Whether you're into MMA, Jiu-Jitsu, karate, wrestling, or other martial arts forms, being combat ready to take on your opponents is hugely important! If you want to man-handle your competition; outlast your opponents every time; get back in the ring faster and stronger; and withstand the brutal punishment of hand to hand combat... Labrada can help YOU!
The serious combat sport athlete requires a nutrition and supplement program tailored to his demanding fighting regimen. Labrada can help you to get stronger, fully recover from grueling workouts and matches faster and more completely, and empower you to BE YOUR BEST.
If you're serious about your combat sports, take that important first step NOW -- start by reading below!
Combat sports impose unique challenges on their practitioners. Nutritionally speaking, the needs of martial artists, wrestlers and boxers overlap with those of endurance, strength and physique athletes. Like Long-distance runners or cyclists, fighters need to endure long training sessions and competitions that push them to their limit. Like strength athletes, they need to exert maximum power. And like physique athletes, they often need to achieve low levels of body fat in order to optimize their strength-to-weight ratios.
In addition, combat athletes need to stay mentally – as well as physically - sharp; while coping with the stresses imposed by a) potentially injurious physical contact with opponents; and b) year-round (rather than seasonal) intensive training and competition.
As such, the nutritional needs of fighters can be complex. At different times, a fighter may need more food/energy to build additional muscle… or less, to make weight for an upcoming competition or recover from injuries. He/She may need to manipulate macronutrient ratios as well. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all program that will cover all contingencies. A combat athlete’s nutrition plan will always need to be customized for the individual and his desired outcome.
Nonetheless, certain basic nutritional principles apply to all customized plans. So let’s start from the beginning, with calories and macronutrients.
This part is pretty simple, really. Food – all food – provides you with energy (calories) and macronutrients. The latter are divided into three basic biochemical categories: protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Activities such as walking, talking, eating and – yes – training require additional energy. So, your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is your REE, plus the energy used for physical activity and digestion (aka the “thermic effect of food”).
To put it another way…
Your TDEE is the total number of calories you can eat without gaining or losing weight.
Not surprisingly, this is the starting point for any combat sport-specific nutrition plan. Too many calories – even from healthy foods – will result in fat gains. Too few will flatline your training progress, impair your ability to recover from your workouts, and increase your risk of developing overtraining syndrome (OTS). Even if you need to gain or lose some weight, you never want to go too high above; or drop too far below your TDEE for an extended period of time.
The best way to determine your TDEE is to accurately track your food intake and body composition statistics (weight, body fat percentage, girth measurements). It takes time to accumulate enough data to analyze, however. If you don’t have it and don’t know where to start, a standardized equation can provide you with a reasonable estimate.
To (gradually!) lose body fat, deduct 15% - 20% from your TDEE. For optimal athletic performance, construct your diet to meet your TDEE. To gain weight, calories should be bumped up in smaller increments (10% - 15%), while monitoring your body composition (to mitigate fat gains).
Note: It’s important to remember that your TDEE will vary with your training volume/intensity. You will need to increase your intake to support intense training; and decrease it to maintain an optimal weight during stretches of lighter training and/or rest.
For good health and well-being, the majority of your calories should come from quality sources of the three macronutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Martial artists, fighters and wrestlers need to consume high-quality, lean protein to rebuild and maintain muscle tissue. Your protein sources should be low in fat, as fat is a highly concentrated source of calories! The “hidden” calories in fatty meats can easily tip the scales in favor of body fat gains.
|Optimal Protein Sources||Sub-Optimal Protein Sources|
|lean beef (flank steak, beef tenderloin, 96% lean ground beef)||deli meats|
|skinless chicken breast||hard cheeses/processed cheese|
|turkey breast||lunch meats/hot dogs|
|fish/shellfish||whole milk/milk drinks/milk substitutes|
|pork tenderloin||fried chicken/fish|
|low fat/non-fat cottage cheese||ground beef with >4% fat (by weight)|
|low fat/nonfat Greek yogurt (plain)||cuts meat with visible fat/marbling|
|water-packed tuna||buffalo wings, bbq ribs|
Note: don’t be fooled by front-of-package labeling! This may come as a surprise, but more than half of the calories in 15% “lean” ground beef come from fat! This is because the label is based on the percentage of fat by weight. Since fat is a concentrated source of calories, even small amounts of fat can add a lot of unwanted calories.
