The Basics - Nutrition and Jiu Jitsu
Mike Leng is the Managing Director of Unorthodox Nutrition.
Unorthodox Nutrition has been helping athletes for over 10 years perform to their best via evidence based nutrition. Mike's clients include UFC Fighters, Premier League footballers, Olympians, IBJJF World Champions, Polaris Champions and many more.
In this guest blog series on nutrition, Mike lays out the importance of nutrition and how you can maximise your performance for your particular goals.
There is a great saying “A man who understands principles can pick his own methods”.
Never has there been a time when people with solid Nutritional principles will make progress that is leaps and bounds above their competition. At a time when most peoples regime is Netflix and pizza instead of Training and Nutrition, it is those that use principles that will return to the mats and co petition the strongest.
The problem these days is that everyone is trying to sell you methods and not principles. Pretty much all of the diet plans that are popular at the moment (intermittent fasting, fasting, paleo, keto, low carb, IIFYM, carnivore etc) are just methods. Tools in a tool box to be used at the right time, with the right people (some of them never, with zero people). However, some of these plans don’t even have good priorities, never mind principles.
Everything we do must have priorities. Without them we simply get lost and spend our time stumbling around in the dark without really achieving anything.
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 BJJ fighters their priorities look like this,
- Body weight
- Having treats or planned cheats to keep sane.
Does this look familiar?
Generally BJJ 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 the primary 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 competing 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. If you don’t compete, focus on the mirror and the tape measure.
So how do those priorities fit in with a diets principles? Should dieting even be a priority?
To be honest there are not many bad reasons to diet (as long as you do it the right way). Every athlete would always be better with a little less fat and a bit more muscle. Excess body weight serves no purpose in combat sports in my opinion. There is an argument that could be made for more leverage in certain moves or feeling stronger, however I have often found that it is over weight athletes who are making it. I have never spoke to a single person, athlete or otherwise, that didn’t feel a hell of a lot better by getting in shape.
The problem comes on how to do it right.
Now when people say ‘diet’ they generally mean a nutrition plan of some description. Now this can be to lose weight, lose fat, gain muscle or just look after your health. The problem comes when people are looking to start they get absolutely bombarded with a million different types of diet, all claiming that their way is the best way to do things and all others are rubbish.
This simply isn’t true.
Remember that all successful and sound diets must follow a few basic principles in order for them to be successful.
In this series I will give a look into what you should be focussing on and how to do it in order to return back to the mats healthy, and a better BJJ Athlete.