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MMA Nutrition & The Weigh-In: A Complete Guideline For All Fighters!

Are you looking for a nutrition program that has a direct approach to what you eat? A nutrition program that doesn't blindly suggest a supplement ... Learn more and be ready for the weigh-in.

By: Dr. David Ryan

Article Summary:
  • Write down everything that you have eaten in the past week.
  • Athletes should not be afraid of eating carbohydrates.
  • Sodium and drugs are the most common reasons for holding water.
  • Are you looking for a nutrition program that has a direct approach to what you eat? A nutrition program that doesn't blindly suggest a supplement based on the wishes of any particular nutrition manufacturer.

    Something that doesn't require the words: Dragon, Tiger's Claw, Mega, Secret, Asian, Warrior and other catch phrases designed to spark your fighter mentality and trick you into thinking that it has some special hidden power.

    The MMA fighter has nutritional guidelines that are similar to that of a college wrestler. There is no doubt that the training of your two sports are similar.

    The first warning that I will give to you is related to the use of diuretics. Several deaths and many close calls have resulted from bodybuilders and MMA athletes utilizing diuretics, and if you mix them with Pedialyte, Gatorade or some other saline (high sodium) or solution you stand an even greater risk for a fatality.

    The MMA Fighter Has Nutritional Guidelines That Are Similar To That Of A College Wrestler.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    The MMA Fighter Has Nutritional Guidelines
    That Are Similar To That Of A College Wrestler.

    The diuretic removes the water from the body, leaves a high sodium concentration, which short circuits your nervous system and results in death.

    This article will clearly define the protocol necessary to have the nutritional capability to prepare yourself for the weigh in. In some cases it is optimal to remove some excess body fat and water to enhance your performance as an athlete. Losing excess water and body fat will also allow you to make that appropriate weight class at the "weigh-in."

    dot
    The Toughest Opponent You Will Face:
    Yourself And What You Eat

    dot

    It is the defining factor that separates champions and those athletes who have a short lifespan in the sport. In today's sporting arena, athletes or separated by 1000th of the second, or a point. Domination over a sport is not a likely entity to be seen anymore.

    Smaller colleges have beaten larger colleges in many sports. Mixed martial arts has several instructors and thousands of Websites that are all geared on providing information about how to have the best technique to win a fight. Great athletes will suffer injuries and most amateurs will never make pro status due to nutritional limitations. These are just simple facts in the sport of MMA.

    Domination Over A Sport Is Not A Likely Entity To Be Seen Anymore.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Domination Over A Sport Is Not A Likely
    Entity To Be Seen Anymore.

    It is extremely frustrating as an athlete to try to get the correct information on nutrition. Most of the products that you will read about in the magazines will be related to exaggerated advertising claims. The difficulty and your confusion is directly related to the multitude of choices available.

    Today's nutrition has many advantages to offer the MMA athlete. Quick digesting proteins, high absorption creatine, beta-alanine, branch chained amino acids (BCAAs), growth stimulants, recovery drinks, etc., all have been formed out of the process of success and failures from various other sports.

    This article will attempt to educate the athlete about the basic fundamentals of nutrition and how to taper for a weigh-in.

    The information in this article is 99.9% accurate and is based upon University studies. It is not based upon hearsay, nor will it be based upon on unproven or exaggerated claims from nutritional companies looking to market their products. My advice has always been simple and direct: If someone is advising you on nutrition and/or training, ask them to lift their shirt. If they don't have visible abs, keep walking.

    Pro MMA Radio Pro MMA Radio:
    Pro MMA Radio is a weekly radio show devoted to bringing you the exciting world of mixed martial arts. Guests include top fighters, trainers and others from the UFC, WEC, Elite XC and other top MMA promotions.

    [ Click Here To Start Listening! ]

    dot
    Getting Started
    dot

    It is important to write down everything that you have eaten in the past week. You will have to look up and calculate how much nutrition you are actually getting from the foods that you eat. Sometimes you can figure this out by using the labels that are required on all products sold in United States.

    It is necessary to calculate the nutrition from other sources that have tables demonstrating what the nutritional value is for any given food. Be sure to calculate your daily intake of carbs, fats, proteins, sodium, water, and total calorie intake.

    The next test to perform is the body fat test. Underwater weighing and the Bod Pod (air displacement) are the most accurate testing methods. The importance of doing these tests is critical to allow you the knowledge of how much excess fat is on your body.

    You don't want to lose muscle and many athletes diet improperly and become weaker from the loss of muscle. Fat calipers are just not accurate enough to determine your safe zone for losing unwanted fat. So do the test and have it repeated a few times, around every other week.

