Fighting Fit

Fighting Fit

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Every year, athletes in all sports are raising the bar when it comes to setting new records for athletic performance. We see this even more in the sport of mixed martial arts as both the athletes and techniques evolve to new levels. However, with increased performance and higher demands placed on the body, sometimes the rate of tissue damage exceeds the rate of tissue repair. Consequently, it is essential for all MMA athletes to take the appropriate measures to enhance performance, speed recovery, and fuel the intense training sessions with proper nutrition and supplements. Just like there is a science to training, there is a science to selecting the proper foods and nutritional supplements for MMA. Let’s take a look at some of the supplements that will best serve the needs of MMA athletes.

Pain in the joints is a given when you are training in any combat sport, and osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease is likely to result the longer you have been in the sport. The physical nature of grappling, boxing, and wrestling accelerates the wear and tear on the joints, which makes it all the more important to supplement with something to promote joint health. Glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate are widely accepted as the two most benefi cial supplements for promoting healthy cartilage.

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are the molecules that serve as the precursors of cartilage. Cartilage lines all the joints in the human body and serves to protect and cushion the joints from normal wear and impact. Glucosamine occurs naturally in healthy cartilage, and it works by maintaining the integrity of the cartilage matrix, which is necessary for optimal joint function. It also supports the synthesis of proteoglycans, which are the building blocks of cartilage and other connective tissues. Glucosamine is also believed to support the production of hyaluronic acid, which is a major part of the synovial fl uids that lubricate and provide mobility to joints.

Chondroitin sulfate is another glycosaminoglycan that is often taken in combination with glucosamine, and it is considered to be the partner agent of glucosamine for joint health. Most of the available evidence from controlled studies shows that glucosamine sulfate is effective in the treatment of degenerative joint disease. It has been demonstrated that glucosamine taken independently benefi ts patients with osteoarthritis, but it remains unclear if there is any additional benefi t to using both supplements together compared with using either alone. Both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have also been reported to have anti-infl ammatory and pain-relieving effects as well.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENT

The highest-quality nutritional supplements should be manufactured in facilities that have been GMP (good manufacturing processes) certifi ed. GMP certifi cation is a reliable indicator of purity and ensures that high-quality control standards have been maintained in the manufacturing of the product. Other things to look out for are certifi cations by the National Products Association (NPA, formerly known as the National Nutritional Foods Association or NNFA), the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), and the Therapeutic Goods Administration of Australia (TGA).

Even with all the encouraging evidence that supports the benefi ts of supplementing with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, there are still mixed opinions about whether it really helps or not. My own personal experience from using it and fi rsthand accounts from many of my patients who supplement with it make it something I recommend regularly. Anyone who participates in MMA and combat sports should defi nitely consider supplementing with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to maintain healthy joints and decrease the progression of arthritis. We recommend our patients try supplementing with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for about 3 to 4 months before expecting to see or feel the potential benefi ts. Individuals with certain food allergies or metabolic conditions should avoid taking glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, so as always, check with your doctor or consult with a certifi ed nutrition professional before you start taking any nutritional supplements on your own.

Anyone who’s watched the UFC or other mixed martial arts events is familiar with the armbar, and everyone who has trained in MMA has undoubtedly been caught in one. The armbar is one of the fi rst submissions Jiu-Jitsu players learn, and it is the basis of many submissions in BJJ and MMA. We know how to put our opponent in an armbar, but what exactly happens when we make our opponent tap? Injuries to the elbow joint are most common, but damage can extend to the ligaments and bones in the elbow as well.

To understand what happens to the elbow in a properly executed armbar, we fi rst have to understand basic elbow anatomy. The elbow is primarily a hinge joint composed of three bones: the humerus (upper arm), the ulna (pinky side of forearm), and radius (thumb side of forearm). The elbow fl exes from 140° to 150°, extends from 0° to 10°, and rotates (pronates and supinates) in both directions about 90°. Ligaments known as the ulnar collateral and radial collateral ligaments stabilize the elbow joint on opposite sides to prevent the elbow from bending inwards and outwards. These two ligaments are fan-shaped structures that combine to form a watertight capsule which surrounds the elbow joint and keeps the synovial fl uids that lubricate the joint where they need to be. There is also an annular ligament that wraps around the head of the radius to keep it in place next to the ulna. The biceps tendon attaches on the front of the forearm and allows us to fl ex our elbows (and resist an armbar attempt), while the triceps tendon attaches on the ulna behind the elbow.

