would emphasise including whole foods such as hemp seeds whenever possible
Creatine – Creapure creatine
Alpha Lipoic Acid – To take with creatine
Maltodextrin Powder – To make own sports drinks. As a natural alternative use fruit juice. The only issue with juice is that it contains more fructuse which may not aid rehydration the same as maltodextrain.
Acetyl L Carnitine
Sports Nutrition for Bodybuilding
If building lean muscle mass is the goal of a given athlete then the main principles to adhere to include:
– Maintaining approximately 300 calorie surplus each day by consuming high quality food (monitor body-fat to ensure lean mass is increasing)
– Drinking at least 2 litres of water
– Consuming at least 1g of protein for every kg of bodyweight
– Consume 30g protein, 30g carbohydrate & 5g creatine straight after training
The athlete should also look to build muscle mass by incorporating a training programme that utilises compound exercises such as deadlifts and squats.
4,000 calorie “Bulking” MMA Diet Plan
|7am||Porridge or Overnight Oats||2 cups of porridge, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, 1 tsp of raw honey, cinnamon||Leave in the fridge overnight|
|10am||Hemp protein shake||Hemp protein powder
Pinch of cacao
|3pm||Smoothie||Handful of almonds|
Small pot of pumpkin seeds
Handful of goji berries
|6pm||Beef Stiry Fry||Steak|
VegetablesStir Fry sauceOlive Oil
|7.30pm||Protein Balls||Peanut Butter – 10g|
Honey – 15g
|Mix together and form balls or just eat like (dry) porridge.|
|For Extra Calories, Coconut milk is excellent. Use tins or coconut milk powder, not cartons which are watered down and only about 3% coconut milk – check the labels.|
The FODMAP Diet for IBS or Bloating
The FODMAP Diet
Avoid onions and garlic entirely. Other items should be reduced or avoided. I personally would recommended trying 3 days with no dairy to evaluate if this causes bloating or IBS. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These are a type of carbohydrate that tend to ferment in the gut and cause wind and bloating. They often cause or aggrevate IBS and similar symptoms.
Foods to remove or reduce:
Concentrated Fruit Sources
Spring Onion (White Part)
Sugar Snap Peas
Nuts & Seeds
Soft Unripe Cheese
Sweetened Condensed Milk
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Appendix 5 – Alternatives to the high carbohydrate diet
The Ketogenic Diet
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet, is a dietary protocol consisting of a low amount of carbohydrate intake, with higher fat and protein intake. Most people who aren’t athletes, eat between 15 & 60g of carbohydrate per day whilst on the ketogenic diet. Eating too many carbs will kick you out of a metabolic state called ‘ketosis’. You can check if you’re in ketosis by using sticks that you pee on.
The History of the Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet has been around for quite some time and it’s not another fad diet. Fasting has been used to treat health conditions since 500 BC (according to available records) and the ketogenic diet was established in the 1920s by physicians as a way to replicate the metabolism of fasting, in order to treat epilepsy in children.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis your body start utilising ‘ketone bodies’ which are produced by the liver breaking down fatty acids in periods of either fasting, or low carbohydrate intake.
Your body will always use glucose, from carbohydrate-intake as an energy source for the brain and muscles working a higher intensity, when it is available in large enough quantities.
When blood glucose remains low, and can’t be ‘topped’ up from stores in the body (called glycogen), fatty acids are broken down to form acetyl-CoA, which in turn is used in the synthesis of ketone bodies.
Acetyl-CoA is normally used to produce energy from glucose, but can’t in the absence of glucose and oxaloacetate.
It is theorised that your brain could function ‘better’ in ketosis because of the fact that it can yield more energy per gram of ketones, then per gram of glucose.
What are the Ketones / Ketone Bodies?
Acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone.
Acetone is formed via the ‘ decarboxylation’ of acetoacetate
What are the Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet?
Reduced appetite due to steady (low) blood sugar levels
Lower insulin levels & glucose levels in the blood mean massive reduction in risk of Type 2 diabetes
Increased mental performance
Research states that the ketogenic diet is easier to stick to than a low fat diet
Mounting evidence that the ketogenic diet can fight & prevent most forms of cancer
Mounting evidence & anecdotes that the ketogenic diet is good for mental health
Enhanced wound healing (research available is mainly on rats)
What are the Side Effects of the Ketogenic Diet?
Maximum power output decreases.