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    dot Water & Protein: dot

      If you are like most athletes, you are not taking in enough water, nor are you likely to be taking in enough protein. Look at the amount of protein that you're eating in grams per day. A MMA athlete should be eating more than 2 grams per pound of bodyweight. If you are taking any type of an anabolic steroid (under prescription of course), then your intake of protein may be as high as 2-4 g/pound of bodyweight.

      Now mix in the fact that you should be drinking 1 gallon of water per 100 g of protein per day. These fundamental principles have been established for athletes and national organizations for nearly 4 decades.

        Protein Per Day Examples:

        • 250-pound athlete-off season = 500 g of protein + 2-5-gallons of water per day
        • 140-pound athlete-off season = 280 g of protein + 1.5 gallons of water per day

      A maximum of two gallons of water per day is usually sufficient to flush out the proteins in any size athlete. The amount of water that you take in is necessary to maintain a high metabolic flush of the protein as you are consuming. The lack of water in your diet will result in excess gas and improper digestion of the protein you are consuming.

      This high intake of water will make it possible to drop water weight later in the program as you draw near to the competition. One more thing about water is that drinking large amounts of it actually stimulates your body to produce additional growth hormone.

      All proteins are not the same and some are digested and absorbed much better than others. Egg protein and whey protein are absorbed best by your body. Fish, chicken and lean beef are some of the next best proteins. Others are sure to follow, but in most cases it is important to eat an equal portion of protein with each meal that is approximately the size of your fist.

      Realize that some food allergies can go undetected and you will not absorb the protein from certain foods. It is important to eat as much real food as possible and to minimalize the amount of supplementation whenever possible. The exception to this rule is usually associated with whey protein.

    It Is Important To Eat As Much Real Food As Possible
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    It Is Important To Eat As
    Much Real Food As Possible.

      Most isolated whey proteins will digest in your duodenum within 30 minutes of ingestion. They are quick and easy and have a vast purpose in the athlete's diet.

      Never eat raw egg whites! Raw egg whites have a huge amount of a substance called "avidin," which loves biotin. As a matter of fact, once the avidin-biotin forms a bond, the body can't break it apart. So you will develop a partial or full Biotin Deficiency Syndrome.

      Cooking your eggs (or egg whites) will quickly denature the protein avidin and will allow you to absorb 98 percent of the protein. In short, always cook your eggs. Here is a list of some of the possible problems associated with any low protein ingestion:

      • Problems with sleep
      • Problems with concentrating
      • Constipation or diarrhea
      • Fatigue
      • Unexplainable injuries or multiple injuries with little trauma
      • Problems with skin, nail, and/or hair
      • Unexpected broken bones
      • Problems with emotional stability
      • Problems gaining strength
      • Consistent problems with muscle strains/ligamentous sprains

    Never Eat Raw Egg Whites!
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Never Eat Raw Egg Whites!

      This is obviously just an example and several other factors may be involved in causing any of the aforementioned problems. Please see a physician if any of the aforementioned symptoms continue even with the increased protein added to the diet.

      The biggest problem with getting enough protein is usually associated with the preparation of the food and its storage. There is no question that eating while at work can be an issue and timing is necessary since the MMA athlete needs to be eating every 2-to-3 hours.

      Many athletes make the mistake of trying to cram in protein during only 3 meals, which results in poor absorption of all nutrients. Most athletes will have difficulty absorbing more than 30 g of protein had any meal. Having a small cooler and a creative cook at home is essential for any successful athlete.

      Personally, I have to drag around my five meals for the day in a cooler and I know where every microwave is, but sometimes I just ate cold fish or chicken. That is just the sacrifice you have to be willing to make if you really want to be the best. Every athlete has to learn to eat for function, not flavor! Sacrifice equals success.

    Sacrifice Equals Success.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Sacrifice Equals Success.

    dot Carbohydrates: dot

      The idea of eating carbohydrates has an extremely prejudicial view in light of the highly marketed Atkins Diet. Athletes should not be afraid of eating carbohydrates. Energy is required to digest the proteins and to provide the function necessary to perform adequately inside of the octagon.

      An old saying is: "Fat is a flame that burns in the fire of carbohydrates." That simply means that it takes carbohydrates to burn fat - however, too many carbohydrates will be converted back into fat and stored in your body. We have spent a great deal of time discussing the amount of protein that your body will require. During the off-season your body will usually require an equal amount of carbohydrates.

