MMA Life

MMA Life

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These days, there are plenty of places for a professional mixed martial artist to fight, but everyone has their eyes on one prize: the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It’s the pinnacle of the sport, and without a doubt the biggest show in town. Walk into almost any bar or barbershop and to start a conversation on MMA. The response will usually go something like, “you mean Ultimate Fighting?”

 

Fight fans are still evolving, and so are the fighters themselves. To make it to the top in today’s game, a fighter has to have it all: cardio/stamina, striking, submissions, and good takedowns. Missing just one piece of the puzzle can spell disaster, and so can an untimely loss.

 

With so many fighters to choose from, the UFC has made a habit of throwing new talent to the wolves in an effort to see who will come out on top – the experienced fighter or the young guy with raw ability and a good work ethic? It’s a formula that has created many exciting match-ups, but hindered some careers in the process.

 

Dan “The Upgrade” Lauzon is the youngest fi ghter to compete in the UFC. He made the jump to the big leagues after only four fights, and debuted against Spencer Fisher. But despite the tough task laid in front of him, it was a challenge HE asked for.

 

“They called [my brother] because they wanted him to fight Fisher the following month [after he knocked out Jens], but Joe took time off to train. Our manager, Chris Palmquist, said, ‘His brother will fight him.’ I guess they asked like three or four other people and no one wanted it. So they gave the fight to me,” Lauzon said.

 

Most fans remember UFC 64 as the event where Rich Franklin lost his middleweight title to Anderson Silva, but after a shocking first-round knockout of Jens Pulver by Joe Lauzon at UFC 63, everyone was eager to see if lightning could strike twice for the brothers from Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

 

Despite some killer hands, The Upgrade chose to try and attack Fisher’s ground game (having won each of his four wins by submission in the past), but to no avail. In the end, it was Fisher who won by TKO at 4:38 of the first round. Since then, the younger Lauzon has yet to return to the Octagon, but has been on a tear ever since. He’s now 7-2, with every win since UFC 64 coming by knockout or TKO.

 

“They wanted to bring me back for doing them a favor and taking the [Fisher] fight on short notice, but I didn’t really want to come back right away due to lack of experience,” he said.

 

“My first four wins were all by submission. I would go in, and all I would do is grapple, not really throwing punches. Then I had two close fights, and my last three have all been (T)KOs, mixing in my strikes. Everything is coming together real nice.”

 

Kevin “The Shaman” Jordan was also pushed to his limits upon entering the Octagon back at UFC 53, when he faced Paul “The Headhunter” Buentello. Jordan was no slouch, holding a 7-3 record with plenty of wins by decision as well as TKOs. But when it came time for the fighter’s UFC debut, the UFC threw him in the cage with Buentello, a man with almost three times as many fights.

 

Jordan lost by guillotine in the first round, but got another chance at UFC 55 against Gabriel Gonzaga. Those two had one hell of a fight, but in round three, it was Gonzaga who finished the fight by KO.

 

After two consecutive losses on MMA’s biggest stage, Jordan returned to fight in smaller

shows while Gonzaga became a household name, knocking out Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and making a run at Randy Couture’s UFC Heavyweight Championship.

 

Today, The Shaman is a champion in his own right, after beating Carlos Moreno for the Battle Cage Xtreme belt in Atlantic City. He hasn’t lost a step, even though he lost twice in the Octagon.

 

Even the undefeated fighters picked up by the UFC have targets on their heads. Whether it’s 5-0 or 10-0, at this level competitors have to be ready to kick it up a notch if they want to keep a donut in the loss column.

 

That’s what Frankie “The Answer” Edgar (8-0, 5-0 when he entered the UFC) had to do when pitted against Tyson Griffin (10-0 before fighting Edgar). Edgar took all three rounds of his first UFC fight with Griffin, but got caught in a knee bar, late in the final round.

 

“When I first got caught, I was telling myself, ‘Oh shit,’ but at that point, I couldn’t tap. I felt I was ahead on the scorecard and had to tough it out,” he said. “The last ten seconds, I got out
of the knee bar and started hitting him, trying to get that back.”