If an armbar is held for too long, there are a number of injuries that can occur at the elbow. The most common are injuries to the joint capsule and collateral ligaments. In some people (primarily women and adolescents), the elbow can hyperextend to about 10° before some kind of structural damage occurs. Since the joint capsule is made of inelastic connective tissue, it will tear if enough force is applied. Over time, repetitive strain on the joint capsule and ligaments can cause pain and laxity in the elbow joint.

As the joint capsule and ligaments are stretched beyond their normal limits, the part of the forearm known as the olecranon compresses into the back of the elbow called the olecranon fossa. This direct pressure from bone on bone contact can be very painful and is usually what makes us tap before more damage occurs. If the elbow is hyperextended repeatedly from years of training, or suddenly from a quickly executed armbar, it can result in small chips to the bone and cartilage which is referred to as osteochondritis. Sometimes these loose fragments need to be removed if it causes pain and interferes with normal fl exion and extension at the elbow.

As a general rule, our bones are the strongest parts of our bodies, but it is not uncommon for the connective tissues to withstand more force than bones before being damaged. We all grimace when we see replays of what happened to Tim Sylvia’s arm in his fi ght against Frank Mir in UFC 48. When an armbar is applied, the knees and thighs are squeezed around the arm while the hips are extended upwards exerting a tremendous amount of force on the bones in the forearm. The resistance supplied by the inherent strength of the ligaments and the additional resistance from the action of the biceps pulling upwards can put more stress on the forearm. This can lead to a fracture in the shaft of the radius or ulna. A fracture to the ulna is referred to as a Monteggia fracture and almost always requires surgical repair through open reduction and internal fi xation with plates and screws.

Anytime you sustain an elbow injury from an armbar, the most important thing to do is avoid further trauma. No good will come from continuing to train or compete with a serious injury. Tenderness and swelling around the elbow are obvious signs of injury. Popping or clicking sounds are also common following elbow injuries, but should not be a cause for concern unless the elbow locks or is painful as it makes noise. Any visible deformities around the elbow and forearm could indicate more serious injuries, including fractures or dislocation and should be evaluated by a physician immediately. X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs can rule out conditions like osteochondritis, bursitis, bone fragments, and stress fractures.

Once the elbow pain has subsided and you are able to do basic drills, a solid rehab routine is always recommended. Any strength training or resistance exercises to increase grip, wrist, and forearm strength along with biceps and triceps exercises would be appropriate. Elbow braces and certain taping techniques may help with problems with laxity and can help prevent further injury during training, but it probably won’t do much during the heat of competition. Elbow injuries are inevitable in BJJ and submission grappling, so be prepared to deal with the consequences next time you decide to go for an armbar or refuse to tap out from one.

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The rising popularity of MMA has increased the demand for elite and talented competitors. Amateur and professional fi ghters are always on the lookout for an edge to intensify their skills. Athletes often search for nutritional supplements like creatine to enhance performance. But before you decide to try creatine supplements, you should know how creatine works, how it will help, and what risks it carries.

What is creatine and what does it do?

Creatine phosphate (a.k.a. phosphocreatine) is naturally found in muscles. As the name suggests, it’s made up of two compounds: creatine and phosphate. Phosphates are an essential part of the molecule ATP, which is a major energy source during exercise. Think of creatine as something that stores and delivers phosphates in order to make ATP. By this logic, less muscle creatine means it’s easier to get tired, whereas more creatine will delay fatigue by providing plenty of phosphates to make ATP. The liver and pancreas have the ability to make creatine for the muscles, and it’s also found in meat and fi sh. As a supplement, it is marketed as creatine monohydrate.

What doses are effective?

While the common dose of 20 grams/day for fi ve to seven days has been shown to improve performance, taking a low dose of 3 grams/day is just as effective at reaching maximum creatine storage levels, although it will take a few more days on the low dose to reach the maximum storage limit. One week of typical creatine supplements has been proven to increase creatine phosphate stores by 10-40%.

How exactly will taking creatine improve athletic performance?

