Top-performing mixed martial artists are among the fittest athletes, due, in part, to their commitment to clean eating. Mixed martial arts combines skills from multiple disciplines including boxing, Muay Thai kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling. Athletes punch, kick, strike and perform submissive holds to earn a win. They must be faster, more powerful and more agile than their opponents. An MMA fighter’s diet has to provide adequate fuel for punishing workouts, but it also must be refined close to competition to allow them to make weight. Consider working with a qualified sports dietitian to tailor a diet to individual needs.
Eating clean and well!
Clean eating refers to consuming whole, unprocessed foods at most meals. Lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsweetened dairy, nuts and seeds are the foundation of a fighter’s on- and off-season diet. During the off-season, fighters may indulge in sweets and not count calories closely, but they still stick to the tenets of unprocessed, whole-food eating. A professional MMA fighter’s typical day’s menu consists of lean meat, eggs and vegetables at breakfast; chicken with pasta and sweet potatoes at lunch; shepherd’s pie consisting of ground turkey, peas and sweet potatoes at dinner; and snacks of Greek yogurt with protein powder and all-fruit preserves mixed in.
The tough part!
Prepares almost all the meals at home when training. Avoid sugar, stick to water and coffee for beverages and shop the outer ring of the grocery store where produce, meats and dairy are plentiful. In the months leading up to a fight, eat five meals per day with three hours between them. Most of these meals comprise lean meats such as chicken, turkey or steak, and vegetables, including sweet potatoes and kale, with a little fruit. A vegan MMA fighter also eats multiple times per day, consuming oatmeal for breakfast, grain salads and tempeh at lunch and brown rice with vegetables for dinner.
Ready for the day!
Cutting refers to the process of dropping significant pounds the week before a fight to make weight for competition. Some fighters starve themselves this week to lose as much weight as possible, but this can leave one feeling weak and unable to perform at their best. During the week or two prior to a fight, one should still stick to multiple meals per day, consisting mostly of lean proteins and vegetables, but cut back on serving sizes and drink more water. One who weighs 166 pounds, consumes about 2,200 calories per day in the two weeks leading up to a fight — all while conducting three punishing workouts daily. They may have a meal replacement drink for breakfast, an energy bar for lunch, yogurt and fruit with low-carb tortilla chips and salsa for a snack and a protein bar after each of two workouts. For dinner, stick to a broth-based soup with tofu and fruit, instead of the normal sorbet or vegan cookies, for dessert. A late-night meal could consist of a salad, again with tofu, and fruit. This number of calories would never sustain one during their primary training season, but it enables them to lose weight but still have enough energy to train in the last week or two before a big fight.
Get that supplement!
Protein supplements are a mainstay of an MMA fighter’s diet. Athletes who exercise at high intensities doing both strength and endurance work require more protein daily to support muscle growth and recovery. Athletes require between 0.7 and 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. Protein after a workout is also important to support recovery. Fish oil can also benefit an MMA fighter by fighting the inflammation high levels of training cause and therefore inspiring faster recovery between workouts. One must speak to their doctor before adding supplements to the diet.