Fatigue & brain fog in the first 2 weeks
Bad breath in the first 2 weeks
Low blood sugar – requires monitoring in the first few weeks due to risk of fainting
The main issue for me is the reduced power output, and reduced exercise capacity at higher intensities.
This can be offset somewhat, in theory, by supplementing creatine, but this doesn’t seem to be that effective.
Consume 10g of pink salt with 2/3 litres of water per day on ketosis, especially in the first 2 weeks
What is Targeted Ketosis?
Targeted Ketosis may be the best way of offsetting the decrease in strength & power from a ketogenic diet.
Consume 50g of carbohydrate 30 minutes before exercise, try doing this twice a week to begin with. Other ‘training days’, you can in theory have your 50g of carbs before, but the more often you do this, the longer you’ll be kicked out of ketosis.
Consume high GI carbs before your training, such as maltodextrin.
Tips For Starting a Ketogenic Diet
Start Off Reducing Carbs Slightly
It’s difficult to jump straight into ketosis, if you’ve researched and planned extensively, then you might be able to ignore this, however; most of us are not that organised.
Try keeping your normal 3 meals a day, but snacking exclusively on low-carb foods. Once you’ve found some snacks you like, then look to replace one meal at a time with a ketogenic-friendly, low carb meal.
Check your Macros
Macronutrients – i.e. carbohydrates, fats and proteins (fibre is, strictly speaking a carb that doesn’t, normally, get broken down).
Lots of us are used to estimating or counting calories from normal, high carb foods, but doing the same with fats is very difficult, unless you are used to it. So weigh your foods and get exact calories when you are starting off.
People often run into problems on the ketogenic diet because they don’t drink enough water. Eating a ketogenic diet can make you less thirsty, or in my case, I tend to want hot drinks, rather than water. You may also be eating less food with a high water content such as fruit and therefore need to compensate with a greater water intake.
Ensure that you are getting enough sodium, potassium and magnesium. Using pink salt on your food and drinking coconut water are the easiest ways of ensuring you are not depleted.
Stevia is the go-to sweetener for many people on a ketogenic diet.
Eat Plenty of Vegetables
Don’t just stick to high fat foods, eat plenty of vegetables for the micronutrients and fibre.
Ketogenic Shopping List
- Organic Grass Fed Meat
- Ground Beef
- Chicken breast
- Chicken drumsticks
- Bacon (not cured in sugar)
- Pork chops
- Wild Fish
- Full fat milk
- Full fat yoghurt
- Green beans
- Coconut oil
- Olive Oil
- Lard (not an oil but great for frying)
- Bone broth
- Peanut butter (check nothing added)
- Almond butter (check nothing added)
- MCT Oil
- Psyllium husk
- Cacao powder
- Note – with MCT Oil and coconut oil, start of with low amounts or you might poo your pants.
- Ketogenic Snacks
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dark chocolate
- Hummus and vegetable sticks
- Fat bombs
Ketogenic Diet Plan
Low carb smoothie
Blend ingredients shown below
Almond milk (low carb version or home made)
Handful of spinach
1 tbsp of coconut oil
Sweetener – stevia
Hemp protein powder – 30g
Cacao powder – 1/2 tbsp
Or – bulletproof coffee – Coconut oil (& optional cream) in coffee.
Be careful not to burn your mouth on the oil.
Egg & Feta Salad with avocado
Tuna salad with mayonnaise
Chilli Chicken Thighs
One crockery pot or tray
Preheat oven and cook for approximately 20 minutes
For additional calories –
Athletes that require additional calories – coconut milk, but not the watered down stuff in cartons, is an easy source of calories. Look for tins which are around 50% coconut milk, as the 100% coconut milk has to be spooned out of the tin. The 50% stuff can be added to a blender easily, just thrown in some cacao powder, or neck it from the tin.
Fibre – Ensure you eat enough fibre on the keto diet, or you can get pretty backed up!
The Alkaline Diet
The Alkaline Diet has many claims associated with it such as increased bone density, enhanced immunity and even a reduced risk of cancer.
As vegetables tend to be alkaline and meat tends to be acidic, ‘veganism’ is often incorporated into the diet – i.e. Vegans are also often on the alkaline diet (Vegan Diet explained on a previous blog post).
vegan diet for athletes
The basic principle is that, in theory at least, replacing acid-forming foods, such as meat and dairy, with alkaline foods such as raw, green & leafy vegetables, can improve health.
