Train like thunder, recovery like lightning ⚡ Adapt to training & become a better fighter by improving your recovery from MMA training sessions.
*Diet & Exercise at your own risk. Article is for informational purposes only*
Watch this video, or read below!
Train MMA and/or BJJ?
How to improve recovery and reduce muscle soreness between Training Sessions
I’ve updated a lot of this post in 2017, with some ‘whole food’ alternatives to supplement recommendations.
I mostly avoid supplements and powders etc where possibly now and for overall health and recovery stick to organic foods.
Too many supplements focus on the time just before and after training, but an overall feeling of wellbeing and energy is needed for optimal recovery and performance both physically and mentally. As most of you will know, saying whey protein and BCAA will miraculously improve your recovery is complete bollocks.
1. Krill Oil – The Omega 6 / 3 Ratio
If you eat too much Omega 6, and not enough Omega 3, it can really mess you up.
Have a look at this study
Krill oil is touted at the most bioavailable source of Omega 3.
Look at the EPA and DHA amounts when looking to buy an Omega 3 supplement.
Consuming more omega 3 can reduce inflammation significantly, which is good for overall health, and recovery.
Reduce omega 6 by consuming less vegetable oil. Vegetable oil is toxic when heated.
Magnesium plays an essential role in muscle function.
Bath salts and/or a magnesium spray are the best ways to get the nutrient direct to your muscles (from what I’ve read). Epsom salts can dehydrate quite a bit however, have a drink with a pinch of Himalayan salt during your bath.
Magnesium glycinate tablets are the best oral form of magnesium in terms of bioavailability.
3. Pre workout nutrition
Have a protein drink about 45 minutes before you train.
Some people advise having 15g of whey protein 20 minutes before you train; or 10g of BCAA.
Either way, just don’t leave it too long without food before you train – Don’t eat nothing for 3 hours, then train for 2 hours, and expect to recover within 48 hours.
For muscle soreness, Charles Poliquin suggests taking taurine and BCAA before and after training. This should reduce DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness.
Whole food alternative – Hemp Power Salad 1.5 hours before training
Banana and small number of berries around 1 hour to 45 minutes before training
4. Intra Workout Drink
Try a protein shaker full of:
20g carb powder (maltodextrin and waxy maize)
pinch of pink salt
At university, we were told that carbohydrate drinks during longer training sessions, prevented any drop in immune function – here is a study done by one of the lecturers.
Quite a few strength and conditioning gurus, recommend adding glutamine to a drink to be consumed during training to offset any drop in immune-function.
Whole food alternative – pinch of pink salt in chlorine-free water and a small amount of fruit juice. For those looking for a base of wellbeing in order to enhance recovery, this may be a good option. Research does suggest that maltodextrin is superior for rehydration & recovery
5. Post Workout Drink
After a hard session, try:
50g maltodextrin or waxy maize starch
3g creatine (up to 10g of creatine, I only have 3 personally, to replace what I’ve used)
500mg Alpha Lipoic Acid
30g Whey protein, hemp or egg protein
A pinch of Himalayan (pink) salt.
Alpha Lipoic Acid is a strong antioxidant, that also has some insulin-mimicing properties, meaning that it increases the absorption of creatine and carbohydrate into the muscle cells.
Salt helps with rehydration (via osmosis (A Level Biology does have it’s uses)); and replacing electrolytes lost during sweating.
Maltodextrin is a source of high GI carbohydrates, which cause an insulin spike, which in turn will lead to efficient uptake into the muscles of both carbs and creatine.
Whole-Food Post Workout Drink
Again a whole-food alternative for those who wan’t to avoid supplements – A blend of – hemp seeds, bananas, oats, berries, a pinch of pink salt.
6. Foam Roller
Foam roll and stretch after you train.
Try and ‘roll’ your legs in an upwards direction. To stop toxins pooling in your legs.
This is basically a way of giving yourself a sports massage. If you can afford a sport massage, then do that instead.
7. Myofascial Release
If you have a knot in your muscle(s), try putting a pilates ball or lacrosse ball in the muscle. Hold it for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
If you don’t have time to use a foam roller and/or trigger point therapy, then the Firas Zahabi Massage Machine might be of interest.