As you can see from the table, an optimal source of protein is…
Meat, fish, poultry, egg and dairy proteins are not only concentrated sources of protein; they’re also rich in the essential amino acids (EAAs) that our bodies cannot make. One of these, leucine, is especially important for muscle protein synthesis.1 By contrast, plant foods contain less protein (and leucine!) overall; and may be deficient in one or more EAAs.
Meat and fish are concentrated sources of protein and essential amino acids, so it’s not hard for omnivores to eat the recommended amount of protein. Vegetarians, however, may have a tougher time. If you're a lacto-ovo vegetarian, the void left by meat can be partially filled with eggs/whites, lower fat dairy foods like cottage cheese and Greek yogurt and - of course – high-quality protein supplements like Lean Pro8® or Lean Body® .
But vegans can also manage, if they choose their foods and supplements wisely. Vegans should focus on plant foods that contain the highest amount of protein, such as lentils, soybeans, split peas and other legumes; peanuts/peanut butter, spinach, oatmeal and whole grains (including products like whole wheat pasta and bread). Certain specialty products (like “Quorn” or "Gardenburgers") and plant-based protein supplements (brown rice, pea, soy and hemp protein powders) can also be used, although whole/minimally processed foods should form the core of your diet.
Vegans/vegetarians may also come up short in certain food elements that omnivores take for granted: vitamin B12, zinc, calcium, creatine, vitamin D (assuming lack of daily sun exposure),2 EPA/DHA3 and carnosine.4 Certain supplements in my line are perfect for vegans, such as my BA-Endurance, EFA Lean Gold, CreaLean, Kre-Alkalyn, BCAA Power and HICA-Max, as they restore the carnosine, EFAs, creatine and certain essential amino acids that may be lacking in a vegan diet.
How much protein to eat? There’s little research that’s specific to combat athletes. Those with practical experience, however, such as martial arts dietician Teri Tom, MS, RD, recommend high protein intakes during periods of heavy training to facilitate both muscle growth and repair from impact-associated muscle/connective tissue damage.5
In light of this experience, try to get 25% - 30% of your calories from protein: 25% when maintaining or gaining; 30% when cutting.
|Optimal Fat Sources||Sub-Optimal Fat Sources|
|almonds/walnuts/pistachios/other raw nuts||commercial cooking oils|
|ground flax seed||margarine/butter|
|hemp/sunflower/sesame seeds||commercial salad dressings/mayonnaise|
|avocadoes||whole milk/half & half/cream|
|extra-virgin olive oil||shortening/lard|
|fish oil||ground beef with >4% fat (by weight)|
|EFA Lean Gold||cuts of meat with visible fat/marbling|
Note: be especially wary of foods containing “partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil.” Partially-hydrogenated oils contain harmful trans-fats, which are linked to heart disease and strokes.6
What makes the fat sources on the left better choices than the ones on the right? The ones on the left provide heart-healthy monounsaturated and/or omega-3 essential fatty acids. Foods like nuts, seeds, avocadoes and salmon also supply valuable nutrients in addition to the fat. On the other hand, the fat sources on the right contain excessive amounts of saturated fat, trans-fats and/or pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.7
Carbs are not the enemy, despite what low-carb advocates claim. Complex carb sources like fruit, fibrous/starchy vegetables, whole grains and legumes provide energy, vitamins/minerals, disease-fighting phytochemicals and fiber - which are important for both athletic performance and long-term health. For the combat athlete, simple and/or rapidly-digested complex carbs are also important sources of workout fuel: for both your muscles AND your brain! Low blood sugar is the last thing you want to experience when you’re face-to-face with an opponent.
