In last week's blog I talked about cutting weight and getting the right balance between protein and carbohydrates in the period leading up to a fight. In this post we're going to look at ‘fight diet’ nutrients in more depth.
Fighters ask me all the time, “What should I eat? What diet should I follow if I want to be a successful fighter?” I always answer by asking, “What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to gain weight or lose weight?”
Not only are goals different for different people, they are different for varying body types too. Consider that all the available studies and literature basically contradict each other and you can see that there is no ‘absolute truth’ - we see fighters competing on raw-vegan diets but I know others who still hit McDonalds during fight camp.
The best thing you can do is consult an experienced nutritionist with a verifiable track record and request a tailor-made diet for yourself. In the meantime, let’s look at proteins and carbohydrates in a little more detail.
Both are necessary to build and repair muscle after intensive work outs. Carbohydrates give you quick energy that can be stored in the muscles (and liver) to be used for the next workout. We call this ‘glycogen’. Protein, however, cannot be stored up and must be eaten daily.
Proteins are the building blocks of your muscles. They consist of smaller components called ‘amino acids’. While the body can manufacture several amino acids required for protein production, a set of ‘essential amino acids’ needs to be obtained from animal and/or vegetable protein sources.
Animal protein sources contain the complete set of essential amino acids, while all the essential amino acids’ can be obtained by eating a wide variety of plant foods. Vegetable sources of protein such as beans, chickpeas and nuts are excellent choices, and they offer healthy fibre, vitamins and minerals.
You can create your own ‘essential amino acid’ by combining grains with legumes. Grains are high in methionine and low in lysine; legumes are the other way around. Other plant sources of lysine include pistachios, amaranth and quinoa. Combine these with nuts, potatoes, broccoli, spinach, oranges and avocados for a well-balanced protein-heavy champion meal.
Good animal protein choices are fish and poultry. If you are partial to red meat, stick with the leanest cuts, choose moderate portion sizes, and make it only an occasional part of your diet. Examples of good animal proteins include chicken eggs, fish (tuna, salmon, and halibut), chicken and turkey breast, lean beef and veal.
Carbohydrates and the blood-sugar rollercoaster:
Carbohydrates are sugars, starches, and fibres and are found in most foods. While they are perhaps most famous for their role in fuelling our body's energy needs, carbohydrates (often referred to as ‘carbs‘) actually serve a wide variety of purposes in the body, including regulation of digestion, enabling of communication between cells and support of immune functions.
Examples of good carbohydrates for fight-sports include bananas, berries, brown rice, sweet potatoes, wholemeal rice and pasta.
Although bread also contains a lot of carbs, recent studies indicates that the starches in bread get broken down quickly in the digestive tract and enter the bloodstream as glucose. This causes a rapid spike in blood sugar and insulin levels.
When blood sugar goes up rapidly, it tends to go down just as quickly. When blood sugar goes down, we become hungry. This is the ‘blood-sugar rollercoaster’ that is familiar to people on high-carb diets. Soon after eating, they become hungry again and usually find themselves searching for another high-carb snack.
To live a healthy life and to perform at your best during training and competitions, I would suggest the following:
- Avoid sugar and sweets
- Stay off the soda drinks
- Eat as little grain (especially gluten grains like wheat and rye) as possible
- Say no to processed foods (avoid trans-fatty acids)
- Avoid all kinds of junk food
- No alcohol
- If you smoke, stop immediately!
Next week we will look at the necessary supplements for fighters training multiple times per week. In the meantime, enjoy your meals.