While strength training is a necessary component of any training regimen to help prevent injury, food and fl uid intake also play an essential role in protecting the body. Choosing the right fuels at the right time will help to minimize injury risk and maximize athletic performance.
Nutritional intake in the days preceding a fi ght can help to prevent fatigue. Neuromuscular weariness can potentially decrease motor control, balance, and joint mechanics. Preventing exhaustion and weakness is necessary to give an MMA athlete a competitive edge.
For the best chance to a win, athletes should avoid rapid weight loss before a fi ght. Even a 5% loss of body weight before a fi ght, from either calorie restriction or severe dehydration, can signifi cantly increase core temperature, heart rate, and the rate at which essential muscle sugars are used up to supply energy. A particularly unhealthy method involves excessive sauna use while wearing rubber or plastic suits. The weigh-in may be successful, but cutting all that water weight leads to early exhaustion. In addition, rapid weight loss can decrease testosterone levels. Taking part in a gradual weight loss program in the weeks leading up to competition will help to avoid premature fatigue.
A good way to prevent unnecessary fatigue is to practice effective nutrition planning. Muscles store sugars for energy use in the form of a compound called glycogen. The depletion of this muscle glycogen is a major cause of fatigue. The key to fi ghting off early exhaustion is to increase the amount of sugar that the muscle is able to store. This allows muscles to function at peak performance levels for a longer period. It is theorized that stored sugar is the primary source for high intensity exercise. For those who consume a diet with a healthy, moderate fat intake, it can take too long for stored fat to cross into cells to provide enough energy for that type of aerobic activity.
Manipulating glycogen stores for a competition is accomplished by proper carbohydrate loading. The current modifi ed regimen involves fi ve days of exercise followed by one day of rest before a fi ght. The athlete consumes a diet consisting of 50% carbohydrates for the fi rst three days, and then jumps up to 70% carbohydrates for the next three days. Large quantities of whole grain pasta or bread are preferred sources of carbs. Following an eating pattern like this can increase glycogen stores by 20-40%, which gives a fi ghter a larger reservoir of stored energy. This approach is like being able to increase the size of car’s gas tank.
Some athletes choose to follow a short-term high fat diet before a competition instead of a high carbohydrate diet. The rationale behind this is that when the body consumes more fats, it becomes more effi cient at burning fat and would therefore become less reliant on those precious stores of glycogen. In addition, there would be more fatty acids available for energy use in the bloodstream. However, experiments have shown that short-term high fat meals before a bout of intense exercise decrease performance as compared with a short-term high carbohydrate diet.
The timing of pre-event meals is crucial. A meal consumed too close to the match will spike an athlete’s blood sugar. This signals the hormone insulin to quickly lower the sugary blood levels by promoting rapid absorption of the sugars throughout the body. The quick decrease of blood sugar means that there is less available for the muscles to use during the upcoming intense exercise. Without blood sugars to use for energy, the muscle has to dip into its limited supply of stored sugar.
It is best if the fi nal meal is consumed several hours before competition, which also allows for effi cient water absorption during the brief breaks between fi ghting rounds. Meals that are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates, like the insoluble fi ber found in broccoli and wheat bran, promote rapid emptying of the stomach, which helps with water absorption. Consuming a sport beverage with limited carbohydrates fi fteen to twenty minutes before the event will help to provide extra sugars without stimulating insulin release.
Recovering the depleted muscle glycogen after a fi ght is achieved through normal dietary habits, without excessive carbohydrate intake. Simple carbohydrates like those found in fruits are swiftly absorbed and are needed between training sessions to quickly restore glycogen levels if multiple training sessions per day are desired.