Some proponents even claim that an alkaline based diet can help fight cancer. This sounds quite outlandish, but I have found 1 study which shows that bicarbonate of soda (AKA Baking Soda), a very alkaline ‘food’ can reduce tumour size, albeit in large quantities. Whether or not the health benefits of the alkaline diet are down to the alkaline levels of the food per se, or the nutrient-dense foods that comprise the diet, is difficult to establish.
The diet is also known as the ‘alkaline-ash diet’ because it is believed that once a food has been broken down and utilised for energy by the body, it leaves behind an ash residue. If a food produces an acidic ash, then it is thought to make you vulnerable to a number of diseases.
It’s important to note that food cannot change the pH of your blood – which should always remain between 7.35 and 7.45, but I can have an impact on the pH of urine. Those athletes who have ever supplemented with baking soda or beta alanine, will also tell you that the pH of your muscles can also have a dramatic impact on the way you feel and perform during intense exercise such as grappling or MMA.
Modern scientific research does not support the theory that the alkaline diet prevents cancer, but many point out the many flaws in modern research, with much of it being sponsored by pharmaceutical companies (there’s even a union of concerned scientists who refuse corporate funding because of how corrupting it is). If you look hard enough, there’s the odd study knocking about, like the baking soda one mentioned above. There are also studies which suggest that our ancestors ate diets which were high in alkaline foods – about 87% of all the foods consumed before agriculture & farming became a thing, were thought to have been alkaline.
Foods to Avoid on the Alkaline Diet
Meat, poultry, fish, dairy, grains and alcohol
Foods to Eat on the Alkaline Diet
Fruits, nuts, legumes & vegetables
Nuts & Seeds
Alkaline Diet – Diet Plan
Hemp seed, kale & almond milk smoothie
Avocado, lettuce and pistachio salad
Distilled water throughout the day
Nuts, seeds – a bit of a cheat meal for lazy people like me would be hemp seeds, olive oil and kale-powder shake. Eat plenty of raw green leafy vegetables.
Cashews & almonds are considered to be the only nuts that are alkaline forming
The vegan diet is becoming more and more popular…it was rare to hear about someone who was on a vegan diet until the China Study came out in 2005 and then it really gained momentum when a leading medical doctor published the book “How Not to Die“. The book basically recommends a varied plant and wholegrain diet to treat all common diseases
Benefits of a Vegan Diet
Compared to the average western diet, a typical Vegan Diet has the following benefits:
– Higher in fibre
– Reduced risk of heart disease
– Higher in vitamins, especially vitamins A, C and E
– Higher in minerals such as magnesium
– Reduced risk of developing certain cancers (pretty much all of them)
– Phytochemicals in organic fruits and vegetables are linked to decreased in oxidative stress- important for athletes looking to avoid burn out and overtraining
– Vegan diets also tend to be cheaper. Compare the price of an organic chickpea curry, to the price of an organic chicken curry, for example
Negatives of Vegan Diet
– Constantly explaining to people why you don’t eat meat – nightmare with the grandparents and mother-in-law at Christmas
– EPA, a constituent of omega 3 is hard to obtain on a strict vegan diet
- Vitamin B12 can be hard to obtain in optimum amounts unless supplemented
To summarise…a whole food organic vegan diet significantly reduced the risk of all of the most common causes if mortality and illness, when compared to a typical western diet, it can be tricky to get enough EPA, b12 and iron and a right bastard to explain to old people and bodybuilders.
Some may argue that the health benefits come mainly from the lack of junk food, sugar and factory farmed meat, rather than the elimination of all animal products itself. Either way, there is undoubtedly a link between vegan diets and reduced risk of a great number of diseases.
One of the main issues with the meat & animal products consumed in a normal Western Diet, is the amount of anti-biotics and hormones used to produce massive quantities of meat, unnatural amounts of milk etc at minimal expense.
Vegan Diet & Athletic Performance
More & more athletes are moving over to a vegan diet. One of the pioneers of this shift away from protein drinks and Lucozade was ultra-marathon runner Scott Jurek.
The argument against vegan diets used to be that the quality of protein required, was difficult to obtain but thanks to the number of hemp products now on the market, this is no longer the case. Athletes have traditionally focused on the periods before, during and after training and competition, and ignored the need for a base of good health with a diet rich in nutritious whole foods. The vegan diet has begun to reverse this trend, consuming a nutritions foods everyday, which reduce inflammation and aid recovery & adaptation.