 

Since then, Edgar has gone on to defeat both Mark Bocek and even Spencer “The King” Fisher in front of a home crowd at UFC 78 in Newark, New Jersey.

 

“I think that’s the way to go, especially now in the UFC,” Edgar said. “You might as well fight a guy who’s a name. If you want to go up in the rankings and make this a career, the best thing you can do is go out and fight the best guys.”

 

That’s what the “Barn Cat” was thinking, when he signed up to fight Akhiro Gono. A 10-0 welterweight with an almost legendary reach, Tamdan McCrory has never had a problem picking on the older guys. After all, he did defeat 30-year-old Mike Littlefield for the N.A.B.C. Welterweight title, and submitted 36 year-old Pete Spratt with a triangle in his UFC debut.

 

“He’s definitely the most experienced of all the fighters I faced, but I look at it as another way to make my stock rise,” McCrory said. “I’ve been fighting a lot of guys that are his age and older, so I guess I’m starting to get used to it.”

 

McCrory took the fight to Gono the entire time, but after winning the first round hands down, he made an error that cost him. Gono mounted the 6’4” welterweight, and waited for him to turn over, catching him in a deep arm bar from which there was no escape. McCrory lost by verbal tap at 2:19 of the second round, and felt defeat for the first time in his three years as a mixed martial artist.

 

The talent pool of fighters in MMA is growing, and the road to the top has gotten even more rigorous. In today’s world, a UFC fighter has to win, keep winning, and do it in an entertaining fashion.

 

“There are a lot of tough guys competing out there. I think it just comes down to good match making,” Lauzon said.

 

It’s a lot like King of the Mountain, that game kids play, where one boy would run to the top of a hill and do his best to keep everyone else in the class off the peak by any means necessary. One wrong step and it’s back to the belly of the beast.

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From a training perspective, periodization is defined as a strategy that provides long term performance improvements by varying training specificity, intensity, and volume throughout different cycles during the year. Let me simplify things a bit. Periodization is basically a training plan that changes at regular intervals, based on specific goals. Many athletes follow a periodized training program, and mixed martial artists are a classic example.

 

It’s well known that MMA fighters have to train in several different fighting disciplines, along with doing traditional strength and conditioning, in order to be considered well-rounded. Because of this comprehensive approach to training, days or weeks must be organized according to specific goals, whether it’s improving cardiovascular endurance or speed and agility. These changes in training demand nutrition strategies that support them. This is the essence of nutrition periodization. The objective is to modify the diet to optimize performance, no matter what the goal is at the time.

 

GENERAL CONDITIONING PHASE

When training starts for an upcoming match, a fighter is likely coming off a rest or active recovery period. This means physical activity will be increasing significantly, despite the fact that the training won’t yet be intense. This situation requires an increase in calories to support the increased energy expenditure. Weight loss or gain is not the focus at this time; you’re just trying to get accustomed to daily training and general conditioning. The diet should be higher in carbohydrates (55-60%), moderate in protein (20%), and lower in fat (20%). Water is fine to drink during workouts, but you definitely want to use a solid recovery shake post-workout. It’s also a good idea to take a multivitamin/mineral supplement in case your diet is lacking in any particular nutrients.

STRENGTH AND POWER PHASE

After the general conditioning phase, the focus may switch to strength and power, which involves traditional exercises (deadlift, cleans, squats, and bench press), plyometrics, and core work. Fighters have a distinct advantage when they can overpower their opponent, so being able to use maximal strength in quick bursts is essential. The calorie level during this phase will stay fairly consistent, but changes in macronutrients are needed. Carbohydrate levels typically drop and protein needs go up, along with a small increase in fat intake. Protein needs should be around 1.6-1.7 gms/kg body weight or about 25% of calories to support a positive nitrogen balance and muscular recovery. Carbohydrates will drop down to approximately 45-50% of calories, and fat should be around 25%. To stave off fatigue, carbohydrate/protein energy drinks, in addition to water are suggested during workout sessions. Research has shown that antioxidants (vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene) can decrease the free radicals associated with high intensity training. In addition, glutamine, HMB, and arginine might also help with the recovery process after workouts. Again, it is critical to get in a good post-workout shake and a wellbalanced meal two hours afterward.