Athletes taking creatine as part of an intense training routine have demonstrated gains in strength, fat-free mass, and increased performance for high intensity exercise. Keep in mind that while most people respond to creatine, not everyone will experience improvements. Those who have low creatine stores to begin with, like vegetarians and vegans, will see the most improvement from supplements.

What are the risks from taking creatine?

Short term (one week) usage offers minimal risk to a healthy athlete. While there have been some reports of gastrointestinal distress and muscle cramping, these complaints are not common in the majority of creatine research on healthy individuals. Creatine has also been shown to help elderly Parkinson Disease patients throughout a two year period, without causing any signifi cant health problems.

HERE ARE THE MAJOR CONCERNS TO NOTE:

Weight gain

When starting the supplement, users will experience weight gain from water retention. It’s therefore essential to keep hydrated while taking any dose.

Potential cancer causing agents

Some natural bacteria in the gut can break down creatine into molecules that may cause cancer. Fortunately, these bacteria are not present in large numbers in healthy people. These critters can be kept in check by a balanced diet high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Additionally, consuming helpful bacteria or “probiotics” found in certain yogurt brands will help to maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract and inhibit the formation of cancerous products that result from processing and breaking down creatine.

Dehydration and impaired ability to maintain body temperature There is mixed evidence regarding creatine’s infl uence on the body’s ability to maintain a reasonable temperature while working out in high temperatures. MMA competitors using creatine may need to be concerned about weight cutting practices that involve exercise in heat. If you choose to take creatine, do your best to keep your body relatively close to your fi ghting weight class to minimize the risk of dehydration and heat stress. Cutting less weight will also give you more energy during the fi ght!

Most medical studies agree that daily creatine use is safe for up to two years. Unfortunately, it’s not known whether long term use for the duration of a fi ghting career is risk free. In order to gain the safest edge, using creatine for short intervals before fi ghts will help sharpen performance without too much risk of unknown long term consequences.

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Back in the day, if you wanted to train MMA, often the only real option for an aspiring fi ghter was to drive 1-2 hours away and train in a neighborhood in which you needed a bulletproof vest. To say things have changed would be an understatement. These days, MMA gyms are popping up everywhere at a rate that is almost surreal.

Growing up in the quiet suburb of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, the idea of a world-class Jiu-Jitsu black belt opening up a fi rst-rate gym ten minutes from my house seemed unfathomable. But that’s exactly what happened last summer when Jared Weiner, the fi rst person ever promoted to black belt by Lloyd Irvin, moved his school, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu United, from a crummy area in Northeast Philadelphia into Jenkintown’s high-rent business district.

There are so many MMA gyms opening up that in this day and age, if you live more than 45 minutes from a gym that teaches MMA, chances are you live in Montana. The thing is, just because a gym has the initials “MMA” on their signage does not mean they are qualifi ed to teach mixed martial arts.

In order to practice law, you need to pass the bar; in order to be a stockbroker, you need to pass a Series 7 test; and if you want to be a doctor then you need to graduate from med school. However, there is no law that prevents someone from opening an MMA gym.

I live just outside of Philadelphia, which has become a hotbed for the sport. I’m very fortunate in that I have the option of training at top-notch gyms that are all within sixty minutes of my home. The problem is that there are six gyms within the same distance that have no business being in operation. If you are looking to take up training, you have to be careful no matter how excited you are about getting involved.

Don’t just run to the nearest MMA gym with cash in hand. Know what you’re getting into. Most gyms are going to require that you make an extended commitment of at least six months or more. You don’t want to walk into a gym and instantly sign your name on that dotted line simply because you got excited by seeing someone throw an amazing high kick.

If you were going to buy a car, would you just go to the lot and choose whatever looked nice and was available? Or, would you go online and research the safety record of the models you’re looking at? Would you not look at other dealerships in order to get comparative pricing? You need to adopt a similar approach when searching for the right gym. Granted, it’s a lot cheaper to train MMA than it is to buy a new car, but training in a martial art is not inexpensive.