Awesome for flexibility, functional strength, and refreshing the body and mind. For longevity I really recommend doing some kind of yoga. Your muscles will get tighter and tighter over the years if you don’t, especially if you do weights as well.
If you don’t have time to do a whole yoga routine, the World’s Greatest Stretch & the Coil Stretch target pretty much every muscle. I’d also add a specific hip-flexor and a neck stretch too.
World’s Greatest Stretch
Do the World’s Greatest stretch 10 times, 2 or 3 times per day if you don’t get the chance to go to a yoga class.
9. Nutrient Dense Diet
Thinking about just macronutrients, like proteins, carbs and fats is old school.
Think about all the different micronutrients you need, and get it from unprocessed, ideally organic and locally sourced produce.
Garlic, tuemeric, ginger, tomatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, oily fish etc.
10. Stretch & Move as much as possible – Sit on the floor, not on the sofa
If you sit down for your day job, you should stretch your hamstrings, hip flexors and chest every day.
Stretching etc. may not directly reduce muscle soreness from lactic acid and muscle damage caused from a hard session, but it will prevent stiffness, general aches and pains and muscle cramps and spasms that occur with tight muscles and poor posture.
Your lymphatic system (and venous return) relies on movement to work, and if you sit down all day in an office, it will be unable to drain waste products from muscles etc.
Make sure you go for a walk, or move and stretch at your desk as much as possible.
Alternatively – sit on the floor to watch TV instead of on the couch – keep stretching and moving. Sufi grinds and neck circles can help loosen you up quite a bit.
11. Contrast Showers & Saunas for Growth Hormone
If you can’t get to a cryotherapy chamber, try contrast showers. 2 minutes or so on freezing cold, then 30 seconds of hot water.
Repeat 2 or 3 times.
There’s loads of research on saunas increasing growth hormone and having potent anti-inflammatory effects.
See this study for more information
Using the sauna for 30 minutes, 3 times a week appears to elicit the most potent effect on HGH levels.
A few rounds of Wim Hof, before, going in an ice bath may also help recovery and with lung function and immunity.
I’ve just bought a far infrared sauna blanket, so I’ll let you know what it’s like
12. Eat more anti-inflammatory foods, avoid inflammatory foods
High magnesium foods such as spinach, squash and pumpkin seeds and fish such as Mackerel
Try arnica or oregano oil to treat sore parts of the body topically
Try Pineapple for its bromelain content (I’ve just ordered some bromelain as a supplement, and will update as to how effective it is for recovery)
Deep fried foods
Artificial sweeteners and additives
Vegetable cooking oils (too much omega 6 is very bad)
Too much carbohydrate, even if all low GI and complex, can cause inflammation. Evidence is still mixed as to whether athletes should eat high carb or medium carb/medium fat based diets.
Consider dropping some carbs if you suffer from inflammation and poor recovery though.
*Cherry juice has recently been touted as the food/drink with the highest anti-inflammatory properties. More info here. Looking at the research you need about 400ml per day – or you can use the dried version or tablets.
13.“All Disease Begins in The Gut.” – Hippocrates
If you are prone to inflammation in general, like I am (asthma, sinusitis, hayfever sufferer etc); then you may well have issues with an inflamed gut.
Try taking glutamine and/or aloe vera oil first thing in the morning, and use nettle as a natural anti-histamine (histamine causes phlegm an inflammation as part of the primary-immune response).
I’ve also started adding turmeric to my protein shakes, and take a probiotic/fibre drink.
An inflamed gut plays havoc with your immune system, making you very prone to inflammation. Here is a study if you require further information.
If you are not fighting in the UFC, and can buy cannabis (legally of course), there is a lot of research emerging on how it reduces inflammation in the gut and can help with the likes of Crohn’s disease and even (I digress slightly) offset sickness/nausea during chemotherapy.
The benefits of cannabis use, on inflamed bowels and inflammatory bowel disease(IBD) is pretty extensive:
CONCLUSIONS: Three months’ treatment with inhaled cannabis improves quality of life measurements, disease activity index, and causes weight gain and rise in BMI in long-standing IBD patients.
I’ve not tried it myself, but a number of people have told me that VSL 3 is the best probiotic supplement to try.