 

CARDIOVASCULAR PHASE

As the fight approaches, many MMA fighters will begin to focus on cardiovascular training. This is important for two reasons. First of all, every fighter needs to make weight prior to the fight, and aerobic exercise at high intensities is very good for calorie burning. More importantly, cardiovascular training enhances stamina. The fighter with more gas in the tank in the later rounds is often the winner, especially if the fighters are equally matched in skill. Training the cardiovascular system is vital because any damage sustained during a fight will have less effect on a well-conditioned athlete. From a nutritional standpoint, calorie levels during this period will continue to drop even with the increase in energy expenditure. This will help with weight loss as the fight approaches. Normally, increased cardio would require a high carbohydrate intake to enhance performance, but performance isn’t the biggest concern at this point. Cutting weight is the focus, so carbohydrates are normally kept around 40% of calories. Despite this, sports or energy drinks can be consumed during training sessions, since the carbohydrate content is considered low to moderate in these beverages. Increased cardio and decreased carbohydrate intake will definitely have an affect on perceived exertion during the workouts, meaning that the exercise will seem more difficult. Fighters have to work through this to meet their weight goals. Protein will jump up again because of the desire to maintain lean muscle tissue in the face of increased cardiovascular exercise. At this point, 2 g/kg body weight is ideal for protein, with fat intake staying about the same.

Supplementation is generally continued, along with other practical sports nutrition guidelines. The only new recommendation would be a casein/whey protein shake prior to bedtime. This combination of slow and fast proteins will continue the recovery process and help to reduce catabolism during the night hours.

MENTAL PREPARATION PHASE

The last stage of fight preparation involves visualization and game planning against the opponent. Workouts typically decrease in frequency and duration, but intensity remains high. Essentially, fighters are trying to get the most out of shorter, more focused training sessions. Most of this time is dedicated to sparring, allowing the fighter to further develop his overall fight strategy. The nutrition and supplementation regimen doesn’t change much at this point, but this is largely dependent on how close the fighter is to making weight. Hopefully, drastic weight loss measures aren’t needed, but some fighters compromise nutrition to get to their weight goals.

 

It’s clear that nutrition directly affects performance in mixed martial arts, but many people don’t realize how important it is to tailor your nutrition to your trainin
g goals. You want to go into a fight in the best shape possible, so why not use all the tools at your disposal? All MMA athletes train hard, but not all athletes pay meticulous attention to their nutrition and supplementation. All things created equal, nutrition is the difference between winning or losing. If you have questions about personalizing your nutrition periodization, contact a sports dietitian.

 

At a Glance:

General Conditioning

-Workouts incorporate all facets of mixed martial arts and steadily increase in intensity

-Recommend a traditional healthy diet (high carb, moderate protein, low fat)

-Post-workout shake and multivitamin/mineral are ideal

Strength/Power

-Plyometrics and weightlifting are the focus, along with continued fight preparation

-Calories remain consistent despite drop in carbohydrate and increase in protein

-Energy drinks with carbs and protein during workouts

-Consider supplemental antioxidants (Vit C, E and beta-carotene)

-Glutamine, HMB, arginine to help with recovery

Cardiovascular Endurance

-Traditional cardio exercises become a focal point, along with boxing and grappling

-Calories and carbohydrates drop

-Protein levels continue to increase

-Energy drinks during workouts

-Supplementation is continued

-Protein shake before bed to reduce catabolism

Fight Game Planning

-Technical skills and sparring are the focus

-Duration and frequency of workouts decrease, though intensity remains high

-Nutrition largely depends on weight status

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