MMA Diet On A Budget To Improve Performance


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In the world of Mixed Martial Art, the value of a balanced diet can’t be underestimated. It’s not just all about training. Right nutrients help fighters boost energy, improve endurance, speed up recovery, decrease inflammation, strengthen the immune system and repair muscle tissue.  For this reason fighters spend tons of money in diet to maximize their body.

But you don’t need spend fortune to buy some special expensive organic foods to receive the same nutritious benefits that professional fighters get from their expensive diet.

As a matter of fact, you just need to know what to eat and what to buy from your local grocery stores and they are very affordable. Most likely you already have them in your kitchen.

A List of Foods On A Budget.

Energy Boost

Since carbs are the main source of energy for the body and brain, they are indispensable when it comes to replenishing a fighter’s energy. Here are some suggestions:

  • Oatmeal – the carbs in oatmeal are released slowly, providing consistent energy without the highs and lows that other products high on carbohydrate might produce;
  • Fruits – a great source of energy. Bananas, apples, oranges, watermelon, grapes and other fruits can provide a natural energy spike essential for good athletic performance.
  • Rice bran – nutritious, includes carbs, fiber, and magnesium. Rice bran helps produce glucose that is used as fuel during a fight. 
  • Whole wheat bread – high on carbs, fibers, vitamins, and minerals. Raw bread can store a lot of energy needed for an athlete’s body.
  • Whole wheat pasta – also great for boosting energy, as it contains energy-rich carbohydrates.

Physical Strength – Building and Repairing Muscle

When it comes to building and repairing muscle, proteins are indispensable.

  • Eggs – contain high-quality protein, amino acids (such as leucine – particularly important for muscle gain), healthy fats, and B vitamins.
  • Chicken breasts – high on protein and such B vitamins as niacin and B6 that help achieve optimal muscle gain.
  • Red meat – lean cuts of beef are those with less than 10 grams of total fat
  • Salmon – contains protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and several B vitamins – a nice alternative to meat. 
  • Shrimp – an easy source of muscle-building protein that is low in calories. 
  • Plain Greek yogurt – while all dairy is high in protein, Greek yogurt contains almost double the amount in comparison with the regular yogurt. It is also full of excellent probiotics for your gut health. 
  • Nuts – many types of nuts contain protein and essential vitamins needed for muscle growth. For instance, walnuts are high in protein, as well as contain omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds apart from protein also contain vitamin E, magnesium and phosphorus. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of zinc which also help increases testosterone level.

Stamina and endurance

When it comes to building stamina and endurance, the best choice is foods that contain good complex carbohydrates, fiber, lean protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants. Here are some examples:

  • Barley – complex, slow-burning carbohydrates that provide long-term energy throughout a training session.
  • Oatmeal – helps to boost immune function and heart health;
  • Blueberries – rich in antioxidants that protect against the tearing down and stress during long training sessions. Other fruits that also contain antioxidants are cherries and acai.
  • Almonds and walnuts – contain amino acids needed to rebuild muscle, as well as contain fats that support the cardiovascular system and boost energy levels.
  • Kale – a source of essential vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin A, B6, iron, and lutein that speed up recovery, improve energy flow, and reduce inflammation. Regular consumption of kale and other dark leafy greens helps boost an athlete’s endurance levels.
  • Red peppers – have anti-inflammatory properties, high in antioxidants and Vitamin C that ensures proper blood flow and the health of blood vessels.
  • Chia seeds – nutrient-dense, chia-seeds are high in fiber which supplies long-term hydration and energy for improved performance.
  • Turmeric – helps to ease pain, reduce inflammation, and protect the body from damage, due to the high content of powerful antioxidants.

Recovery

Recovery is essential for MMA fighters to help them maintain their health. According to Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA), food that helps the body to recover should:

  • Be rich in good carbs to replenish muscle fuel stores;
  • Contain lean protein to promote muscle repair;
  • Include a source of fluid and electrolytes to rehydrate effectively.

SDA recommends dairy products that are rich in carbohydrate, protein, fluid, and electrolytes, such as flavored milk, smoothies or fruit yogurt.

Other options may include lean chicken with salad and cheese, lean beef with spaghetti, a small tin of tuna on crackers, fresh fruit salad with Greek yogurt

Supplements

In addition to a healthy diet, fighters can use different supplements to maintain health and top fighting condition.