|Optimal Carb Sources||Sub-Optimal Carb Sources|
|sweet potatoes/yams; white potatoes||french fries/potato chips|
|brown/wild rice, barley, quinoa||“Rice-a-Roni” and other packaged, pre-seasoned grain “side dishes”|
|old-fashioned/steel-cut oatmeal||packaged, ready-to-eat cereals|
|Whole grain bread/pasta||pizza; fettucine alfredo; other grain-based dishes with fatty toppings|
|legumes (beans and dried, split peas)||baked beans; canned bean/pea soups|
|fresh and frozen (unseasoned) vegetables||sauced/buttered frozen vegetables|
|fresh and frozen (unsweetened) fruit||“fruit snacks”/juice drinks|
|Rye Crispbreads||commercial crackers and tortilla chips|
|corn tortillas; air-popped popcorn||jams/jellies/honey/agave syrup/sugar/maple syrup|
|Power-Carb™; carb gels/sports drinks (before/during/after workouts only!)||sweetened coffee drinks, energy drinks, sodas, “Vitamin Water”|
|candy bars, cookies, snack cakes|
It should be easy to see the differences between the optimal and sub-optimal carb sources in the table above. An optimal carb source…
Carbs are the “wild cards” in the combat athlete’s nutrition plan. Athletes need to consume a certain amount for physical/mental energy and peak performance/recovery. Overdoing them, however, can lead to unwanted body fat gains. To start, shoot for 40% - 45% carbs (40% when cutting; 45% when maintaining/gaining).
It goes without saying that you should strive to eat more than 3 meals a day! For most combat athletes, 5 – 6 meals a day is ideal. Eating frequent, smaller meals helps fighters feel more energetic, rather than stuffed and sluggish. This system helps prevent overeating, keeps insulin under control8, and provides a steady supply of fuel and nutrients to your body throughout the day.
Note: you don’t have to be a slave to the kitchen to manage 5 – 6 daily meals! While eating frequent, balanced meals is important, you can use specially-formulated products – like my Lean Body® meal replacement shakes or bars – to help fill in when whole food is not practical.
Use the spreadsheet below to calculate your (starting) calorie and macronutrient needs:
|Goal:||Fat Lose:||Maintenance:||Weight Gain:|
|Fat Loss: TDEE - 20%|
|Weight Gain: TDEE+10%-15%|
Here’s a simple meal plan for a combat athlete on a maintenance diet of 4000 calories/day.
|Meal||Protein (g)||Carbs (g)||Fat (g)||Calories|
|Breakfast: Veggie scramble ( 1 c. egg whites, 2 whole eggs, mixed veggies, tsp. of olive oil for cooking); 1 c. cooked oatmeal; ¾ c. unsweetened blueberries, 1 c. calcium-fortified orange juice; 1 tsp. fish oil||50||84||22.5||739|
|Mid-morning: 1 oz. almonds; 2 scoops Lean Body® Whole Foods; large orange||43||57||20.5||585|
|Lunch:6 oz. grilled chicken breast, ½ sliced avocado, mayo on 2 slices whole wheat bread; 1 c. raw broccoli florets, 4 oz. baby carrots||62||46||33||729|
|Pre-Training: 2 scoops of Power Carb, 2 scoops BCAA Power||0||50||0||200|
|During Training: 1 scoop Power Carb in 16 oz. water *||0||25||0||100|
|Post-Training: 2 scoops of Power Carb, 2 scoops BCAA Power||0||50||0||200|
|2 scoops Lean Body® Whole Foods; 1 large banana; 2T flax oil or Udo’s Choice||37||65||34.5||719|
|Dinner: 6 oz. grilled orange roughy, 1 c. steamed green beans, spinach salad w/olive oil vinaigrette; 1 c. brown rice pilaf (tsp. of olive oil for cooking); ½ c. sorbet; 1c. fresh pineapple chunks, 1 tsp. fish oil||60||76||21.5||738|
*Increase volume of water-Power Carb-electrolyte solution as needed, depending on duration of training and fluid losses.
Note: pre-, during and post-workout supplements/beverages have been added to the above plan. Although they’re not formal meals or snacks, they still count toward your total calories and macronutrient targets.
