Issue 201

January 2024

Step into the ring of nutritional excellence with health and nutrition expert Ray Klerck's guide, designed to help MMA fighters snack smarter, train harder, and get a competitive edge.

In the high-stakes world of MMA, every calorie counts. And while each meal plays a pivotal role in a fighter’s performance, it’s often the in-between meal calories that derail the best of us. This alarming trend could be silently sabotaging the dietary discipline of many fighters, suggests a recent finding in PLOS Global Public Health.

After looking at over 20,000 Americans, the average daily snack intake is not just substantial – about 400 to 500 daily calories – but also nutritionally deficient.

"We think about what we're going to pack for lunch and cook for dinner. But we don't plan that way for our snacks. So then you're at the mercy of what's available in your environment," says the study lead author Christopher Taylor, professor of medical dietetics at The Ohio State University. While meals are typically balanced, snacks tend to be high in carbohydrates and sugars, lacking in proteins, fruits, and vegetables. This snacking pattern could be a hidden adversary for MMA fighters, who rely heavily on a well-rounded diet for optimal performance. It’s clear snacking should no longer be an afterthought.

Snacking discipline

Discipline in MMA is the invisible opponent, constantly challenging fighters to push beyond limits and endure the unimaginable. And while most fighters use discipline to plan their meals carefully, they often overlook healthy snacking as a contributing factor.

While 95% of people snack, many are inadvertently negating the benefits of their healthy meals with poor snack choices, according to research in the European Journal of Nutrition. This study, involving 854 participants, revealed a stark contrast between the healthiness of main meals and the snacks consumed. About a quarter of daily calories come from snacks, yet a significant portion includes low-quality options like cookies and crisps, adversely affecting blood sugar and fat levels.

Interestingly, snacking itself isn't the villain. High-quality snacks like nuts and fruits correlate with healthier weights and better metabolic health. For fighters, this insight is crucial. The discipline required for training must extend to your snacking habits. Balancing high-quality snacks with your main meals could be a simple yet effective strategy for maintaining peak physical condition. So, while rigorous training prepares you for battle, mindful snacking might be the edge you need for victory.

Changing your snack composition

You need to plan for your snack attacks. There’s no other way than meal prep, but do it the smart way using new research featured in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

They suggest that the way to unlock health is to substitute saturated fats and sodium in your favorite dishes with aromatic herbs and spices. This approach not only combats cardiovascular disease—the leading global killer—but also satisfies your taste buds.

Researchers transformed 10 beloved but traditionally unhealthy meals, such as meatloaf and macaroni and cheese, by slashing unhealthy fats and salt and enriching them with flavors like garlic, cayenne, and rosemary. Remarkably, in blind taste tests, participants often favored these revamped recipes over their original counterparts.

Pack these off-plan snacks into your meal prep packs, and you’ll have something tasty to look forward to between meals. Sure, they may not be getting a five-star health rating, but it will definitely be better for you than a 600-calorie stop at Starbucks when you need a pick-me-up between lunch and dinner. 

Late-night snacking

The unseen quick elbow to your get-lean dreams is the late-night junk food snack. You know the drill. You’ve eaten healthy all day, then get a little weak at night. This is a lousy habit deep-fried in self-harm, but a paper in the journal Obesity may offer a solution.

They found that junk food can impair the restorative deep sleep crucial for an athlete’s recovery. Despite similar sleep durations, people who ate a diet rich in sugar and saturated fats exhibited less slow-wave activity during deep sleep, indicative of a shallower, less restful sleep state. This is a crucial finding for fighters who need quality rest for recovery and performance.

For those late-night cravings, it's not just about avoiding snacks but choosing the right ones. Consider snacks like Greek yogurt with a handful of nuts, a small portion of cottage cheese with fruits, or whole-grain toast with avocado. These options provide a balanced mix of proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates, aiding muscle recovery and ensuring a restful night without disrupting sleep patterns.

By smartly selecting late-night snacks, fighters can enjoy the dual benefits of satisfying hunger pangs and promoting better sleep, which is essential for helping you recover from your rigorous training regime. 

The fighter's fuel kit

For any fighter, hitting the road and being prepared is critical to maintaining a healthy diet. Packing a cooler with nutritious snacks like lean meats, homemade nut mixes, fresh fruits, and veggies is ideal. But, if you're caught unprepared, fear not. Even on the go, you can still make smart food choices.

Service station strategy

During road trips, refueling stops are inevitable. While browsing gas station selections, prioritize whole foods, like fruits or veggies often found in the deli area. If whole foods are scarce, scrutinize packaged foods' nutritional labels, focusing on serving sizes and calorie content. Above all, avoid added sugars, even in seemingly healthy options like pre-packaged trail mix.

Smart choices when dining out

Eating out doesn't mean ditching your dietary discipline. Opt for meals that align with your fitness goals and box up half your meal for later to control portion sizes or have as a snack. 

Choose baked, broiled, or grilled proteins over fried options, and swap out fries for seasonal vegetables as your side dish.

Navigating the fast-food lane

Sometimes, the drive-thru is your only option, especially if you’re rolling with a crew. Fortunately, you can modify your orders for a healthier twist. To do this, choose sandwiches sans-cheese and creamy sauces. Opt for low-calorie condiments like mustard or ketchup instead. Always select salads, but get the dressing on the side. Add grilled protein, avoiding fried options high in unhealthy fats. Consider black beans and brown rice as healthier choices over fries. There’s always a better choice at these places. 

In the world of MMA, where every move and meal matters, transforming your snacking habits is not just a dietary change—it's a strategic move towards achieving your fighting best. Remember, the right snack can be the knockout punch in your nutrition plan, keeping you agile, energized, and ready to dominate in the octagon.