    Athletes Should Not Be Afraid Of Eating Carbohydrates.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Athletes Should Not Be
    Afraid Of Eating Carbohydrates.

      To lose weight, follow a few simple rules:

      1. Eat multiple meals every day. Try to eat every two hours.
      2. Eat your carbohydrates closer to your workout and choose oatmeal as your post-workout slow acting carbohydrate.
      3. Eat your carbohydrates as raw as possible, this allows for the trace minerals and other nutrients that are naturally found in many carbohydrate rich foods to provide for maximum absorption.
      4. Avoid processed carbohydrates, such as foods that come in bags.
      5. Take most of your carbs in immediately following a workout or a match. This allows for your muscles to recover faster.
      6. Avoid drinking your carbs (beer, sugar soda), and if you do drink them, make it a good quality post-workout drink.
      7. Taking multivitamins/minerals will allow for proper absorption and usage of carbohydrates and proteins. These products should be taken with your meal.

    arrow View Multivitamins Sorted By Top Seller Here.

      1. Stop eating two to three hours prior to bed. This will force you body to use fat as a fuel when you sleep.
      2. Get sleep in 4.5, 6, 7.5, 9 hour sets. It is helpful to sleep between 6-9 hours per night.
      3. Avoid stress and get right with God spiritually to avoid internal turmoil. Stress raises cortisol levels and that keeps you from losing fat.

      Most of the carbohydrates associated in fruits and vegetables are offset by the amount of fiber ingested. Many of the processed carbohydrates have been stripped of their natural minerals and specifically their natural fiber. Processed or fake carbs will spike your insulin and leave you on your back feeling worn out after only a few minutes.

      Some simple carbs that are high in acid, like grapefruits, will aid in the burning of fats prior to working out and should be eaten approximately 30 minutes before training.

    Some Simple Carbs That Are High In Acid Will Aid In The Burning Of Fats Prior To Working Out.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Some Simple Carbs That Are High In Acid Will
    Aid In The Burning Of Fats Prior To Working Out.

      Reducing your carbohydrates for competition should be a slow and gradual process. If you are an athlete who weighs approximately 200 pounds, then you should be taking in approximately 200 g of protein per day and 200 g of carbohydrates a day, with an additional 40 g of fat. You should also be drinking approximately 2 gallons of water a day.

      At approximately 10 weeks out (longer if you are above the age of 30) you will begin by reducing your carbohydrate intake by 50%. Each week, you should reduce your carbohydrate intake by 10%. Don't forget to eat most of your carbohydrates immediately following your exercise.

      There is no doubt that following this type of diet will test your mental abilities. The brain works on glucose specifically and restriction of carbs in your diet does mess with your head. Bingeing is a common practice by people who are trying to perform this type of diet.

      Eating extremely large amounts of junk food will result in insulin spikes and stop your body from losing fat. Believe me it is not easy, and if it was, everyone would do it.

    dot Thermals - Why You Shouldn't Use Them: dot

      The idea of using thermals (chemical stimulants to burn fat) usually results in several side effects that are very dangerous. Ephedra will make you feel jumpy, but it will not burn more calories. Many of these types of thermals show up on drug tests better now currently enforced by the UFC.

      The use of diuretics is extremely dangerous and is specifically tested by the UFC and many other athletic federations. It might surprise you to know that wearing heavy clothing and forcing yourself to sweat will increase your body's ability to burn fat to a level and degree that is similar to utilizing artificial fat burners. There are no side effects of wearing heavier clothing and it does not alter your drug test.

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      Some companies manufacture fat metabolizers that provide the enzymes and coenzymes necessary for fats to breakdown. The truth is that they only work if you have enough oxygen and are warm enough. They do not make you lose weight just sitting around.

    dot Fats: dot

      Fats are the other nutrient that has had extreme prejudice associated with it. Cholesterol has been given a very bad rap by the media and nutrition manufactures' marketing group. Cholesterol is the building block of testosterone and your body will make a weak form of it, if you do not ingest enough adequately.

      Cholesterol makes the cells of your body more available to take in nutrients and expel toxins. During the off-season of training, fat should be approximately 15 to 20% of your diet. Some people tolerate and burn fat more efficiently than others. Experimentation of different fat intakes are required by the each individual athlete.

      Trans-fats are easy to spot since they are solid at room temperature. These hard fats are the types of fats that should be avoided. As you age, your body has more difficulty with absorbing trans-fats and utilizing them for energy. They should be avoided specifically by older athletes.

      Utilizing omega-3 fats is very important for someone over the age of 30 or anyone who has difficulty with metabolizing fats. Ocean or cold water fish, flax seed oil, walnuts, guacamole, grass-fed beef, natural eggs all are great sources of good fats.