Vegan Diet Plan for Athletes
Porridge with homemade almond milk, ground almonds, banana & Quinoa
Banana Granola Bars or pumkin seeds with goji berries or hemp protein shake with organic olive oil
JUMBO bowl of Salad
Vegan energy balls
Healthy Vegan Chilli
The Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet is often called The Caveman Diet. Cavemen didn’t have agriculture or processed foods, they were ‘hunter gatherers’.
Foods to Eat on the Paleo Diet
You eat lots of meats, plants, vegetables, fruits and drink lots of water.
Lots of non-cave-many stuff are also on the diet however, red wine, espresso,
Grass fed meat
Unrefined oils such as coconut oil and olive oil
Unrefined fats such as grassfed butter (some argue that this shouldn’t be included in a Paleo diet however as it’s dairy)
Foods to Avoid on the Paleo Diet
Dairy is restricted or eliminated, as are grains.
Foods you can’t eat –
Low quality meat
Starchy vegetables such as ‘normal’ white potatoes
Alcohol is limited
Benefits of the Paleo Diet
It’s healthy – With no processed foods or sugar, the diet has anti-inflammatory benefits
Reduced likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes compared to conventional Western diet
Improved gut health – thanks mainly to high quality foods that are ingested on the diet
Full of vitamins & minerals
No food additives (or greatly reduced amount)
Improved satiety — a feeling of fullness between meals meaning you’re less likely to snack
Cons of the Paleo Diet
The price. Unfortunately wild fish & grass fed beef are a lot more expensive than factory farmed options.
No dairy & no grains – can be good or bad depending on the person
Very difficult to get enough protein if you’re a vegetarian on this diet. Although hemp is a great source of all amino acids and Paleo friendly.
Can be tricky for athletes to get enough carbohydrate for optimal performance. Some argue that this depends on the sport and that most people adapt to a lower carb diet within 4-8 weeks
Overall the Paleo diet is a lot healthier than the average Western diet, full of organic whole foods.
Paleo Diet Shopping List
Meat & Fish
Organic grass-fed beef
Organic chicken thighs & breast
Nitrate free bacon
Organic Free Range Eggs
Almond butter (peanut butter is not allowed as it’s a legume 😦 )
Nuts and Seeds
Paleo Diet Plan
Breakfast – Omelette with spinach
Snack – Pumpkin seeds with goji berries
Lunch – Salad with kale, spinach, avocado & chicken or bacon or tuna
Snack – Beef jerky
Dinner – Salmon, fried with vegetables
Snack – Primal Bar or home made protein bar or pecans
If you need extra calories, coconut milk is awesome. Use tins or powdered coconut milk, not the cartons which are about 2% coconut milk, 97% water and 1% E numbers
It would be easy to dismiss intermittent fasting as the next fitness fad, but it is backed up by a substantial amount of research. Intermittent fasting is based upon the theory that our bodies evolved in the Paleolithic era (50,000 to 10,000 BC) to adapt specifically to a lifestyle and environment characterised by periods of famine and feast. The theory behind intermittent fasting dictates that these alternate periods of restricted caloric intake are required for optimal metabolic function.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
The list of proposed benefits relating to intermittent fasting are indeed extremely impressive. They include improved blood lipid profiles, increased growth hormone secretion, accelerated autophagy (the process of cells recycling waste matter), increased insulin sensitivity and studies on animals have also suggested it may have some beneficial effects relating to the prevention of cancer and cognitive function. One of the main mechanisms behind intermittent fasting and all these health benefits, appears to be a reduced secretion of a hormone called IGF-1. This is a hormone that accelerates the aging process and has been linked to a number of diseases, especially when present in the body in relatively high amounts.
Intermittent Fasting Protocols
Alternate Day Fasting
This protocol involves one day of consuming 1/5th of normally energy needs (between 400 and 700 calories depending on bodyweight), and on the next day consuming what you would normally eat – i.e. your usual daily diet. This alternate day fasting is normally continued for a period of up to 8 weeks, although some nutritionists, somewhat controversially, advocate doing it continuously.
The 5:2 Fast
Following this system, as you may have guessed by it’s title, involves spending 2 days a week on a diet that is extremely low in calories. Again 400 to 700 calories depending on body weight, is normally recommended on fasting days.