Keep a journal. If you're serious about your training, you already keep workout records. If you're serious about your nutrition, you'll do the same for your meals. There are a number of online programs and mobile apps you can use to make this simple, although even pencil-and-paper will do. If you need to tweak your program (and most people do, at some point), your journal will provide you with valuable insights on how to do it.
Keep tabs on your body composition – you want to make sure that you’re not a) gaining body fat; or b) losing lean muscle mass. The simplest and best method is to pick up an inexpensive caliper, Accu-Measure™.
Regularly monitoring your body composition is vital! As noted by researchers Louise M. Burke and Gregory R. Cox:
“The combat athlete should avoid gaining excessive amounts of body fat/weight after a competition or competition season, so that substantial weight loss is required before the next competition phase.”9
Some initial, major adjustments to your weight/body composition may certainly be needed, but you want to avoid repeated, large weight gains/losses (aka “weight cycling”).
Measure your food. The “normal” portions we’re used to eating and drinking have expanded over the years... and Americans have been expanding right along with them! "Portion distortion" is one reason why people fail in their efforts to lose excess fat: they're eating many more calories than they think they are! Take peanut butter for an example: a "serving" is two LEVEL tablespoons. Most Americans use heaping spoonfuls - equivalent to 2 - 3 servings. Even small underestimates, over the course of the day, can add up to a lot of extra calories.
Pack a cooler. There are a lot of simple to prepare-and-eat foods you can take with you to work: sliced pre-cooked meat or poultry, raw veggies/grape tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, rye crispbreads and foil tuna packets are some examples. If you have access to a microwave, you can also bring leftover chili, stew or other entrees from home.
Don’t forget to pack some nutrient-packed snack foods too! Raw (or lightly toasted) nuts/seeds, homemade trail mix, dried fruit, jerky and Lean Body® Bars need no refrigeration and fit easily into a pocket or backpack: perfect for munching on-the-go.
Plan ahead! Meal replacement shakes and bars can be lifesavers when you don’t feel like cooking, but they’re not superior to real food! So simplify your life by prepping certain staples in advance. It's easy, for example, to put together a quick, healthy stir fry, if you have pre-chopped veggies, cooked brown rice and grilled chicken breasts already stored in the fridge or freezer.
Stay well-hydrated. Fluid replacement is a number one priority for combat athletes! Even minimal dehydration can impair your performance significantly. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” set of guidelines, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following10:
On the flip side, it’s wise to not overdo fluid consumption. Overdrinking water, in combination with sodium losses (from sweating) can lead to exercise-associated hyponatremia – a potentially life-threatening condition.11
Limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol is a diuretic and will increase fluid losses. If alcohol is consumed at all, it should be in moderation, and well after (not before) training.
Keep an eye on your intake of iron, zinc and calcium. These micronutrients can be limiting in some athletes’ diets (particularly female athletes). Fortified foods/meal replacement products or supplements can be used IF you’re coming up short.
Note: Iron is easily overdone and should be taken only if a true deficiency exists. Check with your doctor before taking an iron supplement.12
Note: Iron is easily overdone and should be taken only if a true deficiency exists. Check with your doctor before taking an iron supplement.12
While you don’t need a lot of different products, a few, carefully chosen ones can make a big difference to your health and performance.
A well-made MRP can be used as a between-meal snack or as a quick meal-on-the-run. Not everyone has time to prepare 5 - 6 whole food meals each day, so an MRP can be a real life saver.
What makes a good MRP? A lot of commercial products consist of little more than whey protein and maltodextrin. These quickly-digested ingredients have little staying power. The best products, like my Lean Body® formulas, utilize a blend of proteins to provide a steady supply of essential amino acids. They also supply whole grains/fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.
A good anti-catabolic. A lot of trainees focus on muscle protein synthesis (MPS); but when it comes to building muscle, MPS is only half of the story. The other half is reducing muscle protein breakdown! Your muscles are at risk during intense training or competition prep, particularly if you're already on the lean side. High-quality protein provides the building blocks for muscle growth, while a clinically-validated supplement like HICA-Max keeps catabolism muscle breakdown at bay.13
Beta-Alanine. If you compete, then you know that it’s sometimes necessary to cut through the fatigue and tap into a reservoir of maximal strength/power. Beta-alanine can help you find that power!