The reality is that many people out there are being ripped off. There are instructors claiming to hold a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu when they do not. There are former Karate instructors who claim they can help people become pro fi ghters even though they’ve never fought or trained MMA. Simply put, you need to be careful of wannabes with false or otherwise meaningless credentials. A lot of people recognize the mounting appeal of MMA; they see how much money can be made. Instead of starting over and paying their dues in a new martial art, they allege to be able to teach you something they aren’t actually qualifi ed to teach. Right about now, you’re probably wondering how you can determine whether a gym is legit or a joke. Here are some important things to look for when considering a place to train.

1. ARE THE PEOPLE WILLING TO ANSWER QUESTIONS

If you’re talking to an owner or head trainer and they are put out that you are asking questions, that’s a red fl ag. They are running a business and you are a customer. You have every right to want to know what you’re getting yourself into. If an instructor is running a legitimate gym, there should be nothing to hide and they ought to relish the opportunity to tell you about what the gym has to offer.

2. DOES IT LOOK REPUTABLE

You can’t always judge a book by its cover, but you can tell a lot about a martial arts gym by its appearance. Is the gym in a well-lit area? Is it in its own space or does it lease a smaller space within an existing business, such as a fi tness gym? Are there windows so that people from the outside can see in it? Have they put money into redecorating? If a gym doesn’t even feel a need to put money into their surroundings, there’s a chance they don’t feel a need to put money into their staff. Do they have newer heavy bags and clean mats? If you’re at a gym that resembles a shack or garage, chances are that’s the level of instruction you’re going to get.

3. PRICE

In martial arts, spending a lot of money doesn’t always guarantee quality training. However, a safe rule to follow is if you buy cheap, you get cheap. The only exception I’ve seen in regards to this rule is the Philadelphia Fight Factory (home to Eddie Alvarez, Tara LaRosa, and Stephen Haigh), which only charges $99 a month.

Most people suffer “sticker shock” when they see the cost of training. A legitimate MMA gym located in a major metropolitan area is going to cost you around $125-$250 per month for a full program. You can train for less at most gyms if you’re only interested in a single discipline like Muay Thai or Jiu-Jitsu, but you need to be careful about a full MMA program that is less than $125 a month.

If you have no aspirations of competing and are simply looking to get into shape, then you can get away with training at a cheap gym so long as it’s being operated in a professional manner. But if you want quality training, you’re going to have to pay for it.

4. BE SURE TO INQUIRE ABOUT THE MMA CREDENTIALS OF THE INSTRUCTORS

After brainwashing their students for years that MMA was just a fad, many Karate, Kung Fu, and Taekwondo schools are closing up shop and re-opening as MMA schools. Some of these former traditional martial arts schools are no more qualifi ed to teach MMA than I am, and I suck. You want to train under someone who has one or more of the following: certifi – cation from a widely recognized MMA school; fi ghts professionally in MMA; is a top-level competitor in Muay Thai or Jiu-Jitsu; or has trained MMA for a signifi cant period of time.

Look, there’s nothing wrong if an instructor has a background in traditional martial arts. Chances are that any instructor over thirty got his or her start in traditional martial arts before transitioning to MMA. Pat Miletich, one of the greatest MMA trainers of all-time, holds a black belt in Karate. But he’s also boxed, wrestled, and trained Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai. You only need to be concerned about an instructor if the only thing they have to fall back on is their traditional martial arts background.

Almost as bad as schools closing and reopening with a new identity is that some traditional martial arts schools are simply adding the initials “MMA” to their signage. These gyms are trying to pass off Karate as a contemporary MMA striking technique while simply going out and getting a blue belt to head their Jiu-Jitsu program.

I’ve trained at strip mall Karate dojos so I speak from some fi rst-hand experience. And my experience has been that most these McDojos are bad and I’m alarmed that some of them are now claiming they can teach people MMA. They have already watered down traditional martial arts so what reason do we have to believe they won’t do the same to MMA?

So don’t be afraid to ask for credentials. And once you get the instructors’ qualifi cations, be sure to check them out. Remember, we live in the information age. If someone makes a claim that you can’t verify through a routine Google search, there’s a chance they are telling you a tall tale. If someone says they fought in the UFC, they should show up on Sherdog’s fi ght fi nder. If someone is
telling you they have won big-time grappling tournaments in the past, you should see something when you enter their name into a search engine.

