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Fighting Fit Nutrition For Martial Arts

29th July 2015

Fighting Fit Nutrition For Martial Arts
Donald Gordon (3rd Dan) is an exercise specialist and nutritional expert with a background in supporting the performance of martial artists, health and fitness top professionals. As well as fitness and weight loss advice to the public who look to improve their well-being, Don has also worked with top-performing athletes including England Karate International and European Kata Champion Emma Lucraft, Alton Brown and Daniel Hollister from the England Karate Team and Greg Francis, ex-assistant England Karate Coach.

In this article, Don explains the important elements to consider for balancing nutrition with the demands of martial arts training, both for amateurs and professionals.

Combat Sports - Karate , Jujitsu, MMA, Judo, Boxing

Thinking about what's best for your sport when it comes to what you eat and drink can be a nightmare.

How do you solve the juggling act of climate, season, intensity, recovery, food intolerances, making the weight - you get the picture?

So I thought I would have a stab and chunk it down to make it a little easier to swallow.

Top down or bottom up - some people get so tense and nervous before competition they find it hard to tolerate anything solid. What to Do?

Fuel ...Refuel...Repair and Recover

Most importantly, you have to do something to fuel up for what you do?

If you are a power athlete your requirements are going to be different to that of an endurance athlete or long distance runner. If you are in a combat sport such as MMA or boxing the body basically gets battered and that takes a whole lot of repair and recovery.

Whatever the scenario you need the right sort of fuel to sustain activity whatever your particular session is and the right sort of nutrients to effect cellular recovery and repair once you have finished.

Combat sport is a multifaceted discipline requiring great power to weight ratio, endurance, explosive speed, agility and fitness as well as sustained mental focus and flexibility.

This presents many nutritional challenges along with standard preparation and training questions like; How long? How far? How intense? and what are the conditions, hot, cold, humid etc.

All these variables are common to most sporting activities but at risk of stating the obvious, competing in Far- East is not the same as the UK.

When I went to a training camp in Japan with the England Karate Squad in 2009 the humidity was around 68 percent and as soon as you started a warm-up the lungs were saying"hold on a minute son" you get the picture. The conditions and environment were different. Hydration was a big issue and subsequently so were minerals lost in sweat (electrolytes) magnesium, sodium, calcium and chloride.

For competition your preparation will be different to your regular training because the environment, duration and intensity will vary.

In competition Karate or Jujitsu you will only be competing in 3-4 minute rounds and may only have two or three fights on one day, as opposed to perhaps training for 1-2 hours.

Alternatively, you might have to be up and down all afternoon or morning depending upon how far you progress in a competition?

If you are an MMA or cage competitor, it may just be one title fight with a number of rounds against one opponent? Each scenario presents different challenges from a nutritional perspective.
The four phases mentioned in the headline gives us a basic outline to follow

Fuel/ Refuel
Carbohydrate is the body's primary source of fuel but NOT ALL carbs are the same or have equal value. Certainly if you are looking to 'make the weight' for a specific category, limiting carbohydrate intake, as well as the timing is equally important. The body can also use fat for fuel, which is great if fat loss is your goal.

A good example of a complex carbohydrate would be rough cut porridge outs - this helps give a sustained energy release, regulates blood sugar and reduces bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. If you are training for longer than an hour then the addition of naturally occurring sugars in apple, banana or handful of mixed berries would provide extra re-fuel. Nuts, pumpkin seeds or a little dried fruit can be added later in the day to 'top up' energy reserves for example.

Similarly extra fluids, in the form of electrolyte drinks, or 'energy drinks' with minimal carbohydrate might be used. This is the pre and during exercise phase.

Repair/ Recovery

Repair and recovery might be considered the post exercise phase - the repair component taking place within thirty minutes of finishing activity sometimes referred to as the 'window of opportunity 'and the recovery within two hours of completed your session.

The thinking behind the repair phase lies with the delivery mechanism of nutrients via the bloodstream being able to supply the cells muscles and organs at an optimum time, particularly if it is in liquid form making it more bio-available.

This primarily requires protein in the form of amino acids, as well as carbohydrate vitamins and minerals, followed by a main meal to restore muscle and liver glycogen (energy bank) reserves. That said this phase is a constant 24/7 process where regular training and competition continues five to six days per week throughout a season.

A typical example of a recovery meal would be salmon with sweet potato, broccoli green beans and carrots and side salad. Other lean proteins include venison and turkey.

Specific amounts of carbohydrate and protein can be calculated based upon body weight and type of activity. Government guidelines for energy consumption of Carbohydrate, Protein and Fats (macro nutrients) vitamin and mineral intakes (DRV) Daily reference values (RDI) (RDA's)Reference Daily Intakes or Allowances would not be considered suitable as a guide for combat athletes given the elevated levels required.

For combat sports there are varying degrees of impact (aside from the usual oxidative stress) leading to grazing, bruising, inflammation and free radical activity. This requires extra levels of key repair nutrients and antioxidants such as; Vitamins A, C, E, zinc, selenium, magnesium, Co Q10 Alpha lipoic acid. Numerous scientific studies suggest these along with Creatine and Branched chain amino acids (BCAA's) Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine, all play key roles in the repair and recovery process.

Whey protein is a good source and can contain up to 24% BCAA's. They are thought to suppress protein breakdown, helping to protect against muscle damage and soreness after exercise. Although BCAAs only make up about 14-18% of muscle protein they are particularly important for protein synthesis and have been found to spare muscle glycogen, which can support performance and recovery. For anyone interested in this particular area I suggest reading some material from my friend UK Athletics and World Cup winning Rugby nutritionist Matt Lovell.

Additionally essential fatty acids (EFA's) for gut health and cell functioning.

In addition co-factor enzymes and B group vitamins are also essential for energy production, immune function and detoxification pathways which help to remove waste products such as lactic acid.

One of the questions I am most often asked is"Why do I need to take supplements when I have a good diet?" The answer is simply this"What if the nutrients that you need are not present in the food you eat in the first place?

One major study has shown that the levels of minerals in the ground have depleted by as much as 20 to 90 percent in some cases since the 1940's to 2002. (Nutrition and Health, 2007, Vol 119, pp21-55). So you may think that by getting your 5-8 portions of fruit and veg a day you are getting all you need, yet given this statistic, along with exposure to harmful chemicals, radiation and transportation nutrients are definitely being compromised.

As a result a good broad spectrum multivitamin is definitely worth considering.

Top Ten Tips for Improving Martial Arts Performance

1. Plan ahead and supplement wisely...quality matters
2. Eat clean, minimise toxins and processed foods, think fresh organic,
3. Good quality fibre - legumes, pulses, raw veggies
4. Essential fatty acids for nerve, cell and tissue function - flax seed or fish oil, oily fish
5. Complex carbohydrate - include whole grain- quinoa, millet, oats ,chia
6. Lean proteins- turkey, venison, eggs
7. Functional fats - coconut, avocado
8. Eat a rainbow eat - plenty of variety colour matters, high in anti -oxidants and phyto -nutrients
9. Avoid too much wheat or dairy which are known to have allergenic qualities.
10. Include 'live' greens in juices/probiotics for digestive function intestinal and colon health.

To your success!

For more information, advice, consultation or personal training in Romford, Essex visit EliteWellness and get in touch with Don.

Don Gordon is the author of a new book Seven Ways to Tackle Type 2 Diabetes by Donald Gordon.

"A hugely supportive and informative book" Personal Trainer magazine.