The fasting days should NOT be consecutive. Again this style of fasting is normally adhered to for up to 8 weeks at a time.
The 16:8 Diet
This is where you normally stop eating at 8pm in the evening, and then don’t eat until 12pm the next day. You need to plan diligently for this protocol, ensuring you eat good quality food in your 8 hour window, and not rubbish to meet your calorie-needs.
Training and Intermittent Fasting
Studies have suggested that exercising whilst in a fasted state, although should be done under supervision and with care, can actually lead to improved athletic performance.
Keeping workouts short (less than 30 mins) and intense, can help enhance the use of fat as a substrate/fuel, whilst enhancing Growth Hormone secretion. Growth Hormone in turn, leads to an enhanced anabolic response – i.e. greater potential to build muscle.
Training in a fasted state can also enhance adaptation to endurance exercise. Studies have shown that training with extremely low levels of muscle glycogen/carbohydrate causes an increased “oxidative capacity” by enhancing the formation of new mitochondria (an element of muscle cells vital to endurance).
For bodybuilding purposes, an example fasting workout programme may look like this:
Deadlifts – 2 sets of 3 – 6 reps
Barbell Bent Over Row – 2 set sets of 8 – 12 reps
Lat Pull down (or chin ups) – 1 sets of 6 – 10 reps
Hanging Leg Raises – 1 set of max reps
Barbell Bench Press – 2 sets of 6 – 10 reps
Dips – 2 sets of 6 – 10 reps
Explosive press ups – 1 sets of max reps
Ab roller – 1 set of max reps
Squats – 2 sets of 6 – 10 reps
Military Press – 2 sets of 6 – 10 reps
Bulgarian Split Squat – 1 sets of 10 – 15 reps on each leg
Stability Ball Pikes – 1 set of max reps
Remember to warm up and cool down before and after each session
Supplements and Intermittent Fasting
Many fitness professionals advise people to take 10g of BCAA approximately 20 minutes before and 10g immediately after training in a fasted state. The theory behind this is that, whilst the body is still starved of carbohydrate, it will experience the same increased secretion of Growth Hormone, and the BCAA supplementation will capitalise on this, further increasing protein synthesis. Interestingly, fitness professionals appear to disagree on whether or not the calories in BCAA should be counted towards your daily total. 10g of BCAA contains around 40 calories.
Whey protein isolate or concentrate can be taken after a workout but the additional calories need to be accounted for when fasting. 1 scoop of whey protein powder will contain around 100 calories – check the label to find out exactly.
Other supplements may be required to make meals during fasting days, “nutrient dense” – you should make those 500 or so calories as nutritious as possible. Supplements that could help you achieve this, include fish oil liquid or capsules, and ‘green powders’ such as wheatgrass and spirulina can also be consumed and are recommended by many nutritionists.
Carb cycling involves days of eating a range of high carbohydrate foods, days of moderate carbohydrate intake and often days of low or no carbohydrate intake.
Carbohydrate / carb cycling is said to stimulate certain metabolic functions, such as insulin sensitivity, thyroid hormones and leptin* – which in turn has benefits for health, fat loss and potentially muscle hypertrophy (muscle-size).
In it’s simplest form, a carb cycling diet would involve eating a high amount of carbohydrate on training/exercise days and lower carbohydrates on rest days.
The basic concept is that having low carb days will make you more ‘insulin sensitive’ meaning that when you do eat a high amount of carbohydrate, more of it will be shuttled to the muscles for fuel and less will be stored as fat.
In theory this has the opposite effect of type 2 diabetes; whereby constant high sugar consumption, effectively stops insulin from working as well, and blood sugar rises, more carbs are stored as fat and very little is stored in the muscles (especially if you don’t exercise).
Whilst on a carb cycling diet, a middleweight MMA fighter might consume 350-400g of carbohydrates on training days and 75-100g on rest days. On training days, the same fighter may aim to consume 3500 calories in total and 3200 calories on rest days.
For greater insulin sensitivity, he may also do a very low carb & high fat day, whereby he eats 30g of carbohydrate only.
Lower carb days might involve eating more vegetables, grass-fed organic meat, wild fish and healthy fats such as coconut oil. Typically protein intake remains fairly consistent throughout a typical week, however fat intake will increase on rest days/low carb days.