5. READ A CONTRACT BEFORE YOU SIGN IT

You’d be surprised how many times people sign something without reading it. Some gyms have straightforward contracts that were downloaded from a template site. Others are extremely litigious and put you in a situation where you are signing away basic rights. The reality is that just because you sign something doesn’t mean it’s binding (a contract still has to be within the law) but chances are you will require the services of a lawyer to get out of a ridiculous contract even if it’s not legally enforceable. With most gym contracts I’ve signed, it’s the gym’s position that they cannot be found liable for anything – not even if someone were to spar while tripping their face off and beating the piss out of you in the process.

So, read contracts and know what you’re getting into ahead of time. Most gyms are either not insured or underinsured, which is insane considering that injury is inherent to the nature of combat sports. You shouldn’t just assume everything is going to be okay if you get caught in a kneebar and you tear ligaments because someone didn’t let go in time. If you have health insurance, it might not be a bad idea to review the terms of your policy. Chances are the typical HMO isn’t going to cover martial arts injuries.

6. ASK IF PRO FIGHTERS TRAIN AT THE GYM

The odds of becoming a pro fi ghter are already against you unless you’re a former NCAA Division I competitor, a standout Muay Thai fi ghter or a Jiu-Jitsu prodigy. Even with a strong pedigree, success in MMA is not a guarantee. No matter how much respect you have for the sport, it’s still ten times harder than it looks on television. But if you have pro aspirations, your chances of developing into a pro-caliber fi ghter are depressed further if you are training at a gym that has no current pros or has never produced one.

7. OBSERVE THE DEMEANOR OF THE STUDENT BODY

Whether you’re training during a free trial period or just observing a class, be mindful of how the students act. There are a lot of knuckleheads that try and train martial arts. MMA is attracting a lot of people who are insecure with their place in life. These are the types of people who think they are a badass just because they gave someone a black eye while sparring.

The gym I train at, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu United, is knucklehead-free because the owner of the school, Jared Weiner, would rather run a clean program than to allow people to get away with murder simply because he wants their money. Any school worth its salt has ways of weeding out undesirable students from their population. While weeding out methods can vary greatly, legitimate gyms do not allow assholes to run the risk of soiling their gym’s reputation just so they can get an additional $150 a month.

If there is no policing method in place at a gym, that’s a sign that unprofessional conduct is tolerated and you do not want to waste your time.

8. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ANY TRIAL OFFERS AND THEN TRUST YOUR GUT INSTINCT

You should never commit to a gym until going through a free trial period. There is no better way to determine if a gym is right for you than to take advantage of this free trial. After that period is up, you should have a good idea of whether the gym is right for you. If you fi nd that there are a lot of unanswered questions and too many red fl ags, take that as a sign that you should probably keep looking for a gym that feels like a better fi t.

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Acai has been the “cool” thing to eat for about eight years in the US and about fi fteen years in mainstream Brazil. Needless to say, Brazilians from Northern Brazil have been enjoying the taste and benefi ts from the fruit of this sixty feet palm tree for centuries. Since the fi rst generation of the Gracie brothers were from that area, they discovered that mixing the Acai pulp with other healthy ingredients could create a powerful smoothie that would replace a meal. After they moved to Rio de Janeiro, they located a supplier of the rare frozen pulp. They kept the consumption of this fruit within the family as a tradition.

I fi rst saw Acai in their kitchens before anyone knew about this fruit and I’ve been eating it ever since.

Because of their constant pursuit of optimal levels of health, the Gracies used the scientifi c method to determine how foods affected their health. The energetic effect of specifi c foods as well as the effect resulting from the manner in which they were combined served as their hypothesis, their own bodies served as the laboratory. The “Gracie Diet” was the result of years of ongoing, diligent research.

Being a longtime researcher of diet and nutrition myself, I was especially intrigued to learn the extent to which the Gracie diet is based on the juicing of fresh produce. My intimate relationship & direct experience with the Gracie family gave me great insight into the great wisdom and tangible benefi ts of their diet’s emphasis on natural fruits and juices.

Due to these health benefi ts, Gracie Jiu- Jitsu students were soon captivated, followed by the surf community and popularized acai enough so that it became a part of the “Carioca” (from Rio de Janeiro) tradition.

From it’s discovery in the rainforests, to the fi fty years of the Gracie style acai, it is impressive how widespread its use has become from its humble beginnings through today’s world of mixed martial arts.

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