Training for the sport of MMA arguably involves one of the most intense and rigorous training regimens in all of sports. Hitting the mats several times per week, even multiple times per day, combined with strength training and cardio and conditioning work means full rest days are few. Without a proper recovery strategy, one can quickly become overtrained, which can lead to a drop in performance level and worse, an increased potential for injury.
Part of a proper recovery strategy is inherent in a good training program, such as stretching and general physical preparation (GPP) methods, which are becoming increasingly popular and, very generally, include various forms of lower intensity training aimed at balancing the basic factors of fitness, increasing work capacity and assisting in recovery. The recovery process also can and should encompass a variety of treatment techniques such as ice/heat, active release techniques (ART) and deep tissue massage.
A crucial, but often overlooked or underutilized facet of a good recovery strategy is post-training nutrition. Ironically, it is also one of the easiest and least time consuming. Recovery begins immediately after a training session is completed. There is a small window of opportunity that must be taken advantage of to kick start the process. Of course, adhering to a proper nutrition plan throughout the entire day is of utmost importance for maximizing performance and recovery and is a necessity to truly excel at any sport, especially one as physically demanding as MMA. But let’s take a closer look at what can be done to take advantage of this post-training window from a nutrition perspective.
Intense training depletes muscle glycogen (stored form of carbohydrates) and breaks down muscle tissue. Longer sessions can also increase cortisol levels (a catabolic hormone). In order for recovery to occur, glycogen stores must be replenished, protein synthesis must be stimulated (for tissue repair) and an anabolic environment must be created.
After training, muscles are primed to absorb nutrients for recovery for up to two hours – this is the aforementioned window. I like to get two feedings into this 2 hour period. The first should occur within 15-30 minutes after a training session to quickly begin replenishing glycogen stores and stimulating protein synthesis for muscle repair. The second should occur within about 1 hour to an hour-and-a-half later to continue the process.
The post-training meal immediately following training should consist of a high quality, rapidly digesting protein source and high-glycemic carbohydrates to ensure rapid uptake of the nutrients. The best option here is a shake containing whey protein isolate and a waxy maize carbohydrate supplement – more on these in a moment. In the absence of waxy maize, any sports drink, such as Gatorade will do. Although these drinks are essentially sugar, they have an added benefit in that they contain electrolytes. It is important to note that no fat should be consumed at this time as it slows the digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Whey protein isolate is a quick digesting protein that supplies all of the critical amino acids including branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s) necessary for optimal recovery. Several recent studies have shown that the BCAA leucine in particular not only has a significant impact on increasing muscle protein synthesis after training, but also has potent fat loss properties and both anabolic and anti-catabolic actions in the body. The obvious question: do you need to add BCAA’s or a leucine supplement? Certainly doesn’t hurt if you have the budget (they can be fairly expensive), but it’s not necessary – spend your money on a high-quality whey isolate which contains an ample supply.
Waxy maize is a high-molecular weight complex carbohydrate that is even more effective than sugar at facilitating rapid glycogen replenishment and nutrient uptake. It does so by clearing the stomach quickly, bypassing digestion and getting into the bloodstream faster than sugar, where it also pulls more water and nutrients with it due to its molecular size.
About an hour later, a mixed solid food meal containing protein (e.g. chicken, fish, red meat), complex carbohydrates (e.g. sweet potato, brown rice, oatmeal) and some healthy fats (e.g. extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, natural peanut butter) should be consumed.
The amount of protein and carbohydrate that should be consumed in the post-training meals is dependent on many factors including gender, weight, metabolism, training volume and intensity and specific goals (examples: adding size or strength, reducing body fat, making weight). As a general rule of thumb, I recommend 30-50 grams of protein and 40-80 grams of carbs for the post-training shake. The second meal an hour later is about the same with the addition of 15 – 25 grams of fat. An individual looking to add weight may require more carbs, while someone needing to lose body fat or a fighter cutting weight may need to significantly reduce the carbs.
The following is a sample post-training nutrition plan for a 180lb-200lb male.
15 minutes after training:
Shake: 40 grams whey protein isolate
60-80 grams waxy maize
1 hour later:
6-8 ounces lean steak
8 ounces sweet potato (or potato)
Large salad with balsamic vinegar and 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
In summary, to maximize recovery from the rigours of your MMA training regimen, don’t miss taking advantage of the post-training nutritional window of opportunity. Make it a habit by regarding your training session as incomplete until you have downed your post-training shake. I guarantee you will feel the results.
CRE8iON Fitness & Wellness Inc.
MMATraining.com recommends the following brands for your post-training shake:
Whey Protein Isolate