  • Protein powder – an easy way to obtain additional protein;
  • Glucosamine – can be used in combination with chondroitin sulfate to ease joint pain;
  • L-Glutamine – prevents protein breakdown and improves glycogen synthesis, which helps maintain muscle mass;
  • BCAA powder – branched-chain amino acids help build muscle, reduce workout fatigue and decrease muscle soreness.

Macronutrients vs Micronutrients Explained (Additional Information)

Nutrients can be divided into two categories: macronutrients – protein, carbs, and fat (the body needs them in relatively large amounts); and micronutrients – vitamins and minerals (needed only in small quantities).

Protein (Macronutrients)

The body uses protein to build and repair tissues. To make enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals. Protein is a building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood (Osterweil).Studies show that physically active individuals require more dietary protein that those who don’t lead an active lifestyle (Campbell et al.). 

Many types of food contain protein, for instance, meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, beans, nuts, and whole grains. However, when it comes to protein consumption there are things to remember. Protein consumption should be incorporated into a balanced diet that contains not only proteins but also carbs, fats, as well as vitamins essential for an Fighters’ health. 

It is best to avoid processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausages, and deli meats increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and colorectal cancer (Osterweil).

Protein supplements are considered to be a practical way to ensure a sufficient protein intake for athletes. Types of protein powder include:

  • Whey – contains all amino acids that the body requires. Whey protein is quickly and easily absorbed by the body;
  • Casein – rich in glutamine and amino acid that speed muscle recovery;
  • Soy – an alternative to whey and casein for people who do not consume dairy;
  • Pea – a high-quality alternative to soy- and dairy-based proteins;
  • Hemp – contains essential amino and fatty acids, and can be used by vegans or those with dairy or soy allergies.

Carbs (Macronutrients)

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for our brain and body. When consumed carbs break down into smaller sugar molecules called glucose, which is used for fuel during physical activity during MMA training.

If the body lacks glucose, it starts using other nutrients, such as fat or muscle protein to make energy. The downside is that if proteins are used as fuel, they cannot perform their function of repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue (“Schoolnutritionandfitness”). 

There are three types of carbohydrates found in food (“The Truth About Carbs”):

  • Sugar can be found naturally in fruit and vegetables – sources of vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants (nutrients that help prevent diseases), and are necessary for a balanced diet. Free sugars (those added to food or drinks, such as chocolate, breakfast cereals, biscuits, and fizzy drinks) are best to be avoided. 
  • Starch is found in foods that come from plants, including bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta. These products provide a slow and steady release of energy throughout the day.
  • Fiber can be found in vegetables with skin on, wholegrain bread, whole-wheat pasta, beans, lentils, and brown rice. Fiber contributes to glucose stabilization, helps to control spikes and drops in blood sugar and allows for a more consistent energy supply.

Fat (Macronutrients)

An adequate intake of healthy fats is indispensable for maintaining joint structure, cell membranes, and hormone production. Many vitamins including vitamins A, D, E, and K require fat to be absorbed fully by the body. Since muscle growth is dependent on a fat-based steroid, adequate intakes of fat are needed to build the desired muscle mass (Knox).

Fats can be classified into the following categories:

  • Monounsaturated – avocado, olive oil, nuts, nut butter;
  • Polyunsaturated – vegetable oils, sunflower seeds, flax seeds;
  • Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids – salmon, trout, tuna, seeds, nuts, oil;
  • Saturated – bacon, eggs, beef, pork, butter, cheese; 
  • Trans – fast food, baked goods.

Healthy Fats

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated lower disease risk by decreasing unhealthy LDL cholesterol. Foods with omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are also essential because the body doesn’t make them from other nutrients. While saturated fats have health and body composition benefits, their consumption should be limited to avoid overeating (“Fats And Cholesterol”).

Vitamins And Minerals (Micronutrients)

Micronutrients facilitate the metabolic reactions that help turn food into fuel. Vitamins and minerals play a key role in supporting oxygen transfer and delivery, energy metabolism, and tissue repair. While all vitamins and minerals have a positive effect on the human body, the following eight are crucial for athletes (Angle):

Iron

  • Affects endurance – iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen to muscles, which improves endurance;
  • Sources of iron – red meat, oysters, fish, clams, tofu, lentils, raisins, and white beans.

B Vitamins, such as folate, thiamin, B6, B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, niacin, and riboflavin

  • Play a role in energy production – B vitamins break down carbs into glucose and help process fat and protein;
  • Affect endurance – B12 plays a role in red blood cell production. Because red blood cells remove carbon dioxide from the body and carry oxygen. Athletes with high B12 levels can improve their endurance.
  • Sources of B Vitamins – Chicken, beef, eggs, milk, beans, leafy greens, and whole grains.

