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A Boxers Guide to Nutrition and Diet

Just as there are many approaches to working your fighting skills into peak condition, there are many approaches to fuelling your efforts.

Some may suggest a keto diet, vegan diet, or other trending eating approaches. Still others keep it simple with a "see food" diet (you "see" food, and you eat it!).
And of course, there are those who say it doesn't matter, and if it's fast food, beer, and soda that you prefer, so be it! It's all fuel.

But no matter the approach you take, a few things are certain: Not everyone has the same physiological makeup, not everyone likes eating the same foods, and your ability to put on or remove weight can be directly affected by the types of foods you eat. You also need to factor in changing needs for recovery during intense training, pre-fight nutrition for energy, and adjusting your diet for off-season or rest periods.

That, and what's your budget like? Not everyone can afford to eat like a Hollywood celebrity, although this doesn't mean you can't eat a healthy diet without spending an arm-and-a-leg.

Here are some suggestions on nutrition and diet for optimum performance in the ring.

Does it Matter What You Eat? 

You've probably heard it before, and you're likely going to hear it again (and again, and again…): Your body is a temple, and you are what you eat.

Taking this into consideration, think about what it is that you're looking for in the ring. Is it more power? Better stamina? Is it increased fast-twitch quickness and punching speed you're after?

Now think about things in terms of how you would approach this were you racing a car or moto. Would you stick with the cheapest grade petrol and whatever oil happens to be slippery?

No, probably not, since as any good mechanic can tell you, what you put into an engine can have nearly as much effect on high-end performance as engine design does. It can also help increase the longevity of the motor and reduce things like carbon buildup and other performance-robbers.

And this also holds true for you. For instance, a diet high in the wrong kinds of fats, too much salt, and loaded with simple sugars is ultimately going to leave you feeling sluggish and unfocused. It's also likely to make you more susceptible to injury and make it harder to control your weight thanks to inflammation. This has a lot to do with the buildup of free radicals, which are your body's equivalent to carbon buildup in an engine and are usually enhanced through poor diet.

But, by sticking with quality foods that aren't overly processed or nutritionally unbalanced, you're going to look, feel, and FIGHT your best!

 Revving up the Protein

Let's start with the obvious fact that developing dense, powerful muscle requires protein. This may come in the form of poultry, beef, pork, fish, eggs, or even vegetarian sources for some.

For most combat athletes in the thick of their training, this means around 1.2 – 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. Yes, this may fluctuate depending on your age, gender, and health conditions (kidney problems, for instance, can inhibit how much protein can be safely consumed each day), though for an athlete performing 3-or-more fast twitch workouts per week, this is the standard rule.

This number may go down during non-peak training periods, which makes perfect sense since the amino acids that make up proteins are also the building blocks of muscle. When you're not building muscle, you don't require the materials to do so. This may mean reducing your protein intake to around a gram per kilo of bodyweight each day for muscle maintenance.

Remember that while it may make sense to just keep pounding the protein no matter what, too much protein (think more than 35% of your daily calories) can cause elevated levels of urea, ammonia, and amino acids in your bloodstream. This is a condition known of as "protein poisoning," and can include symptoms such as:

- Low blood pressure
- Fatigue
- Food cravings
- Headache
- Nausea

Granted, an imbalance of any macronutrient is not recommended, so keeping your macros even throughout all stages of your training is important. According to the Institute of Medicine, this means a diet of 20-35% fats, 45-65% carbohydrates, and 10-35% proteins.

Another thing to consider is the vegetarian or vegan diet. While you can safely train and compete under such a diet, it is recommended that you consider becoming a "lacto-ova" vegetarian to include eggs and dairy. Otherwise, you need to be careful to include multiple sources of plant protein to cover all 9-essential amino acids (the ones you can only get from the foods you eat), since few vegetables contain all of them.

Vitamin B12 is something else to consider with a vegan diet since it needs to come from an animal source.

Yes, you can supplement B12, but then again, you're a fighter. Eat some meat (or at least eggs and dairy)!

