Nutrition is seen as a complex thing. There are so many methods and principles that it easy to get confused by all the information that is out there. People know that to become a successful fighter you need to pay close attention to what (and when) you eat.
However simply having ‘good nutrition’ isn’t a sound plan. You need to have a structured plan that caters for your needs (cutting weight, building muscle, losing fat). Also within your nutrition you need have certain priorities that compliment your training and recovery.
Just as in your training, you want to have priorities in your nutrition programme so that you can achieve your maximum potential in the cage, in the ring or on the mat.
When I talk about having good priorities in your nutrition, what I mean is that when you set up a nutritional plan what are the main factors that it will always address?
Speaking to many fighters their priorities look like this,
- Body weight
- Having treats or planned cheats to keep sane.
Does this look familiar?
Generally fighters have to make weight. They have to step on a scale and be a certain weight on a certain day. Not achieving this can lead to loss of earnings, future chances to fight with that promotion and being seen as unprofessional or lazy by other fighters and fans. Because of this it makes sense that this would be the number one concern when it comes to a nutrition plans priorities!
The second is performance. When fighters are in the lead up to a fight they train at a higher intensity more often than normal. Add in the calorie deficit mentioned in the first priority and the stress of having a job, family and friends, can lead to poor performance in the gym and therefore fight night. Because this of this, fighters tend to only focus on what makes them feel good during a camp, allowing them to perform the training required.
The third is treats and planned cheats. Let’s be honest here, most fighters associate a fight camp with being deprived and miserable. They tend to have cheat meals and days that allow them to have the foods that they are missing so that they don’t go mad through the camp.
All of this makes sense right? None of what I have mentioned sounds terrible or detrimental to becoming a better fighter. But is there a better way? Could fighters have better priorities that would not only allow them to function better in that fight camp, but from one fight to the next. Instead of being an athlete that essentially yo-yo diets all the way throughout the year, why not change things around slightly so that not only will things go better in the current camp, but between camps to help over all improvement.
The priorities I use for clients are as follows,
Firstly any nutritional plan must focus on health. It is ridiculous to have a nutritional plan that does not have this as a priority. When the body is healthy it will more easily lose weight or gain muscle as required, handle the demands of fighting better and fight off illness as the body is challenged by the increased intensity of training. When health is addressed over all the body will transition between fight camps better with less aches, pain and injuries.
The second priority is performance for many of the same reasons that were listed above. Training performance is one of things that cannot be compromised during a fight camp. It is this training and the recovery from that training that improves you as a fighter. If your nutrition does not allow you to train at your very best, you will spend more time trying to survive the intense sessions rather than implementing your game plan and the techniques that you are working on.
Your nutrition must fuel your training without leaving you full and bloated. It must also allow your to recover optimally between sessions. Not so that you just recover, but also that you improve and grow all the way into a fight. There is no better feeling than getting faster, stronger and more technical all the way up to a fight.
The third is body weight. Many coaches in other fields will often say that you should not focus on the number on the scale when implementing a sound nutrition plan. While they are right for most sports and trying to get in shape, this does not apply to fighters. Fighters have to compete in weight classes and therefore body weight must be a factor in any plan. Managing body weight successfully (in the off season as well as a fight camp) is easy and effective without compromising the other two priorities of a great nutrition plan.
When you have a great nutrition plan that addresses all the right priorities then you will find that your training, and therefore your performance, will go to the next level. Think of fighting as a sports car. Your body is the Ferrari, the training is the driver. The nutrition is the petrol. You can have the greatest car and driver in the world, but if you don’t have the right fuel, you’re not going anywhere fast!
It is worth noting that the priorities of a plan can change slightly throughout a camp. For example as the fight gets nearer then body weight becomes a slightly larger priority. However if you have managed your nutrition correctly all the way through the camp then this will not be a large shift.
If you are not sure about how to set up a well balanced nutrition plan with the fight priorities that fit your specific needs, please speak to your coach or consult a professional. Leaving your nutrition to chance is like expecting to magically learn a technique without anyone showing you it. People make that guess and live to regret it.
Having the correct priorities from the start will make the whole process seem easy and give you the greatest possible results come fight day!