Also see the FODMAP diet if you have gut issues like IBS and bloating. It’s a long list of foods to cut out or reduce if you have problems. It’s difficult, but it’s the most effective way so far to prevent IBS. Avoid onions and garlic if you suffer from bloating…
Probiotics &/or fermented foods are a must if you have taken anti-biotics in the past 12 months.
14. Baking Soda
This is a great addition to your training bag. Start off with 5g and build up to about 15g pre training. I tried 25g once and had the sh!ts, so build up slow on the dosage.
It is touted as being able to increase power output and also enhance recovery:
“Quadriceps torques were higher in the presence of NaHCO3 (baking soda) … the peak, residual, and recovery (after 40 min)”
There is another study here that shows baking soda is also a powerful anti-inflammatory for those with autoimmune problems (such as allergies).
You need about 0.3g of baking soda / sodium bicarbonate per kg of bodyweight to get real performance benefits. This will give you the shits if you go ahead with this amount first time. So build it up, with at least 1 litre of water.
Note – it may effect digestion, by lowering stomach acid & pulling water into the gut etc so avoid around meal times
It’s also great before grappling sessions as it increases muscular endurance quite a bit in my experience.
Baking soda, somehow, alkalises the muscles. The alkaline diet in general is becoming more & more popular in MMA & BJJ. It certainly won’t do you any harm.
Combining the alkaline diet with a ketogenic diet can potentially create a much lower baseline of inflammation.
The targeted Ketogenic diet is ideal for MMA. The targeted version involves eating a low amount of carbs throughout the week, except for 30 minutes before training – you’ll have 30-50g of fast acting carbohydrate such as maltodextrin (or cherry juice/fruit juice if you want to keep things supplement free).
I’ve recently started using ginkgo biloba as it is said to help offset any damage incurred to the brain through head trauma from sparring, playing football etc. and found it great as an anti-inflammatory. There is loads of research for ginkgo biloba as an anti-inflammatory – here is one study.
Adaptogens, such as gingko biloba are said the offset the effects of physical (and mental) stress.
Himalayan Shilajit is another adaptogen with potent anti inflammatory properties.
Packed full of minerals such as manganese and nickel, it can help with recovery and even bone density – great for checking kicks!
It is also high in Fulvic acid, which may have a number of beneficial effects related to brain health (reference)
16. Meriva curcumin
Curcumin, found in tumeric, bound with choline (or something similar) increases its bioavailability, massively.
This is the best anti-inflammatory of any type I have tried.
See my full review of Meriva Curcumin here
Buy from Amazon.com here
17. Wim Hof Breathing
Wim Hof Breathing and cold showers. Helps reduce acidity of the body and enhance recovery. Apple Cider Vinegar is also said to make the body more alkaline. Slightly bro-science-ish but personally, I find that the breathing and cold showers in the morning help.
There is also some evidence that cold showers may help with stress in general and even depression.
18. CBD Oil
So far, so good – On Thursday I was having trouble sitting at my desk in work, in fact, I had to kneel down at one point, as my back was going into spasm. Pelvic tilt probs.
In the evening my medipen came, after I worked out how to use the thing, I haven’t had any problems with my back (or neck). The research is quite robust too.
Update – I’ve started using the dropper form of CBD and find it just as effective as vaping
It is becoming increasingly clear that cannabinoid receptors and their endogenous ligands play a crucial role in the regulation of the immune system. Exogenous cannabinoids have been shown to suppress T-cell-mediated immune responses by primarily inducing apoptosis and suppressing inflammatory cytokines and chemokines.
Great news for anybody with auto-immune problems/over-active immune system problems like IBS, Chron’s etc.
Combining CBD Oil with coconut oil is thought to increase the bioavailability of the cannabinoids; making it more effective for relaxing tense muscles and reducing inflammation.
19. Kava for Muscle Relaxation
You can go about enhancing recovery in 3 main ways
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing muscular tension
- Reducing muscle acidity
There’s a few other factors, like keeping mobile to keep the lymphatic system working, but those are the first 2, are the main 2.
In terms of reducing muscular tension, Kava is king.
It’s also the best non-pharma product for treating anxiety. Just make sure you buy it from a reputable supplier who uses just the root and not the whole kava plant.
More information on kava or ‘kava kava’ here.
Check Kava is not banned by your sports governing body too!
