If you are an MMA or any other fighter, you must maintain a proper diet to stay at the top of your game.
Eating whatever’s left in the fridge or relying on takeaways will only hamper your progress.
You need a diet with adequate nutrition to fuel your body and prepare for your next intense training session.
Not taking care of your diet will only lead to poor performance and low energy and increase the chance of injury.
Keep reading, and I’ll show you how to maintain a healthy diet for a fighter and maximize your performance.
Why taking care of your diet is essential in MMA
Mixed martial arts is an intense combat sport that requires the fighter to take care of their health, nutrition, and training at all times to perform optimally.
I’ve seen it myself. Many MMA fighters are paying top bucks to devise the perfect meal plan.
At the top level, UFC fighters cut weight significantly in the lead up to a cage fight. But they have elite coaches to help them every step of the way.
Although you can go down that route if you want, not every fighter can afford to pay for a nutritionist.
This is where I come in. Stick with me, and I’ll give you some of the best tips to keep your body in fighting shape.
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If you’re a boxer, you can use my boxers diet plan to simplify your daily meal plan. It’s suitable for MMA fighters, too.
First, let’s understand the best food sources for your diet.
Best food sources for an MMA fighter
Regardless of the food you eat, you’ll be getting some form of energy.
Eating the right food will provide more significant health benefits, help your body replenish its power, and improve your performance.
Virtually every MMA professional emphasizes eating a clean diet to excel and keep the body healthy.
Eating healthy means avoiding processed foods. And instead, choose fresh, organic meals packed with essential nutrients.
Before we start digging into what to eat, it is essential to understand that your diet will vary depending on your training routine.
The more intensely you train, the more energy your body requires. Check out my top foods for staying in fighting shape below.
You might have heard people advocating for a low-carb diet for MMA fighters. I am supportive of this way for long-term health.
Still, carbohydrates are important in providing essential energy for explosive cardio needs like fighting.
Carbohydrates are a valuable source of energy for every athlete out there.
Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans are the healthiest sources of carbohydrates.
Here’s a list of carbohydrate-rich food items to include in your diet plan:
- Whole grains (white rice, oats, brown rice)
- Bread (whole grain)
- Sweet potato
- Fruits (Bananas, oranges, apples)
Vegetables are another type of carbohydrate and can be useful to retain a healthy body composition, improve immunity, and help the body recover quickly from muscle strains and injuries.
Here’s a list of vegetables you can include with nutritious properties:
- Butternut squash
- Green beans
Making a smoothie is a great way to get your daily fix of vegetables. You can mix almost any fruit and vegetables, making a nutrient-rich concoction to keep you fueled.
Besides keeping your muscles in good shape and strong, proteins are required for the body for several other metabolic functions.
A high protein diet contributes to overall health markers, as it boosts the body’s ability to heal, rebuild, and recover.
Here are some protein-based food items you should incorporate into your diet:
- Pork loin
- Chicken (breast, thighs)
Most pre-workout meals are loaded with adequate ratios of proteins and carbohydrates to give the body energy for the training session ahead.
The proteins and dairy products you take will provide fat, but it’s not always enough, especially when training hard or preparing for a fighting season.
I’m not a believer in the notion that “saturated fats are evil.” While most will claim that “unsaturated fats” are the healthiest option, I often disagree.
Fats are an essential source of nutrients for the body’s vital functions.
And certain foods that are high in saturated fats provide an incredible boost of nutrients that the body will thrive from. It’s all about picking the most nutrient-dense sources.
Fighters must be mindful that plenty of fat sources can be high in calories, so being particular about your intake is the key. Know your calories.
Here’s a selection of nutrient-dense fats to consider including:
- Butter (100% milk-based), ghee, and tallow (beef fat)
- Greek yogurt
- Dark chocolate
Ideally, an MMA fighter’s meal should contain 50% carbs, 20% protein, and 30% fat.
It’s not necessary to always buy expensive food items like salmon, mushrooms, cheese, etc.
Instead, dedicate time to researching food alternatives that provide the same nutritional value.
Inexpensive meal options include a tuna sandwich, grilled meat, whey protein, and oatmeal with Greek yogurt. And don’t forget to keep the body hydrated at all times.
When devising a meal plan, ensure your pre-workout meals have balanced amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
In contrast, post-workout meals should focus on decreasing dehydration and replenishing the body with energy, essential vitamins, and minerals.
Keep essential salts (electrolytes) in mind, like sodium chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. You can buy electrolyte powders to add to shakes to keep your body’s hydration levels up.
How to calculate your caloric intake
Knowing your caloric intake is crucial when devising a meal plan.
Keeping a record of your calories for at least a week before you start adjusting the meals is usually a good place to begin.
The average of your week’s caloric intake is your maintenance calories.
Knowing your averages allows you to lose weight for boxing or MMA fight swiftly and safely.
Start by calculating your protein intake.
As a general rule of thumb, add 1 gram of protein for each pound of body weight. For example, if your body weight is 200 pounds, add 200g of protein to your meal.
MMA trainers and nutritionists, including me, suggest getting 25% of your total calories from fats. If your total calories per day are 3,000, you need to get 900 calories from fats.
Divide these calories by 9, and you’ll get the amount of fat you need to add in grams.
For example, a daily calorie requirement of 2,500 means 625 calories are needed from fats. Then, divide that by 9, and you’ll get 69g of fats.
You can use food-tracking apps like Cronometer or MyFitnessPal to make this easier.
The rest of your calories will be filled with carbs. Divide the number of calories by 4 to get the number of carbs in grams you will add to your meal.
So when taking off the calories from protein needs and fat needs, you should have a calorie number you can divide by 4 to get your total carb needs in grams.
Again, much easier to use an app to track and keep you honest.
Besides adding these food sources, make sure to provide your body with micronutrients. These micronutrients include vitamins and minerals, which can be taken as supplements or obtained from natural sources like fruits, high-quality dairy, and meats.
A final word on fighter’s diets
Maintaining your diet as an MMA fighter is pretty daunting at first.
Sporting diets are expensive, but keeping your body healthy and full of energy is possible with the right approach.
Hopefully, this article will help you in making the right food choices and fighting your best fight.
The tips are relevant to MMA fighters and boxers. I even have separate advice on how wrestlers can lose pounds overnight if you need to cut weight fast for a competition.
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Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.