Mike and I began working together in 2015 during his preparation for a professional MMA fight. The essential goal with Mike was that he needed to make weight. He had previously worked with a nutritionist but he felt his performance was suffering and his rate of weight loss had slowed down.
Analysis of his food diary showed that the composition of his diet was not optimal for his sport, with his protein and fat intake being far above what I would have recommended, whilst his carbohydrate intake was the opposite, almost zero. This makeup just wasn’t suitable for a high-intensity sport like mixed martial arts, particularly with the high training load during his fight camp. He had also, previously, been instructed to avoid dairy foods despite no allergy, and fruit was also not permitted.
The key aims of the intervention were:
- Make sure he made weight.
- Re-incorporate carbohydrate back into his diet to correctly fuel his training sessions and recover some of his performance, using the principle of Timing, Type and Total,
- Provide a post weigh-in refuelling and rehydration strategy.
Whilst his diet was not ideal, Mike still managed to lose weight in preparation for his fights – indicating his overall calorie intake wasn’t far off the right amount for weight loss. So the aim was to use roughly the same amount of calories but change up the composition of his diet to make it more optimal for his sport.
- Protein was set above the RDA at around 2.3 to 2.5 g per kilo body mass.
- Fat intake was set at between 0.8 to 1 g per kilo.
- The rest of his calorie allowance came from carbohydrates.
So, below you can see the comparison in terms of energy intake between his old diet and new diet:
The key to this intervention was placing his carbohydrate intake at the right times of the day. Slow runs and cardio in the morning were fuelled with coffee and some whey protein. His breakfast would then be relatively high in carbohydrates to fuel his first MMA session of the day and a recovery drink containing carbohydrates and protein would follow.
Throughout the day his foods would remain high in protein and low to moderate carbohydrate; to fuel his evening sessions and also help repair his muscles from previous sessions.
Following evening sessions his meals would typically include a good balance of protein, fats and carbs. However, some days through the week we would use low-carb recovery i.e. ‘recover low’ by increasing the protein and vegetable content post-training but essentially eliminating carbs. Mike would then go to bed and the following morning perform some low-intensity training with coffee and whey protein.
After the weigh-in a bespoke recovery nutrition plan was put in place to refill Mike’s muscle-fuel stores and also rehydrate him. Personally, I aim for absolute minimum dehydration, but given the short time period between meeting Mike and his fight, some dehydration was needed.
His recovery plan was high carbohydrate, somewhere around 7 grams per kilo body mass with moderate protein and fat. Meals were provided roughly every two hours, incorporating foods like rice pudding and sports-drinks to meet our carbohydrate targets. Rehydration was also important, so we used a little-and-often strategy with his water intake and added electrolytes. A high-carbohydrate pre-bed snack replaced the typically low carb snacks we had previously been using throughout fight camp.
On fight day, again, we utilised a moderate-to-high carbohydrate diet to continue the refuelling process and continued with our rehydration plan – gauging urine colour as a guide for hydration status. In the lead up to the fight we replaced solid foods with liquid foods to reduce the heavy feeling on the stomach and also for convenience. Caffeine was introduced in the hours before the fight – despite it being a late start – as performance was key here, rather than prioritising sleep.
Overall, the main aim of this plan was to reorganise Mike’s diet to better suit his sport. Through my work as a nutritionist I see this all the time, where coaches remove carbohydrates from an athlete’s diet in the belief this is the only (and best) way to lose weight – this simply isn’t true. Carbohydrates are important not only to fuel performance – leading to better training – but also recovering from training, allowing the athlete to perform better in their next session.