Dieting To Win!

Dieting Tips for the MMA Athlete

MMA Advantage. It is the one thing that every fighter wants over his opponent. Sometimes it’s position, sometimes it’s height, often it’s skill and experience. You may have a few advantages over your adversary, and he may have a couple over you. When you know who your opponent is, you realize that some of these are out of your control. I do not recommend trying to stretch out your arms to increase your reach! Preparing for a fight is essentially about trying to gain the advantages that you can control. In MMA, one aspect that often gets manipulated for advantage is weight. So you guys (or girls) try to drop all this weight and dehydrate yourself to weigh in for your fight, only to try and blow back up over the next day (within the rules set by the organization) and weigh more than the other fighter. But how well does this actually work?

As a former wrestler and current bodybuilder, I know a little something about the weight game. Now, as a chiropractic physician, I try to explain to all my athletes that weight control methods are effective only when used properly. I can remember a wrestling match where I believe I dropped 18 pounds in about three days to get into my weight class, only to get my butt kicked by a sub-par wrestler who just plain had more energy than me. Had I not been eating like crap leading up to the few days before, I would have never had to resort to such drastic measures, and there is no doubt I would have won. Even with bodybuilding, those who wait until the last minute to cut most of their weight end up looking pretty bad, and they don’t even have to perform! Now I understand it’s different for MMA. You usually have a full day to recover, and no one is judging you on how you look. It’s about performance. I promise you though, 24 hours is not enough for your body tissues to recover from a severe dehydration or starving, and your performance ends up suffering. So what is the answer? How can a fighter maximize strength and performance and minimize weight at the same time? Here is my little guide to how to do just that. Some may have different methods that work for them, and some people may totally disagree with me. That’s fine. But like I said, I’ve been through this before, too, and I wish I knew more when I was wrestling of what I know now about diet.

In MMA, most contests aren’t so spur-of-the- moment! You have a while to prepare. For this method to work the best, you need about five to six weeks of prep time. There are certain rules that just have to be followed. Others have room for a little deviation. First, the ones to never break.

1: Never, ever, skip breakfast. Do not do any type of intense training on an empty stomach first thing in the morning. Wake up on time and get your meal in.

2: Never have less than four meals per day. I prefer six for performance athletes. You need your metabolism skyrocketing, and frequent meals are the key.

3: Have a protein source with every meal. Protein supplies the building blocks of muscle, which you need to keep in check during a caloric deficit. Shakes can be good, but bars are usually not so hot when trying to drop weight.

4: Eat within 40 minutes after your training session. Have quick digesting carbohydrates like fruit or juice at this meal.

5: Keep your water intake above 96 oz. per day. I prefer a gallon at least. You have got to stay hydrated. This makes your training more effective and it keeps the weight (fat) coming off.

The other rules I have for you can bend a little. Then I’ll give you a great sample day to keep your weight down.

6: Monitor your carbohydrate intake. On your training days, have carbohydrates with all your meals prior to your training and then, of course, your post training quick digesting carbohydrates. For the other meals after your training, do not have carbohydrates. On non-training days, only have slow-digesting carbs at breakfast and your second meal. Use fats on the other meals to supplement your protein. (See rule #2)

7: Make use of essential fats. Dietary fat does not lead to body fat. Make sure you are getting some calories from these, typically in fish, red meats, nuts and oils.

8: Do some light cardio before breakfast. Twenty to thirty minutes of walking or biking is an excellent way to start the day in a calorie-burning state.

9: Use vegetables to curb your hunger. If it’s green, go for it. Season them with herbs and spices and even a teeny bit of butter to make them tastier if you need to. Yes they’re carbs, but mostly fiber, so they don’t really count. Watch out for fruits except for your post-training meal.

10: Don’t eat a lot of processed food. Chances are, you are not getting what you want out of it, and you are making it harder on your body to function correctly. However, once per week, eat whatever you want, but make it the last meal of the day.

So these 10 rules are pretty easy, but to see how this might lay out, here’s a sample day for a 170-185 pound fighter. Drop or raise all portion sizes by about 15% for every 10 pounds below or above that weight that you may be. (For example, if you weigh 155, instead of doing 6 oz. of chicken and 1 cup of rice, do 5 oz. of chicken and about 5/6 cup of rice in Meal 2.) You can also make some changes like turkey or fish instead of chicken, etc. P.S. Get a food scale and some measuring cups!

Wake up

Do 20 minutes of walking at a 3.0 on a treadmill.

Meal 1

3 whole eggs, 3 egg whites, ¾ cup of oatmeal and ½ of a grapefruit

Meal 2

6 oz. Chicken, 1 cup of rice

Meal 3 †

5 oz. Tuna with 2 tbsp of fat-free mayo and chopped celery, chopped walnuts and hard-boiled egg whites


Meal 4 ‡

50 gram protein shake and a pear (or other piece of fruit)

Meal 5 *

6 oz. Steak, large green salad with dressing

Meal 6

3 whole eggs and 3 egg whites -or- 50 gram protein shake with natural peanut butter and ice, blended (my favorite!)

† Train about 45 minutes to 1 hour after Meal 3 if possible

‡ Meal 4 is eaten immediately after training

* Keep the carbs low in the dressing, don’t worry about fat

In the final three days leading up to the fight, drop your protein serving sizes in half, and have carbs with the first four meals, mostly in the form of sweet potatoes, red potatoes or whole wheat pasta. Keep the portion to about ½ a cup for each meal. Keep your water high up until about 6pm the night before weigh-ins, then only drink what you absolutely need for your meals.

If you do the diet above for 5-6 weeks, depending on where you start with your weight, you can expect to drop anywhere between 10-25 pounds without dropping much strength, so plan ahead. Supplement with whole-food vitamins to maximize your body functions during a calorie-deficit. Get regular massage, chiropractic care and plenty of rest during your prep to make sure you’re ready on the big day. Learning to drop weight properly without sacrificing performance will definitely give you a huge advantage, and that is what it’s all about.

-Dr. Craig

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