Nutrition in competitive combat sports – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, MMA by Heri Rakotomalala

Combat sports athletes in judo, MMA or brazilian jiu-jutsu need to develop speed, power as well as higher aerobic capacity. A varied, well-balanced healthy diet makes it easier for athletes to optimize training and increase the succcess in tournaments. However, the diet of a top-level athlete is different from common person to a great extent, starting from food supplements to foodstuffs intended for particular nutritional uses. The nutrition guide below not only makes the judo, MMA or Jiu-jitsu grappler stronger but also maximize his fighting potential.

Nutrition before the competitive period

1. Drink a lot of water

During training, water is released in high quantities from the body in the form of sweat. To prevent dehydration, water should account for 75% of the total intake during the training period. «Men athletes usually needs around 3L of water per day, and women around 2L per day and add to that liquid lost in sweat during exercise” states Catherine Naulleau, nutritionist working with the Canadian National judo team.
These are general recommendations and don’t necessarily apply to everyone. A good way for athletes to make sure they drink enough water is to look at their pee color (yes, that’s right!) the darker it is, the more water the athlete needs to drink. If it’s light yellow, the athlete is well hydrated and shouldn’t try to drink more.

2. More protein, less carbohydrates

Combat sports athletes, especially judo, need more protein and less carbohydrates. Diet with less carbohydrates can impair the work of muscles for prolonged activity but overall can help maximize performance for brief and very intensive fights, especially for Judo. It also helps when you have to make weight during the year. MMA athletes on the other hand, and to a lesser extend BJJ athletes, can intake more carbohydrates than judo athletes as their bouts typically last longer.
For exact quantities of protein vs carbohydrates, please check with a nutritionist on customizing a program for you.

3. Say no to processed foods

Simple carbohydrates such sugar in any other forms such as sweet drinks should be avoided. For example, foods that should be avoided for combat sports athletes are pizza, doughnuts, biscuits and so on. Similar food that should be avoided are french fries, bagels, potato chips etc.

4. Consider supplements

Studies show athletes are generally taking excessive amounts of Vitamin A & B (except B2) but are deficient in Vitamin D, calcium, folic acid and Vitam B2. As such, athletes should consult a nutritionist if they should take additional food supplements.
This might differ country from country, and again, we recommend checking with your local nutritionist.

5. A healthy breakfast and lunch for best performance

Athletes should start taking meals which contain higher amount of proteins. For breakfast, the athlete should eat cereals or whole wheat bread plus a source of protein, such as milk or greek yoghurt. Fruits with high amount of water can be refreshening and help kickstart the day.
The cererals and whole weat bread provide continuous energy to an athlete for a whole day because of their slow digestion.
Lunch should be low fat with a high protein source for example sea food and fish products. You can add complex carbohydrates, such as steamed brown rice, or mashed potatoes.

6. Mix of protein, carbohydrates and water just before and after training

Athletes should focus on high carbohyrates meals and snacks in between fights (fruit bars, bananas, dattes, dried mangos, fig bars, granola bars, etc.) and add a little bit of proteins which will help to feel full longer (mixed nuts, cheese bites, eggs, jerky, etc.)
David ancor
Image : Banana and Juice for competitive judo athletes :) – taken by David Ancor Judoka
Due to continuous exercise, the athlete’s metabolism will be faster and digesting process will also be fast. As such, he should take protein as well complex carbohydrates just before training. Digestion of complex carbohydrate is very slow so athlete’s stomach will remain full for more time, his body will also remain energetic and he will not feel fatigue and appetite. Timing is important – the correct timing of protein intake can help promote muscle protein synthesis.
Just after a workout, a simple mix of protein and carbohydrate snack is can resplenish energy levels.

7. Salad for dinner

For dinner, eat very simple foods to avoid your body working overtime during sleep. During competitive period, a salad with cicken is a great idea. After 9pm, a fruit is good.
If you are not in competitive period, you can eat more as long as you eat food that is easy to digest and not too high in fat.

Nutrition during competitive period

1. Even more water

Water should account for about 85% of the total intake. Because of the intensity of training and fights, athletes during the competitive period need to increase their total water intake. You can prepare mixes, such as coconut juice, banana mixes.
Avoid oily foods during competitive period (absolutely no fast food or processed food!), as they take a long time to digest and not the preferred energy source for muscles. Start taking eggs, walnut, nuts food with high proteins and carbohydrates. These will provide continuous source of energy during the fights.

2. Cutting weight

If there must be weight-losss, you need to start a program eight weeks before the competition. Athletes need to identify a target calorie goal and not eat more.

If you need to lose weight, start ahead, don’t wait at the last minute. The more drastic is the weight loss, the more weight cycling you will endure. Start a program eight weeks before the competition and also, make sure you can make the weight without suffering so much. You should aim to lose 0.5 to 1kg a week and not have to dehydrate more then 3 kg of water on weigh-in day. Athletes need to identify a target calorie goal with a good breakdown of carbs, proteins and fat and stick to it. Don’t starve yourself, you will just crave the food even more. Allow yourself a few treats and avoid making drastic diets as they don’t work on the long term.

Three or four days before weigh-in, athletes are advised to reduce fibre intake (no bread, no pasta, etc.) and increase aerobic exercise to help drop the last couple of pounds to make weight. Two days before weigh-in, the athlete should consider liquid meal replacements to maximize weight loss.

3. Maximize performance after weigh-in

After weigh-in, an aggresive rehydration plan can help you feel better and maximize your performance.
Ideally, you should fight with an empty stomach so it is very important to take a meal 2 or 3 hours before the fight. Sodim carbonate or sodium citrate mixed drinks should be given to an athlete which will increase his metabolism and prevent him from dehydration.

Nutrition on the road

Athletes who are travelling to go to national or world championships, or who are trying to rank in points find it very difficult to maintain a well-balanced diet. Here are the main issues:
- Food and water safety, especially if you go into a country with a different culture
- Multiple time zone changes
- Climate changes
- Meal logistics

The best is to be prepared, have enough food to start with, and also know what is being offered during the competition. We recommend you go with a team that has dedicated resources and nutritionist who can work togher on a plan.

If it is not possible, the best is to stick to natural, non-processed foods, such as vegetable, fruits, and simple foods such as eggs, brown bread, sprouts, nuts, and depending on the country small quantities of cheese.

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