Nutrition for Combat Sports

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to drive 13 different super cars as part of a photo shoot for a magazine. It was a pretty wild experience to say the least. At one point, however, the Ferrari 812 needed to be filled up with gas and I took it to the station just for fun. When I arrived, I felt like it was my first time pumping gas again – I checked and double-checked to make sure I was putting the right fuel into the tank.

Why was I so cautious? Because I knew how valuable the car was. If it were a beat up commuter car, I would have bought the cheapest fuel possible without thinking twice.

This is how it goes with nutrition also. There are many different ways to fuel our bodies, but how much care we put into this process says a lot about the way we view both ourselves and our sport. To perform at our very best, our nutrition needs to at least match our level of commitment to training.

So what does a good diet look like?

Simply put, a good diet is going to provide all of the energy (calories) necessary to optimally both perform and recover, while also including all of the vitamins, minerals and water necessary to keep the body healthy and functioning well.

Of all food we can put in our bodies, there are three types that provide energy – fats, proteins and carbohydrates. These are called “macronutrients.” Fats provide the most energy per gram (9kcal/g), while proteins and carbs contain 4kcal/gram (To make it simpler, just think “9 energies” per gram or “4 energies per gram”). While each macronutrient provides energy to the body, they do so in unique ways. Fats, for example, are generally broken down and turned into energy during lower intensity movement, while carbohydrates are converted to glycogen, stored in the muscles, and utilized during higher intensity training. Protein is crucial for muscle growth and recovery.

Sparring or rolling? Yep, glycogen is your number one energy source.

So does this mean we should be fueling ourselves with a carb heavy diet? Good question, but hold on a minute. We’ll get there…

The other three types of nutrients we consume are called “micronutrients” because they don’t provide the body any energy (calories) at all. These are vitamins, minerals and water. All three of these play a huge role in keeping body functions working properly as well as maintaining the immune system. This is why the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” though truth is, there is no vitamin or mineral that comes via fruit that we can’t get in vegetables, so the saying should probably go, “1 cup of spinach a day keeps the doctor away…” but it just doesn’t have the same ring.

Okay, so we have nutrients that provide energy and others that keep us functioning well. But this still doesn’t answer what I should eat!

Fair. But truth is, depending on a wide range of factors, the answer is going to be different for each individual. So while we may get into this a bit more down the road, let me at least offer some basic guidelines for establishing a healthy diet.

STEP 1: Determine how many calories you need to consume depending on your aim. This number will go up or down depending on whether you’re trying to gain weight, lose weight, or even how much you’re training each day.

STEP 2: Set your protein intake. Regardless of the goal, it should be set at approximately 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight.

STEP 3: Fill in the remaining calories with a combination of fats and carbohydrates.

While there is so much that could be said about nutrition and training BJJ or kickboxing, for now let’s just simplify it all by saying this: Eat real foods, enough protein, tons of veggies and drink water so that you always pee clear. Do that and it should put most of us on the right track.

Processed foods, excess alcohol, sugar, on the other hand… these would be the equivalent of putting cheap gas in a supercar.

As you continue to train, don’t be the beat up commuter car. Let your discipline in training carry over to your discipline in the kitchen and treat yourself like a Ferrari.

I think it’s an experiment worth exploring.

-Andy Schmiess