Boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) are among the most intensive, all-round sports you can become involved in. You are required to perform with high intensity, and for extended periods of time, ducking, diving, punching, grappling and kicking with speed, power and flexibility all the while… And you might take a beating into the bargain! In addition to that, you need to reach a particular weight bracket to compete at your desired level.
What you put in to your body before, during and after training and competing therefore becomes very important, and you can adjust and adapt the following guidelines according to your level, and which level you want to be at.
The nutrition section applies more generally, but supplements are more specific as a foot-up to your particular goals. It is a good idea to experiment in a controlled environment, where you can measure the effects of certain supplements and see which is best for your unique body.
Diet for Boxing & MMA
Getting your “meat and two veg” three times a day should be your rule of thumb. If you can, a different kind of meat and different vegetables for each meal is the gold standard. You can add in starchy carbohydrates if you want as well, but bear in mind that every carbohydrate molecule is broken down by the body into sugars, which your body either uses for immediate energy, or which is stored as fat.
If you are training twice a day with a morning run and an afternoon or evening gym session, it is likely that lean meats are going to sit with your digestion system much better. The finest of these are fish, chicken and other white meats. In terms of protein per 100g, fish comes out as a clear winner (especially tuna, salmon, halibut and snapper with 26g of protein per 100g serving) and chicken breast weighs in at 18.3g of protein per 100g serving.
Fish provides additional benefits such as being rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential for a healthy heart. Beef and pork will provide you with more protein per 100g (36g and 30g respectively) but you might want to time your consumption well to avoid feeling heavy before a tough session. You can of course replace the meat part of a meal with eggs, which will also give you a healthy boost of protein (in many languages, such as German and Polish, the word for protein is literally “egg white” – Eiweiss and białko respectively). Consider only eating the egg whites (the part with the protein), or only using the yoke from two eggs per serving.
Vegetables will be your main source of vitamins and minerals, which will aid your recovery and overall good health. Here are a few solid guidelines when selecting and serving your vegetables: the more colorful, the better (the reddest tomatoes, the greenest peppers, the eggplants with the deepest purple); if you are not adding starch to your meal, ensure that the portion of vegetables takes up two thirds of the plate, and one half if adding starch; variety is key – different vegetables have different vitamins and minerals which work together to optimize your health.
I personally opt for a low-carb and high-protein diet, but this may not suit everybody, depending on your training goals. If you want to add carbohydrates for that fast energy and to bulk up (though not necessarily a good thing for fighters!), then keep it low-GI and simple: rice, brown pasta, quinoa, oats and the like. Avoid sugary drinks (including fruit juice), sweets and chocolate, unless it is at least 85% cocoa.
Make sure you stay hydrated, but listen to your body – don’t drink too much water, either! Bear in mind that the recommended water intake per day (2 liters, half a gallon) is not just pure water, but water contained in foods and other liquids, such as coffee. Listen to your body and observe your urine: if it is dark and with a powerful smell, you are not taking in enough water.
Supplements for Boxing & MMA
There is a bewildering array of supplements available for you to peruse and consume, and you could write an entire book on the subject. I will give you a run-down of the best and most effective kinds of supplements for your fighting purposes. It is recommended that you experiment with these under controlled conditions, that is to say that the effects are recorded, and any undesired side-effects prevented.
BCAAs are branched-chain amino acids, and these are the building blocks of protein in your body, required for protein synthesis (muscle building and recovery). These are essential (in that your body cannot produce them itself) and they can be bought in powder or tablet form in order to supplement the BCAAs you get from meat. A 5g powder portion mixed with water is recommended before working out, followed by whey protein powder after the workout to help maximize recovery. For more info, check out C. Platell et. al., Branched-chain amino acids, Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology (2000) 15, 706-717.
Whey protein is the cheapest and most-tested protein and muscle building products available. It contains the protein your body needs to recover and to build muscle, and includes BCAAs for you to consume after your workout. As a fighter, you will want to consume about 1.5–2.0 g of protein per kg of body weight, and perhaps more if you are looking to gain weight. There is increasing evidence that increased protein consumption can also help burn fat. For more info, check out J.R. Hoffman and M.J. Falvo, Protein – which is best?, Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2004), 3, 118-130.
Caffeine has been shown to increase your power and your reaction time. The concentration of serotonin increases in the brainstem regions, increasing the spinal motor neurons. This fires up the skeletal muscle motor neurons, which leads to more efficient use of the energy you have put in and lower levels of exertion. Take about 3-6 mg / kg of body weight before training or competing and see if there is a difference for you.
If you are a coffee drinker already, you will probably prefer the higher end of the dosage. Be careful, since high doses of caffeine can send you to the bathroom quickly!
This a buffering agent to prevent your blood’s pH level from dropping to acidic levels when lactic acid is produced. Take about 25g, but you may suffer side effects (such as nausea and diarrhea), in which case it is not recommended to take thereafter. It is also super cheap, and you probably recognize the name from the baking section at the supermarket!
Creatine monohydrate is excellent stuff for putting on muscle. Take about 3-5g a day, and even mix it with your whey protein shake. You might see very quick weight gains, which is great if that is what you want, but be careful if you have to maintain a certain weight category. For the science part, check out T. Buford et. al., International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2007, 4:6.
This is to prevent loss of muscle mass when taking part in high-intensity exercise that is demanded by boxing and MMA, and can help you to drop body fat and retain lean muscle. It is recommended to use this when you are just starting or when you are restarting after a break. For more info, check out J.M. Wilson et. al., International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013, 10:6
There is an enormous amount of information regarding nutrition and supplementation out there, but if you follow some simple guidelines, things become much easier: make meat and vegetables the focus of your meals, and start to experiment with different supplements to reach your fighting fitness, allowing you to recover, boost up and give your best.