      Omega-3 is important for normal brain function. Excessive amounts of omega-3 will usually result in diarrhea, this is usually seen with excessive consumption of the fish called Orange Roughy. Most athletes should supplement their diet by taking 1000 mg of fish oil per day per 100 pounds of bodyweight.

      Fats are also important since they store many vitamins and minerals. When you start to drop your body fat for a particular competition, the stored minerals and vitamins are usually lost. It is important to replenish them by utilizing daily supplementation.

    Most Athletes Should Supplement Their Diet By Taking Fish Oil Every Day.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    Most Athletes Should Supplement Their
    Diet By Taking Fish Oil Every Day.

    arrow View Omega-3 Products Sorted By Top Seller Here.

      When preparing for a competition the fat should be reduced in accordance with the following protocol. Rule of fat reduction to reduce fat for someone who is dieting down for a match. This is an example of someone who weighs 200 pounds and has been eating 40g of fat per day in the off-season.

    dot
    Fat Reduction Protocol
    dot

    40 grams of fat times 9 calories per gram = 40 X 9 = 360 Calories

    Rule Fat Reduction Less Calories
    10 weeks out reduce fat intake by 50% 20 g less 180 calories
    6 weeks out reduce fat intake by an additional 50% 10 g less 90 calories
    4 weeks out reduce fat intake by 50% 5 g less 45 calories
    2 weeks out reduce fat intake by an additional 20% 1 g less 9 calories

    This would start the athlete at 20g per day, then 10g per day, then 5g per day and finally 4g per day. It is a good rule of thumb to start off with this type of technique to determine a baseline for what is happening with your body weight.

    It is important for you to understand what is happening with your body weight as it is measured with underwater weighing or the Bod Pod. This will allow you to adapt your diet as you progress.

    Since some athletes lose weight at different rates, keep track of your bodyweight and percent fat. It is also common for a veteran athlete to lose more weight as they repeat the dieting process.

    It is important to increase your fat content quickly after you have participated in your competition. This is necessary since you have forced your body to go into a catabolic state (break down), which will eventually wear down your joints, ligaments, and destroy your precious muscle tissue.

    dot
    Water
    dot

    Controlling water is of simple and effective way of dropping weight. The high protein intake by the MMA athlete requires is approximately 1 gallon of water for every 100 g of protein per day. This is maxed out at approximately 2-3 gallons per day. The water is tapered off quickly to force the body to remove water.

    The following is a simple mechanism for removing excess body water prior to any fight. This is the safest way to remove excess water and is permissible by the MMA federations.

    Simple Steps For Water Example Of Water Intake
    Drink 1 gallon/100 grams of protein per day 2 gallons
    1 day before weigh-in/drink 75% less water 1 gallon
    Must be completely consumed
    12-18 hours prior the weigh in.

    If your weigh-in is around 6 p.m. the day after you are drinking only 1 gallon of water: Stop drinking at approximately 12 hours prior to going to bed, only sip water before weigh ins. If you are holding too much water the day of weigh-ins, then drink no water until you have weighed in.

    If your kidneys are conditioned to process 2 gallons of water per day, and you stop your water intake, then your kidneys will continue to expel water and take it from your body to keep the process going. You will drop water and you will lose a significant amount of weight. Then it is important to drink the water back after weigh-ins and eat something light.

    Remember that sodium and drugs are the most common reasons for holding water. It is also important to drink regular water or SmartWater only if you are taking diuretics. It can be deadly if you are taking diuretics or any product that is high in sodium. Gatorade or similar drinks are best if you are naturally dropping water since they restore your body's electrolytes.

    What Are Electrolytes:
    An electrolyte is any substance containing free ions that behaves as an electrically conductive medium. Because they generally consist of ions in solution, electrolytes are also known as ionic solutions, but molten electrolytes and solid electrolytes are also possible.

    Many critics of a high protein diet will often agree that the ill effects of a high protein diet are removed when sufficient amounts all water are consumed in conjunction by the athlete. Intakes of high quantities of water has been shown to have androgenic growth effects on an athlete.

    Many MMA fighters have done more harm than good by wearing sweat suits in an attempt to lose water. A sweat suit increases your body's heat and sure forces you to sweat, but the body's hydrostatic systems will quickly replace the water while you sleep.

    A sweat suit is effective for dropping that final two or 3 pounds of water only on the actual day of weigh-ins. The problem is that it leaves you dehydrated and tired prior to your fight.