Plus, eggs and dairy can be a great source of good fats.

Slipping the Right Fats into Your Diet 

There was a time when conventional wisdom had us thinking that all fat was bad, and that there was little room for it in an athlete's diet.

That, and consuming fat will make you fat, which is far from the truth.

What science now tells us is that fats are an essential part of anyone's diet, and even more so for top-performing combat athletes. Not only is fat a fuel that can literally keep you running for the long haul (ask any ultra runner what they burn!), it's also necessary in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, clear thinking, joint health, and (drum roll please), the production of hormones, including androgens such as testosterone (crash cymbal!).

And remember how we used to think eating fat makes us fat? Well, it seems that fat contains a certain protein called leptin, which signals the brain to suppress your appetite, increase your energy use, and…help you burn fat.

Interesting, huh?

But this doesn't mean that piling on just any old fat is a good idea, since there are many kinds of fat. For instance, while fat from grass fed beef typically contains a healthy balance of omega 3-6-9's which together fight inflammation, keep your brain healthy, and keep your joints smooth and pain-free, the fat from grain fed cattle typically has an imbalance in favour of omega 6's, which leads to inflammation, decreased energy, and poor mental focus. This is also the kind of fat that clogs arteries, raises blood pressure, and stops tickers from ticking, which alone should be reason enough to consume it only in moderation.

In fact, let's consider one of the reasons that cattle are fed a grain diet to begin with: to fatten them up!

But getting a healthy mix of omega 3-6-9's means you're getting what your body needs to perform at its best. This can come from grass fed meats and dairy, eggs, cold-water fish, olive oil, avocados, or even some types of algae. Some poultry such as duck can also be very rich in healthy fatty acids.

For most diets, fat should make up between 20 – 35% of your daily calories, though this goes up for those who prefer a keto, Atkins, paleo, or other low carb diet.

Remember too that trans fats and hydrolysed fats are as no-no as it gets. These are the fats found in highly processed and crunchy fried foods such as potato crisps and other foods from take a way shops. These are the kinds of fats that are detrimental to your performance and waistline, not to mention they often include loads of salt and sugar!

True, sugar and salt are necessary in your diet, just not in copious amounts.

Burning Through (the Right) Carbs

Burning Through (the Right) Carbs

Just as with fat and protein, there is more than one type of carbohydrate.

For instance, both table sugar and the undigestible fibres in vegetables are carbohydrates, just that sugar is a very simple carb, while vegetable fibres are very complex carbs.

In other words, the simpler the carb, the easier it is to digest, and vice-versa.

With table sugar, digestion—let's call it 'energy conversion'--happens at an extremely rapid rate. This usually means that sugar is converted to energy faster than your body can use it, which results in your body saving its calories as fat. Remember that while fat does MANY things in the body, its primary purpose is in storing excess calories for lean times.

But this doesn't mean to avoid sugar altogether, just that you need to be mindful of when you consume it. Remember how we said that it converts to energy at an extremely rapid rate and is stored when your body can't utilise that energy? This simply means that its consumption should go along with your intense workouts, and NOT your post-workout couch sessions. By consuming it during periods of intense energy release, its calories are utilized immediately so that its energy isn't stored as fat.

Plus, it powers your intense efforts since it's what fuels your large, fast twitch muscles.

On the other hand, while some sugar is okay especially during workouts, most of the 45-65% of carbs making up your diet should be complex carbs such as from legumes, whole grains, pasta, and fresh vegetables. This not only slows the digestive process and prevents energy from being stored, but it also provides you with the fibre you need for healthy digestion. This is critical since poor digestion also means poor nutritional uptake—not to mention how crappy and sluggish you feel when a low fibre diet leaves you…full of waste.

Yes, literally "crappy!"

Finally, consider that bleached white flour and white rice are at least as glycaemic (easily converted to energy) as table sugar, and should mostly be avoided. In fact, with fats and carbs, a good rule of thumb is, if it's white, treat with fright! If it's brown, eat it down.