20. Grounding / Earthing for Reduced Inflammation
The free recovery hack!
My mind is blown by the concept of grounding…simply lie or stand on the grass, mud or sand with bare-feet or skin. Tapping into the electrons on the earth’s surface has been scientifically proven to reduce inflammation and pain.
The documentary is very cheesy, but look on Google Scholar and PubMed for the science that backs it up
A further, free way to enhance recovery is to invert yourself!
Either hang upside down on an inversion table, or do a headstand. Inversions relieve compression in the spine and aid lymphatic drainage and venous return.
For the ultimate inversion therapy – see our blog post about inversion tables
22. Rosehip for Reduced Inflammation
One great, natural supplement for reducing inflammation and joint pain is Rosehip.
A meta-analysis of three randomised controlled trials involving 287 patients with a median treatment period of 3 months reported that treatment with standardised rosehip powder consistently reduced pain scores and that patients allocated to rosehip powder were twice as likely to respond to rosehip compared to placebo. In contrast to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and aspirin, rosehip has antiinflammatory actions that do not have ulcerogenic effects and do not inhibit platelets nor influence the coagulation cascade or fibrinolysis
Information here and how it can benefit arthritis sufferers.
23. Sleep 8-9 Hours for Recovery
Glycine & Magnesium are excellent supplements to enhance sleep. Glycine has been proven to enhance cognitive performance after mild sleep deprivation.
24. TENS Machine for Recovery
TENS machines can reduce pain, and increase blood flow to specific areas of the body.
It uses electrical impulses to stimulate muscle contractions & blood flow.
There are several studies to show how effective this simple treatment really is.
You can pick up a TENS machine for around £20 on Amazon.co.uk
You can also stimulate the Vagus Nerve with a TENs machine – which reduces stress and inflammation:
Quick Summary – Enhancing Recovery
- Reduce inflammation naturally with Rosehip, tart cherry juice and/or turmeric
- Invest in an adaptogen like ashwagandha &/or Gingko biloba
- Try baking soda – try not to shit yourself – try 3-5g in a glass of water to start
- Take care of your gut health – probiotics, apple cider vinegar etc.
- Use a Foam Roller (you can now get vibrating ones)
- Supplement with Magnesium supplement or spray. I’ve found the calm drink excellent but have switched to magnesium glycinate as it’s less acidic. Potassium supplements are also worth considering – especially if you don’t get that many leafy greens.
- Do some grounding – Stand barefoot on the lawn for 20 minutes a day
- Try a TENs Machine – to increase blood flow & lymphatic drainage.
- Stimulate the vagus nerve with cold showers or a TENs machine with an ear clip
MMA Recovery Supplements
- Baking soda – before & after training
- Rosehip – natural anti-inflammatory
- Tart Cherry Juice – natural anti-inflammatory
- CBD Oil – Muscle relaxant & anti-inflammatory
- Turmeric – natural anti-inflammatory (Meriva Turmeric is ideal for recovery)
- Spiriluna – For a strong base of micronutrients
- Ginseng – Enhance immune system
- VSL 3 or another probiotic- For gut health
- Colostrum may provide some support to the immune system
- Magnesium – natural muscle relaxant (great for stiff neck after wrestling)
- Niacin / Vitamin B3 – the painful ‘flushing’ caused by a high dosage, is said to
Allergies can also interfere with your recovery – inflammation, brain fog etc.
See my blog post here on supplements for allergies.
I’ve recently created a subreddit for MMA Fitness – as all of the quasi-relevant forums on there are full of MMA fans rather than competitors.
Check it out and please subscribe:
- Hyperbaric chambers appear to help heal specific injuries and even infections. The one human study that I could find, didn’t see an increased recovery in BJJ competitors however. Study here.
- Cupping – has lots of anecdotal evidence, but I couldn’t find any scientific papers that back the claims. Michael Phelps and a number of Olympic gymnasts swear by it though!
Massage for MMA
If you have tightness and painful knots in your glutes, lower back and/or neck, the TimTam Power Massager is definitely worth looking into. A very powerful and accurate massager, it can help relieve the pain of tight muscles & trigger points:
For more information on the Tim Tam handheld massager please visit my review page
For the ultimate recovery, see my article about the Ketogenic diet & exogenous ketones for MMA.
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