Diet can play an important role in a martial artist’s performance. In order to gain strength, you must eat a well balanced diet. For martial artists, what you consume provides your body the stamina and speed to perform at your very best. Some of the most important areas to watch what you consume are:
Carbohydrates are the basic energy source for the body. This means that carbs keep your body working as you exercise, however, it’s important to watch how much energy you’re using compared to the carbs you’re consuming. Eating more carbs than you’re using will result in increased body fat, which is generally not the goal when exercising. Try to consume enough carbs to keep you going, but not so many that they weigh you down. A good rule of thumb for anyone (including athletes) is to limit the calories consumed from carbohydrates to between 55% and 60% of a day’s calories. Foods high in calories are grains, roots, fruits, vegetables, dried beans and peas.
Famed martial artist, Bruce Lee, ate a high carb, low protein diet to keep him in peak shape for performance. He believed that carbs gave him better energy than protein and he ate about 4-5 meals per day to keep up his energy.
Muscle tissue is made up of proteins, therefore, protein consumption is an integral part of an athlete’s diet. Protein can also be used by the body for energy when carbs are low. Foods high in protein include: meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, soy beans, tofu and dried beans.
A popular mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, Fabricio Werdum, sticks to a high protein, low carb diet to keep him going strong. He eats as many as 8 meals per day, made up of protein shakes and light meals to keep his energy up and his body performing at its best.
Body fat is important for prolonged training and is also used by the body for energy when carbohydrates run low. However, not all fats are good for the body and you should try to avoid saturated fats whenever possible. Unsaturated fats are the healthier choice but should not exceed more than 20-25% of your daily caloric intake. Foods high in unsaturated fats include: olives, nuts, avocados, seeds, and fish oil.
Shaolin Monks avoided dairy or meat in their diets. Most of their food was prepared raw or steamed, which is believed to be related to their Buddhist beliefs. Raw foods are more alive and in consuming “live” food you are adding more life to your body. That’s a pretty interesting way to look at it.
Vitamins and Minerals
Martial artists have a greater need for vitamins (especially vitamin B12) because of their increased metabolism. Vitamins have a huge impact on metabolism and your body does not produce vitamins on its own. Eating food rich in vitamins is an excellent way to add the vitamins you need to your diet naturally, instead of using supplements. Some foods rich in Vitamin B12 include: shellfish, fortified tofu, skim milk, beef and eggs.
Our bodies are made up of minerals, but we need to replenish them to maintain balance. As the building blocks of our body, the most important minerals to consume are calcium and iron. These can be found in dairy products, beans, eggs, green vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, meats, beans and lentils.
Most important of all is to drink plenty of water before, during, and after training. Water helps regulate your body temperature and allows muscles to easily contract. This is why when you get a cramp your coach may tell you to drink water. Remember that thirst is not always a good indicator of the body’s need for water. Drink frequently to keep your body going strong!
There are several foods that fit in almost every category on this list. Foods such as nuts, beans, fruits and green vegetables would be great additions to your diet or a good place to increase consumption to improve your performance. There’s no exact diet plan that works for every martial artist, so try different things to find the balance that works best for you!