Feb
01

MMA Diet: Yogurt

Many athletes start their day off with a cup of yogurt. While this can be good, it’s often not as good as many think. Not all yogurts are created equal. Let’s explore why.

For starters, food demand in developed countries is based more on taste than necessity. Whereas people in rural or less developed places in the world may receive only a few options and even then only of the dietary staples – white rice, for example – developed countries have a wide variety of choices due to economic and transportation factors and are therefore able to stock foods based purely on taste demand. When we consider that the average buyer will likely choose the sweeter, more colorful, more advertised and easier items than athletes seeking the best possible foods to fuel themselves for their careers, it’s easy to see why even the selection of yogurt can be a tricky one.

Walk down the dairy aisle of most supermarket chains and you’ll find countless varieties of individual servings of yogurt – bright labels advertising the latest probiotic craze or how the fruit is on the bottom. Unfortunately, and although many buyers have the best intention and believe they are making a healthy food choice, the vast majority of these yogurts are about as healthy as a candy bar. Some even contain more sugar (in various forms, yogurt brands are notorious for masking their true sugar content) than a serving of Pepsi.

A Few Reasons Why Yogurt is Healthy

(1) The bacteria cultures in yogurt have been shown to stimulate infection-fighting white blood cells. This may lead to less illness and quicker recovery from illness.

(2) Yogurt contains protein (see MMA Diet: Protein) and because of the fermentation process the protein is “predigested” which means it’s easier for the body to absorb.

(3) The live active cultures in yogurt create lactase, so even those with protein allergies or lactose intolerance may find they can enjoy yogurt.

What to Look For

(1) “Plain.” While the word “natural” is all-too-often used deceptively, the word “plain” when it comes to yogurt helps separate it from those filled with flavorings or from the highly preserved “fruit on the bottom” varieties.

(2) 11g or less of sugar per serving

(3) A short ingredient list that looks identical or awfully similar to these:

i. CULTURED PASTEURIZED ORGANIC NONFAT MILK, PECTIN, VITAMIN D

ii. CULTURED PASTEURIZED NONFAT MILK, LIVE AND ACTIVE CULTURES

Additional Tips

- Another healthy option is to look for “Greek” yogurt with a similar ingredient list. While regular yogurt may contain 11g of sugar and 8g of protein per 6oz serving, Greek yogurt can pack in more than 18g of protein while also containing less sugar within the same 6oz serving size.

- The small individual servings are often not the best choice because they usually only come in the sweetened and flavored varieties. Instead, opt for the 32oz containers if possible.

Recommendations

Because the vast majority of athletes shop at grocery stores, here are two of the best brands I’ve found that most major stores will carry:

- Stonyfield Plain nonfat (they also have an organic variety)

- Chobani Plain nonfat Greek

Cameron Conaway is the author of “Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet.” He’s an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, an MMA Conditioning Coach and a NESTA Sports Nutrition Specialist.

This article was originally published on SHERDOG.COM.

Oct
14

Martin Rooney Nutrition

MMA Diet: Martin Rooney Edition

by Cameron Conaway
Oct 11th, 2011

A list of Martin Rooney’s academic and fitness credentials do not begin to show the impact this man has had on the field of strength and conditioning as it relates to MMA athletes.

In July 2010 I did a 4-part interview with him titled, “The World’s Best MMA Fitness Coach,” but he’s even grown tremendously in popularity since then. However, part of what makes Martin Rooney so successful at what he does – aside from the results: he prepared Frankie Edgar for BJ Penn – is his versatility. He’s a terrific writer, a terrific speaker and he looks like he follows the words he preaches. Sure, it’s usually his Training for Warriors knowledge that’s featured in magazines, books and videos, but he can talk MMA nutrition with the best of them. I caught up with Martin and he agreed to answer a few questions for us here at Sherdog.

CC: Martin, your success has meant loads of athletes are getting proper training advice and information. As I see your career continue to skyrocket I know everyone is benefiting. The same can’t be said for many other big name trainers out there. However, it seems the next step for our MMA athletes (and our country in general) is to continue building upon sound nutritional advice. What are three common misconceptions about MMA nutrition and what advice would you give to counter them?

MR: Thanks for the kind words Cameron. I am always doing my best to share what I have learned with as many people as possible. This goes along with my belief that the more you share with others, the more you benefit.

In terms of nutrition, yes, it could be argued that this is an important area in which MMA athletes are paying more attention. Even with this attention, however, I still feel this is perhaps the most abused aspect of physical preparation next to overtraining.
The first most common misconception is that since an MMA athlete is doing so much training, they he or she thinks they are allowed to eat whatever you want. I don’t know if the Michael Phelps interview helped or hurt here (he prided himself on eating 10,000 calories of poor food choices and won a record haul of gold medals) but there is no good excuse to eat poor food. I would counter this by reminding athletes that a calorie is not a calorie. Make sure that you are eating clean with plenty of good food choices like fruits, vegetables and lean meats. Regardless of how many antioxidants they say dark chocolate has, that doesn’t mean it is good for you.
The next most common misconception is that supplements are actually food and that the labels on these tell the truth. I would like to remind the athletes out there that the term “supplement” means in addition to, not “all you need to eat.” So, a bar here or there in a pinch and a post workout shake is great, but make sure that you are eating “real” food first. Too many people are subsisting mainly on things from bottles and wrappers. We have to be smarter than that.
The final common misconception I see is that huge weight cuts are normal and it is ok to be relatively out of shape and use a less than strict diet and make up with it through a drastic cut. True, I have pushed the knowledge forward in this area and believe being big and strong in a certain weight is essential these days, but it still has to be done well. Good food choices, a more gradual cut and proper rehydration and weight gain processes are essential.