BA-Endurance™ is 100% pure pharmaceutical grade beta-alanine. It combines with Histidine (another amino acid) in the muscle tissue to increase muscle carnosine stores. Carnosine delays muscle fatigue through its buffering action on acid build-up in muscles.14
Creatine Monohydrate. Creatine monohydrate is the best-studied, most-effective and safest muscle-building supplement on the market. No fighter should be without it. Kre-Alkalyn buffered creatine is the perfect source, as it’s effective in low doses, and possesses none of the side effects (bloating, GI distress) that can accompany regular creatine use. Use it to build mass, increase muscle torque production and sustain higher levels of intensity throughout your workout.
Sorenzyme. Sorenzyme™ is the collaborative effort of Labrada’s Research & Development team and Dr. Mark J. Tallon, a Nutritional Biochemist who is also one of the industry’s leading minds in nutrient metabolism.
Combining two proven systems in immune and inflammatory control resulted in a supplement that was safe, effective, all natural, and the first of its kind in the sports nutrition market to control D.O.M.S. (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).15
A solid joint support formula. The joints of combat athletes take a pounding, so they need all the nutritional support that you can give them.
ElastiJoint® Joint Support Formula is designed for active people who have joint stress, experience joint stiffness due to the natural aging process, or for people who want to do all they can to maintain flexibility. Using ElastiJoint provides the building blocks to maintain healthy joints and connective tissues.
Optional extras... Humanogrowth® naturally supports healthy testosterone levels: a must when you’re under intense training stress. The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) in BCAA Power drink mix can also help prevent muscle breakdown and fatigue, boost muscle protein synthesis, provide fuel, speed recovery, and promote anabolic hormone production. Lastly, use Power Carb to turbo-charge your workouts. Taken just before/during exercise, Power Carb provides you with the energy you need to push through a strenuous session.
You can get it right here! If you hit a stumbling block, have questions or want to share your progress, contact us. We want to hear from you!
Check out the Lean Body Promise, which is packed with motivational tips, recipes, workouts and detailed advice on getting lean and mean. And if you hit a stumbling block, have questions or want to share your progress, log into the forum at labrada.com! We’d love to hear from you!
Harris RC, Jones G, Hill CA, et al. The carnosine content of V Lateralis in vegetarians and omnivores. FASEB. 2007;21:769.20. [Meeting Abstract]
Tom, Teri. Martial Arts Nutrition: A Precision Guide to Fueling Your Fighting Edge. Tuttle Publishing, Vermont, 2009. Print.
Heart.org. “Trans Fats.” American Heart Association, 29 Oct. 2010. 3 Nov. 2011 [Site]
umm.edu. “Omega-6 Fatty Acids.” University of Maryland Medical Center: Complementary Medicine, 17 Jun. 2011. 5 Nov. 2011 [Site]
Burke, Louise M. and Cox, Gregory R. “Nutrition in Combat Sports.” Combat Sports Medicine. Ed. Ramin Kordi, MD, MSc, PhD, Randall R. Wroble, MD, Nicola Maffulli, MD, MS, PhD, FRCS and W. Angus Wallace, FRCS (Ed & Eng), FRCS (Orth). Springer-Verlag London Limited, 2009. p. 1 – 20.
American College of Sports Medicine, Sawka MN, Burke LM, et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Feb;39(2):377-90. [PubMed] [Full Text]
lpi.oregonstate.edu. “Iron.” Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center. Aug. 2009. 2 Jan. 2012.
Derave W, Ozdemir MS, Harris RC, et al. beta-Alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters. J Appl Physiol. 2007 Nov;103(5):1736-43. [PubMed] [Full Text]
labrada.com. “Winning With the Enzymatic Edge.” Labrada Nutrition. 28 Apr. 2006. 29 Dec. 2012.