Fighting is an extremely demanding physical sport. Practice expends copious amounts of energy from the body. A fighter will spend 2 hours a day in the gym focusing on fighting skill development and various other developmental modalities such as free weights and cardio. It should be not surprise then that the nutritional requirement for a fighter from day to day needs to quite substantial in order to support such a demand.

On average, calorie expenditure for a MMA fighter during practice will be 900-1000k cal/hour. Considering practice lasts approx 2hrs this equates to 1800-2000k cal per practice session. Let us also consider the average fighters BMR (aka basal metabolic rate, which is energy expended by the body at rest to maintain normal bodily functions such as organs function, respiration etc.) to be approx 2000kcal/day. Let us also make room for the activities of daily living outside of the gym a fighter may have and it is fair to say that the average calorie requirements for a fighter training 2hours a day will be between 4500-5000k cal/day.

This average does not take into account the issue of designated weight categories. If a fighter needs to bump their weight up to get in a heavier class they would need to increase the calories consumed accordingly while a fighter looking to go down a class would need to decrease their consumption accordingly while not sacrificing their muscle tissue and strength. It is optimal as we will discuss later to maintain this maximal power to weight ratio.

The question of concern for this article then is how to meet such requirements. It is highly recommended in this scenario that a fighter keep track of calories consumed. A daily journal/calorie tracker should be kept to ensure the fighter stays on point with their calorie intake demands.

Getting 4500-5000k cal/day into the body takes effort and diligence if a fighter wants to be at their best. This massive calorie allowance should not be viewed as a license to eat whatever you want. High quality macronutrients need to be the focus. This includes high quality protein sources preferably not in powder or bar form, but from high quality animal, nut and plant sources. Supplements tend to be highly processed, overly hyped and priced, sugary substitutes for good quality foods. Even the quality of your meats, nuts, and plant products should be considered. If we want to build high quality, strong tissue in the body we need high quality healthy food. Choose organic, free range sources whenever possible as they lack antibiotics, hormones and harmful chemical residues which can cause harm within the body. We expand more on protein in articles to come.

Carbohydrates should be consumed as vegetables, fruits, and high quality gluten free grains. This is an extremely important macronutrient for fighters. Much of the demands imposed during a fight require energy from this source. Quick powerful movements required throughout the fight require the fighter to ensure that the stores of this energy source by maximized. This maximum storage potential is approx 2000kcal at any given time. This varies from individual to individual but this article only seeks to provide a general guideline. These include organic corn, rice, millet or buckwheat products. Use these in place of highly processed products such as multigrain breads, and wheat pastas. These products contain chemical residues, gluten, and many other non-foods that can actually harm the digestive system and decrease your health and vitality. As a test, eliminate all grains in the body for 2weeks, then try out the suggested alternatives and you decide how you feel. This topic will also be expanded on in later articles.

Lastly, high quality fats need to be considered. They pack a considerable amount of calories per gram (1gram=9calories). This is a great way to pack in calories as long as the source of fat is considered. This macronutrient is also important for the fighter to have during long duration practice sessions and fights because it serves as an energy supply at these times. Although we carry sufficient amount of adipose at most times, we also need fat intake more healthy cell/tissue maintenance. Remember, strong cells make healthy tissues which make for a stronger more vital athlete. The saturated fat in meat sources such as beef or chicken thighs etc is highly desirable to the body since much of our cell structure is composed of saturated fat. High quality fish oils, fatty fish, organic butter, are just a few other easily obtainable and beneficial fats sources a fighter should have in their corner.

As mentioned before, sugary processed foods should not be part of a fighter’s diet, or for that matter anyone’s diet. These include processed supplements, highly processed grain and dairy products, and sugary drinks. The effects it has on ones insulin causes poor concentration, compromised muscle repair, performance, and body fat storage to name just some. It is imperative that a fighter get calories from the aforementioned macronutrients in order to perform at their very best.

So to summarize:

  1. It is important as a fighter to recognize the need for calorie intake especially during training days. These days require an additional average of 2000kcal/day when training with 2hour regimes on top of a fighters individual BMR and activity of daily living calorie requirements.
  2. When working to move up or down in weight class a fighter must adjust their intake accordingly. Generally a deficit or surplus of 500kcal/day will produce a 1lb loss or gain over the course of a week. A greater deficit or surplus will not produce a more desirable effect but can increase body fat percentage and or decrease lean muscle mass which will decrease the power to weight ratio of a fighter.
  3. Calories should come from high quality macronutrients such as free-range, organic meat products, and organic vegetable and fruit products. This also goes for fat intake as well.
  4. Protein for a fighter should also follow a guideline of approx 2.1-2.5 grams per kg of body weight depending on the intensity of exercise. Generally I would say this is high but given the duration and intensity of practice, and the massive calorie requirements needed to sustain weight or increase weight this is logical. On average protein intake for a fighter should reflect 25-35% of their meal intake.
  5. Carbohydrates as mentioned before are an extremely valuable macronutrient. They provide the fuel for quick, explosive dynamic movement. Generally, the body can store 1300-2,100kcal within the skeletal muscle and liver at one time. Keeping intake in these structures maximized helps a fighter power through their intense fights and high intensity training sessions. Again, ensure the quality of the intake is high. Fruits, vegetables, and organic gluten free grains provide your body with the energy it needs without harming your digestive system and vitality. It also provides the fiber needed to assimilate and digest the massive amounts of food a fighter has to intake. These can compromise 50-65% of your total intake due to the rate at which you burn it as fuel. They should make up the majority of a fighters nutritional intake.
  6. Finally fats provide a great long term reserve fuel source. They are also important for cell structure and maintenance. They provide a whopping amount of calories per gram and are a great way to meet ones caloric needs. Taking in 50-100grams of good quality fats such as fish oils, butter, nuts in combination with your meals will provide you with good nutrition and approx 500-750kcal.
  7. Avoid synthetic supplements and processed food. There synthetic ingredients and chemical residues do very little for the body and can harm the digestive system ultimately decreasing ones overall vitality. This is not to say that there is no such thing as a good supplement, but effort should be made to carefully understand what is being taken into the body. As a general rule of thumb, if you cannot pronounce it or spell it probably does not belong there. Future articles will expand on this topic as it can be a lengthy one that it out of the scope of this article.

Terry Donaldson