CC: There are many parallels between how a member of the general population needs to eat and how an MMA fighter needs to eat, but can you fill us in on three key differences that make an MMA athlete’s nutritional needs different?

MR: Actually, there are not many differences in terms of how a “normal” person and an MMA fighter should eat in terms of food quality, nutrients and number of meals per day. The key differences would be caloric amount, protein requirement, and eating for recovery.

So, a fighter would need more caloric intake at their meals to supply energy from the advanced amounts of training, increased protein for muscle building and the timing of recovery methods like pre and post workout nutrition as well as certain foods that can decrease inflammation and enhance recovery.

CC: Just like fighters have other fighters they respect in the field, who are some other nutrition folks inside or outside of the MMA community that you read and respect and recommend others pay attention to?

MR: The person I have always gone to most for nutrition advice is John Berardi of Precision Nutrition. He has influenced my nutritional practices and actually wrote an unbelievable chapter in my upcoming book that will be the third book in the Training for Warriors system. In addition to John, of late, I have been reading Michael Pollan’s books. Very interesting and entertaining.

CC: Lastly, you’ve had tremendous success with your three training books, but what’s firing you up now? Do you see yourself still working in the print medium or adapting your skills for something else?

MR: The books have been a passion of mine and now I am also doing regular work for magazines like Gracie Magazine, FIGHT!, Fight Hard, Train Easy, Muscle and Fitness and Men’s Fitness. But, how I see myself is a trainer that writes about his training, not a writer.

My most exciting project now is my Training for Warriors certification. Now I am training trainers from all around the world in my system. I certified over 200 coaches this year including instructors of the Army Rangers. If you want to take your training to another level, I suggest checking out the certification information at www.trainingforwarriors.com.

Cameron Conaway is the author of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet.

This article was originally published here on Sherdog.com.

Sep
14

MMA Diet: Vitamin D

This article will be a bit shorter and sweeter than the others primarily because information about vitamin D is simply everywhere, and the vast majority of it is quite accurate because vitamin D is not a “drug” or “supplement” owned or marketed by a company who can hype, exaggerate or otherwise influence buyers. Also, it’s been studied extensively, and for over 40 years, so many of the current studies about the health benefits of vitamin D are simply reinforcing and/or adding new layers to the body of good news.

Vitamin D is emerging well-beyond its original “bone vitamin” status. It’s now viewed as the vitamin we all need to make conscious steps to get more of. Actually, reports in nearly every health magazine and university are touting its benefits – from large things like a decreased risk of cancer, depression and inflammatory diseases to the smaller things like stronger fingernails, skin and gums. In fact, many see vitamin D as one way to help our country’s debt and healthcare problems – it makes sense. Here we have a vitamin with a host of health benefits, that we can get either naturally through sun exposure, or supplementally through pills that cost just a few dollars a month and can be picked up at anywhere from mom-and-pop health stores to Wal-Mart.

After something proves positive in the general population, generally athletes are next in line. This is where vitamin D stands. For the past three years or so research on vitamin D within the field of sport has intensified and is looking equally positive. Look, in this writer’s opinion, you should be taking vitamin D just as a person in the world. But, if you’re an athlete and you need a few more specific reasons to pop a pill or step out into the sun, well, here goes:

Deficiency:

Of course, vitamin D is renowned for its role in musculoskeletal health. As MMA athletes train explosively – box jumps, bounding and nearly every other forceful movement – bones are being pounded together. This can help create bone density, which is a good thing, but it can also lead to stress fractures both large and small. Not to mention the fractures caused from the fights themselves. Vitamin D can reduce the chances of this (and thus time away from training) and help improve recovery time when a fracture does occur. Lastly, because much of our training and work in general takes place inside buildings these days, it means it’s ultra-important to get enough vitamin D. Some suggest at least 1,000-2,000 IU daily, or at least 10-15 minutes per day of sun exposure to large areas of skin. Those with darker skin pigmentation should shoot for the upper range of this level.

Straight-up Performance:

Straight-up Performance:

Several studies have examined and found positive correlations between higher levels of vitamin D intake (by “higher” I mean above the low baseline needed to prevent rickets) and increasing both the percentage of and size of Type II muscle fibers. These are the “fast twitch” fibers and are essentially what athletes are hoping to recruit in their quest to become “more explosive and powerful.” Other studies linked higher vitamin D levels to improvements in balance and reaction time. More studies will need to be conducted, but this is huge news in the field of human strength & conditioning. That something so readily available and affordable can have such a profound impact on athletes is almost crazy to think about – especially considering all the wild and expensive concoctions athletes take in order to gain that competitive edge.