Thinking Low Carb? Think Again!

Something else to consider is the low carb approach to eating. This can be the Atkin's, Paleo, or Keto diet, all which limit carbs—simple ones in particular—while increasing fat and protein in compensation.

The idea is that by vastly reducing your carb intake, your body switches to fat as its primary fuel. But it also needs to first convert the fat to glucose to burn it, which takes time. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, mostly go straight to work, depending on how complex they are.

This does, however, make low carb a great choice for those needing to lose fat.

But for those needing instantaneous, powerful bursts of energy? Not so much.

Here's the thing. As we mentioned above, ultramarathoners tend to run on fat. Now, nothing against the sport, but have you ever watched an ultramarathon? It's not the speediest of contests, nor does it usually involve short, intense, anaerobic bursts. It's also not what we would consider a 'power' sport, and instead, it tends to be a slow, steady, test of willpower and slow twitch endurance.

In other words, the opposite of fighting.

With fighting, you need rocket fuel in your veins, NOT some slow-burning petrol geared for the long haul! You need fuel that ignites quickly and supplies power the instant it does, which fat simply can't do.
So, while you may want to consider low carb for staying lean during your off-training periods, when it's time to compete, sweeten up your punching power with carbs.

Other Things to Consider

Fruits and veggies not only provide you with fibre and carbs, they're also an essential source of micronutrients, AKA vitamins and minerals. While it is recommended that you include a quality multivitamin in your daily regimen, the nutrients you receive from food are arguably more important than those you get through supplements. This means not skimping on the fresh greens, which have the added benefit of being a nutritious, low calory way to help you feel full when tapering your weight.

That, and they're loaded with free radical fighting antioxidants.

Plus, fruit is nature's candy and is a healthy way for you to satisfy your sweet tooth. Since it contains digestion-slowing fibre, its glycaemic response is minimal. But steer clear of fruit juice, since it's mostly concentrated fruit sugar (fructose) with the fibre removed.

Affording Quality

 As mentioned above, not everyone can afford to eat like a Hollywood celebrity. This holds especially true for dedicated fighters who're likely spending more time working out in the gym than working for pay.

After all, achieving one's dreams takes dedication and sacrifice!

But this doesn't mean that a fighter on a budget needs to skimp on quality nutrition—nor should they.

First and foremost, you don't need the choicest cuts of lamb or beef when chicken or fish will do. Remember too that by cooking it low-and-slow, tough, inexpensive stew meats can become tender and tasty—especially with the right seasonings.

As for fruits and veggies, you can often find them for less in the bruised-and-not-so-great-looking bin. Who cares if it doesn't look like something you'd photograph for a magazine cover so long as the nutrition is intact?

Bulk bins are also your friend when it comes to stocking up on beans, whole grains like quinoa and brown rice, nuts, and those sweet little bursts of energy we call dates and raisons.

When shopping, look for deals to stock up on and freeze, such as cuts of meat or fish, and canned foods are also an inexpensive, nutritious, long-lasting option to load up on at sale price.

Finally, a favourite way to not only save money, but time, is to make pots of chili, stew, or pasta dishes that you can portion out and freeze for use throughout the week. This also gives you control over your daily calories and macro percentages, and when you're tired from the gym and hungry for a recovery meal, a quick zap in the microwave and you're off to the easy chair!

Eating Right to Finish First

You're focused, you train hard, and you're dedicated to becoming the best combat athlete you can be. So why derail things through poor diet? You certainly wouldn't use lawn mower petrol in a high-performance GP moto, now, would you?

No, of course not. Doing so defeats the purpose of investing in and building a top performing engine in the first place. In the world of competition, you need every advantage you can get.

As a fighter, this means not only getting the right mix of 20-35% fats, 45-65% carbohydrates, and 10-35% proteins, but the right kinds of fats, carbs, and proteins.

After all, whether it's a race car or you, the best performance starts with the right fuel!

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