    A more effective way of losing body water/body weight is associated with drinking lots of water prior to the actual day of competition and then quickly cutting the intake as previously stated.

    Some natural diuretics exist and they include: coffee, vinegar, dieters tea, asparagus, dandelion root, vitamin B6. The use of these products will have some side effects and are specifically noted with dandelion root and vitamin B6. Caution should be used with the use of these products specifically dandelion root and B6.

    dot Dehydration: dot

      A quick word on dehydration and what to do if you feel light headed, dizzy, numbness, weakness, fatigue or you just pass out. Drinking electrolytes will restore your body's fluid levels just as fast as an IV will. It takes about 20 minutes either way and if you blackout from dehydration you will likely get disqualified from fighting.

      So do yourself a favor and keep some Gatorade in your gym bag. Make it SmartWater if you are taking any diuretics and make sure that someone in your corner knows that you are on water pills if you take any. It might just save your life!

    RELATED VIDEO: Your 12-Week Daily Video Trainer
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    dot
    Sodium
    dot

    Sodium or salt is often overused by most athletes and specifically MMA fighters. The mere fact that salt makes you hold onto water is reason enough to avoid it in your MMA fighter's diet. This becomes especially important as the athlete begins the training season. Start reading labels and learn the nutritional facts of the foods that you are eating.

    Sodium in chicken can vary from 80 grams per serving, to 1000 grams. Chicken producers will actually inject high sodium chicken broth into the poultry meat. Think about that since you are buying it at a 1.99 per pound on sale, but you are really paying for the weight of the added fluid.

    Other sodium foods to avoid are high sodium diet sodas and salted tuna. Sometimes it is necessary to wash fish with water to remove the excess salt. Even with no salt tuna, cut open the lid, leave the lid on the top and slowly fill the can with water. Press down on the lid as you hold it over the sink to drain the natural salt water from the tuna.

    It is all about making choices. Why eat something that makes you have to train harder to take off more water weight? It is better not to make poor choices about what you are eating and have to spend precious time and energy trying to remove the excess weight or water. While we are on the subject, it is foolish to think that a pill will make up for poor food choices.

    Why Eat Something That Makes You Have To Train Harder To Take Off More Water Weight?
    + Click To Enlarge.
    Why Eat Something That Makes You Have To
    Train Harder To Take Off More Water Weight?

    dot
    The Training Diet
    dot

    Now that we have covered some of the basic fundamental of dieting and nutrition, let's look at an example of the basic training diet for a 200-pound athlete who is hoping to diet down to the 180's level. Portions will vary based on the athlete's weight and goals. Less bread, rice and white potatoes will result in a lower total calorie intake and that is the golden rule.

    Body Weight = Calories in verses Calories out (What you eat versus what you do)

    Your schedule may vary, but this example shows how you should plan out your days and meals ahead of time. Do not leave your meals out of your schedule and hope to find a healthy meal choice at the local fast food chain. When the time comes the meal is there, just eat it and move on, don't make a fuss about the whole thing.

    Avoid excessive breads, foods loaded with sugar, anything with high fructose corn syrup, high sodium foods, and candy. Your trainer will like hearing me say: The fastest absorbed calorie is associated with alcohol, so avoid any alcohol. All recreational drugs will lower your natural testosterone levels - specifically marijuana.

    The Fastest Absorbed Calorie Is Associated With Alcohol, So Avoid Any Alcohol.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    The Fastest Absorbed Calorie Is Associated
    With Alcohol, So Avoid Any Alcohol.

    dot
    Conclusion
    dot

    Trial and error result in answers that we can learn from and provide a great learning experience. It is important for you as the athlete to understand proper nutrition.

    Diets must adapt to your specific athletic needs, and they must adapt to changes in the season, as well as your age. Failure to follow these guidelines will result in the ref raising the other guys arm at the end of the match. Remember your opponent has the same access to this article and they might just be motivated enough to follow it.

    Basic nutrients and their calories per gram:

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    In the Water & Protein section, you state "A MMA athlete should be eating more than 2 grams per pound of bodyweight." However in the Carbohydrates section you state "If you are an athlete who weighs approximately 200 pounds, then you should be taking in approximately 200 g of protein per day and 200 g of carbohydrates a day, with an additional 40 g of fat."

    Which is eat? More than two grams per pound or one gram per pound?

    Also, with 200g protein, 200g carbs, & 40g fat are you suggesting that a 200lbs athlete only needs 1,960 calories a day? (200*4 200*4 40*9)?

    Oct 17, 2012 11:11am | report
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