This is part one of our Performance Series. This series will cover nutrition, hydration, and recovery.
In order to maximize your time in the gym, which includes not only the results of your training, but the quality of your training, how much technique you can absorb and how well you are performing each technique, you need to also be focused on the quality of your life outside of the gym. A big component of this is your nutrition. Alongside nutrition as an important factor, hydration, sleep and recovery are the top contributors to your performance. Of course you can always do extra cardio, strength training, etc., but you wouldn’t be maximizing those efforts by eating or sleeping poorly.
As a fighter myself, there are two different ways I approach eating and nutrition. There’s a period of a few weeks or months before a fight where I have to diet down to a certain weight, then cut the remaining weight in water the week of the fight. Sometimes this can be an extreme process depending on how much weight one needs to lose to make their desired weight class. In this article, we will not be touching on this type of eating. Instead we will focus on optimizing nutrition for everyday training sessions, so that you have the maximum amount of energy in order to perform your best.
What to Avoid
This is a general rule of thumb for living an overall healthy lifestyle and can apply to any athletic endeavor you’re pursuing: avoid processed foods and refined sugars. Why is it so important? Well your body needs a nutrient dense and balanced diet in order to perform at its best. Your body takes more energy to breakdown processed foods and eating/drinking too much refined sugars can cause energy crashes after an initial blood sugar spike.
One thing I will talk about later in this series is magnesium. Magnesium is required in many bodily systems and a lack of magnesium can cause a wide range of symptoms which can be neurological, muscular and metabolic among others. Foods with high sources of magnesium include dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, as well as fish. If you’re not eating nutrient dense foods, then it’s likely you are not getting all the nutrients your body needs to optimally perform all bodily systems.
Now let’s dive more into how to give your body the right energy for training. Muay Thai and Boxing are primarily anaerobic activities. This means that your body needs glycogen, which is stored in your muscles and liver. The more intense an activity is, the more glycogen will be depleted from your muscles.
Keeping your blood glucose levels stable during training is also an important factor. Low blood glucose can also have an effect on your mental state. Have you ever felt dizzy, unexplainably weak, and maybe looked a little pale during or after a hard training session? If yes, then you probably have experienced exercise-induced hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Now this problem can be prevented by ensuring you have both readily available glucose and stored glycogen in your liver and muscles for your body to use as energy. This is done by having an adequate intake of carbohydrates!
Yes, you should eat carbs if you want to perform well during a high energy demanding sport like Muay Thai and Boxing. An intake of carbohydrates before, during and after training sessions will help your overall performance. Ingesting carbohydrates before training can help ensure you have readily available glucose as well as stored glycogen. Ingesting a liquid carbohydrate during training can help maintain blood glucose levels, and ingesting carbohydrates after training will help replenish what you lost during that session.
Now the type of carbohydrates you eat can have a big impact. You want to primarily ingest unrefined complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates may be consumed immediately after your training session since it can be quickly absorbed, helping you recover faster. In this meal, try to avoid too much fat and fiber which can slow down the absorption.
I personally break the rule on refined carbohydrates by eating white rice. I am a Pacific Islander that grew up eating rice at least three times a day. That changed when I moved to Texas (13 years ago), but since coming back from a recent trip to Thailand, I’ve reintroduced it back into some of my meals. Everybody is unique. Sometimes certain complex carbohydrates are harder to digest, so in this case it’s ok to opt for an easier to digest carbohydrate, as long as you’re eating it in smaller portions along with protein, fats, and fiber.
Timing your meals correctly will help you maximize your body’s use of the nutrients you ingest and can reduce gastric distress during training. Always opt for smaller portions if you’re eating 1-3 hours before training and take note of what foods help you feel best and what foods cause any stomach discomfort.
You want to aim to eat post training within 1 – 2 hours. This will help restore the lost glycogen from your session to help you recover faster for the next training session!
Let me give some examples (and inspiration) for you to get started. Macronutrient needs (protein, fat and carbohydrate) will differ depending on your activity level, training goals and body type.
Breakfast/Snack (1-3 hours before training):
- Slice of whole wheat toast topped with almond butter and slices of banana. Sprinkle with chia seeds and hemp seeds.
- 2 eggs scrambled with bell pepper and broccoli. Slice of whole wheat toast with grassfed butter.
- Small bowl of oatmeal with a tablespoon of almond butter, cinnamon, chia seeds and hemp seeds with blueberries and/or strawberries.
- Broiled chicken thighs with a side of kale sauteed with red wine vinegar and a small scoop of white rice.
- Whole wheat or quinoa pasta with ground turkey meat sauce, made with bits of carrots, bell peppers, and zucchini.
- Roasted sweet potatoes, baked chicken breast and green beans.
- Chicken soup with lots of veggies and a scoop of white rice.
- Sweet potato shepherd’s pie.
- Thai red curry with white rice.
** Depending on my training that day, I reduce or cut out my carbohydrate intake at night, usually during my cutting phase. **
Moderation and Necessity
Like I noted above, I vary my carbohydrate intake depending on my activity level for the day. There is an upper limit on how much glycogen your body can store. When your glycogen stores are filled, your body will then store excess glucose in fat cells. If you want to dive deeper into calculating how much carbohydrates you should be ingesting, you can use this TDEE Calculator (total daily energy expenditure) to get a breakdown based on your height, weight, age and activity level.
My next post will be all about hydration, and how important it is for your performance in training!!
Human Kinetics – Carbohydrate intake during exercise
Glycogen Replenishment After Exhaustive Exercise
Understanding Glycolysis: What It Is And How To Feed It
Timing is Everything: Why the Duration and Order of Your Exercise Matters
Ketogenic Diet Resource – Why We Get Fat