Vitamin D and Calcium

  • Both are essential for bone health; calcium also has anti-inflammatory properties;
  • Sources of vitamin D and calcium – most of the dairy products, including cheese, milk, and yogurt. Vitamin D is best absorbed when paired with fat. Therefore, it is recommended to choose a full-fat option of a product high on vitamin D, rather than a fat-free alternative.

Vitamin C

  • Immunity booster. Research shows that long-lasting exercise can have a negative impact on immunity (Diment, et al.);
  • Sources of vitamin C – broccoli, peppers, kiwi, oranges, and yellow bell peppers.

Magnesium

  • Plays a role in nerve and muscle function. Lack of magnesium causes muscles and nerves to become stressed, causing cramping and involuntary spasms;
  • Assists in electrolyte balance, and protein, fat, and carbohydrate synthesis;
  • Sources of magnesium – nuts, seeds, whole grains, and deep-green leafy vegetables.

Potassium And Sodium

  • In combination are responsible for muscle contraction, heart function, and communication between nerves;
  • Restore proper hydration. When exercising athletes loos electrolytes through sweat, which causes fatigue and muscle cramping. Potassium and sodium help to restore fluid balance in the body mitigating these negative effects.
  • Sources of potassium – small white potato with skin on, bananas, oranges, beans, salmon, and milk.
  • Sources of sodium – simply add a dash of salt in your food.

These vitamins and minerals help to optimize an athlete’s performance. Nutritionists advise to consume these nutrients through real-food sources rather than supplements (Angle).

Conclusion

The list of nutrients that affect different functions of an athlete’s body mentioned above is a rough guideline to nutrition for MMA fighters.

To achieve and maintain top condition, fighters need two things: a balanced diet that includes a combination of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, as well as vitamins and nutrients; and clean eating, which implies regular consumption of whole, unprocessed foods.

As long as these two principles are adhered to, a fighter is free to experiment with types of food to find the best combinations that suit him or her best. 

Bibliography

“21 Of The Best Foods For Endurance And Increased Stamina”. Sunwarrior, 2019, https://sunwarrior.com/blogs/health-hub/endurance-boosting-foods. 

“26 Foods That Help You Build Lean Muscle”. Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/26-muscle-building-foods. 

Angle, Sara. “The Vitamins Every Athlete Needs (And No, We’re Not Talking Pills)”. Outside Online, 2018, https://www.outsideonline.com/2270451/vitamins-and-minerals-every-athlete-needs-eat.

Campbell, Bill et al. “International Society Of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein And Exercise”. Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition, vol 4, no. 1, 2007, p. 8. Springer Nature, doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-8.

DIMENT, BETHANY C. et al. “Exercise Intensity And Duration Effects On In Vivo Immunity”. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, vol 47, no. 7, 2015, pp. 1390-1398. Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health), doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000000562.

“Fats And Cholesterol”. The Nutrition Source, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/.

Knox, Sammy. “The Role Of Fat Intake For Athletes – Dynamic Sports Training”. Dynamic Sports Training, 2018, https://www.dynamicsportstraining.com/the-role-of-fat-intake-for-athletes/. 

Leonard, Jayne, and LD Natalie Butler. “Health Benefits Of Protein Powder”. Medical News Today, 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323093.php.

Osterweil, Neil. “The Benefits Of Protein”. Webmd, 2004, https://www.webmd.com/men/features/benefits-protein#1. 

“Recovery Nutrition – Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA)”. Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA), https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/factsheets/fuelling-recovery/recovery-nutrition/. 

Schoolnutritionandfitness.Com, https://www.schoolnutritionandfitness.com/data/pdf/Why_are_Carbohydrates_Important_for_Athletes.pdf. 

“Sports nutrition: the benefits of wholemeal bread in sport”. Technogym – Gym Equipment And Fitness Solutions For Home And Business, https://www.technogym.com/int/newsroom/diet-benefits-wholemeal-bread-sports/.

“The Truth About Carbs”. Nhs.Uk, 2018, https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/why-we-need-to-eat-carbs/. 

Jeff J.

Jeff J is a retired Gunnery Sgt. with the United States Marine Corps and a former Federal Police officer. He was involved with extensive training with weapons systems, and hand to hand combat, mentored and trained hundreds of Marines in high-level fitness programs.

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