In theory, you could be ‘carb cycling’ and eat rubbish, low quality carbs on high carb days and still be adhering to the protocol, however, in order to gain the greatest health benefits from this diet, people will normally eat carbs on high carb days from sources such as:
High Quality Carbohydrate Foods
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
Sweet Potatoes are one of the most nutritious sources of carbs
Benefits of Carb Cycling
- Higher insulin sensitivity / reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes (as long as high carb days don’t contain high amounts of sugar)
- Possible to enter ketosisif carbs are manipulated appropriately, which can have numerous health benefits
- Some anecdotal evidence that it can help increase strength thanks to ‘carbohydrate super-compensation‘
- Some evidence that it can increase lean muscle mass
- Scientific evidence that it promotes fat loss to a greater extent than traditional method of calorie restriction alone. Study here.
Carb Cycling Diet Plan
High Carb Day
High Protein Porridge
Cinnamon to taste
Egg salad with pasta and plenty of raw green vegetables
Chicken salad sandwiches using wholemeal bread
Stir fry with brown rice
Low Carb Day
Low carb smoothie
Whey or hemp protein powder
20g coconut oil or cream
2 ice cubes
1 tbsp peanut butter
Handful of spinach
Whey Protein shake with flax seed powder
Feta cheese salad with olive oil & lots of raw spinach & kale
Handful of nuts
Coffee with coconut oil
Hummus and carrot sticks
Low carb Cajun Cauli Hash
Add smoothie if extra calories are required
– Tin of coconut oil (check at least 50% coconut oil, cartons are typically 2-3% and tins which are 100% are more difficult to blend as they are solid at room temp)
– Hemp seeds
– 10ml olive oil
– 10g peanut butter
*Leptin is a hormone which signals when you are full
Quotes About Diet from Experts & Amateurs
Strength & Conditioning Coach
“I look to consume healthy, organic whole foods and get adequate protein from grass-fed meat and wild fish. Sweet potatoes are my go-to source of carbohydrate. I don’t really stick to a specific dietary protocol or regime, although I am interested in the health benefits associated with diets high in alkaline foods and the ketogenic diet”.
Ultra Marathon Runner
“To test my limits I ventured into the world of ultra-endurance triathlon, and within 3 years accomplished athletic feats I could have never previously dreamed possible, including top finishes at the Ultraman World Championships and becoming the first person to complete EPIC5: five ironman-distance triathlons on five Hawaiian Islands in under a week.
Anecdotally, and without reservation, I submit that these accomplishments were achieved not in spite of, but as a direct result of putting animal products in the rear view. No beef, no chicken, no pork, no fish, no milk, no cheese, no eggs. Just plants.”
Strength & Conditioning Coach
“I mainly look to eat well and hit my macros each day. I travel a lot with my job & company so it’s difficult to plan day to day but always opt for organic whole foods where possible. I have used the ketogenic diet for short periods of time as an effective way to lost body fat”
Martial Arts Champion
“I literally went from crippling pain to good health in a matter of weeks. When I made the decision, I was very worried I’d lose all my hard-gained muscle. Wrong! I’m currently the same lean body mass and weight I was in 2003 before I switched to a plant-based diet.
This life transformation happened over eight years ago and I’ve been going strong ever since.”
Allergies & Combat Sports
On a personal note, I’d like to add that getting my allergies under control with specific nutritional strategies made a huge difference in my overall mental & physical performance. Allergies cause all kinds of physical stress and inflammation.
Allergies might be due to specific foods, often dairy and/or gluten.
The can also result from gut-lining issues (“leaky gut”) – bone broth, glutamine and fasting can help heal the gut lining. Avoid pain killers like ibuprofen.
Foods that can help combat allergies include:
- Rosemary (tea or capsules)
- Nettle (tea or capsules)
- Quercitin (found in onions)
- NAC Powder
Diet at your own risk. Always consult a doctor. Thanks
With all the different dietary protocols around at the moment, it is difficult to know which way to turn for better athletic performance.
The best thing to do is read about each diet, pick out elements which you think make sense and try things for yourself.
For further reading
Use Google Scholar to look up studies related to each diet & supplement
For the ketogenic diet see some of the work by Dr Dominic D’Agostino
Remember to use organic, whole foods when possible and you won’t go far wrong
Like this article? Read our Boxing Diet Plan Article here