Other Ways to Get Vitamin D:

Many products like milk and cereals are fortified with a synthetic form of vitamin D, but here are some healthy foods that contain a fair amount naturally:

- Fish (Salmon, Tuna, Sardines, Mackerel, Catfish, etc.)

- Shiitake Mushrooms (especially dried)

- Eggs (not nearly as much as the above two, but a decent amount)

Somewhat-Related Side-Note:

Competitive bodybuilders hit the tanning beds or the beaches or the lotion in order to darken their skin before they hit the stage. Fact is, under the bright lights, tanned and/or darker skin can make an athlete’s muscular definition truly stand out. Shadows cast inside the cuts and muscles appear to bulge even more. Especially when bodybuilders are then oiled and sweaty – this highlights the definition even more. I say this because while getting some sun could regulate your hormones and cause many of the other positive benefits mentioned above, it could also darken the tone of your skin a bit – and this could provide a slight psychological edge when entering the cage. MMA is a sport where every edge – be it psychological or physical – matters greatly. And there’s something, perhaps even subconscious intimidation, which could kick in when a fighter looks across and sees that their opponent is lean and muscled.

To join my team, support my work or to ask me any health-related questions, please feel free to visit my Facebook Page. There I will answer questions daily, and if I can’t comfortably answer your question I will direct you to those who can.

This article was originally published at Sherdog.com.

Aug
27

MMA Diet: Nitric Oxide

Increase your muscular endurance, size, pumps, strength, vascularity, mental focus, power, fat-burning capabilities, recovery times, workload and performance. I kid you not (although nitric oxide is often referred to as laughing gas, laughing gas is actually nitrous oxide), a single supplement, nitric oxide, claims to deliver all of this. And I didn’t even include the exclamation points. Or the asterisks. We’ll explore both below after the tip and the disclaimer. Let’s check it out.

Tip: Nitric oxide isn’t actually the supplement. The aim of the supplement is to increase levels of nitric oxide in our body, and it does this chiefly through the amino acid L-arginine, which is a nitric oxide precursor. Although most nitric oxide products also contain 20-50 other ingredients (like caffeine and citrulline malate) in order to supplement the supplement’s effect. It’s really a science here. People ask me all the time, “Should I take nitric oxide?” I know what they mean, but often hope they know what they mean. Especially if they’re using it.

Disclaimer: The information below comes both from current research and personal experience. I am not endorsing or recommending. Tip: Nitric oxide supplements are often referred to as NO2. But NO2 is nitric dioxide, a dangerous toxin and auto/industrial pollutant.

The Exclamations:

Can a nitric oxide supplement like BSN’s popular NO Xplode actually deliver everything it claims? Yes, but only with a person who is training properly and only if that athlete is responsive. Considering both of those attributes are met – this rules out many typical nitric oxide users – let’s move forward.

Taken as directed (generally a few scoops mixed in water 30-45 minutes before training), the athlete will experience an enhanced ability to “dial in.” This is terrific for bodybuilding in particular because it means the athlete can better achieve that all-important mind-to-muscle connection. They will better be able to feel their lats fire during chins rather than their biceps, they’ll be better able to “feel” and “target” the muscle from the angle they want. MMA athletes like Cain Velasquez and Forrest Griffin are sponsored by BSN, so how might this supplement impact their mental state? Rather than “dial in” to a muscle, they’ll be ultra-focused on the task at hand – armbar drills, bagwork, etc. And because nitric oxide products also contain caffeine, and caffeine research is proving that it increases memory, the MMA athletes may better remember the subtleties of each technique.

Physically, the “pump” can be phenomenal. Muscles literally swell in size because nitric oxide products cause vasodilation – basically blood pressure increases to cause a widening of blood channels – and this increases the amount of oxygen and nutrient-rich fluids that can be shuttled to support the working muscles. There were times I’d take nitric oxide prior to a squat workout and my glutes, hamstrings and quads were so huge and swollen compared to an hour before that it was actually difficult to walk out of the gym. This effect is also what is reported to increase recovery. I was able to bang out more reps (this could have been because caffeine has a numbing effect on the “burn” sensation) and I generally felt more capable in the gym – sometimes able to get an extra set not just an extra rep. Countless users, athletes of all types, have experiences similar. And it’s this higher capacity that could certainly allow MMA athletes to do more work in the gym. So, nitric oxide can possibly make athletes more efficient with their time in the gym and allow them to accomplish more through an increased workload. Pretty powerful stuff.

The Asterisks:

It’s short-lived. Even the supplement companies recommend cycling it (taking it for a designated period then stopping for a few weeks). Some users adapt incredibly fast to nitric oxide supplements. Personally, I only used it once or twice a week max. If I used it more days than that the effect wore off quicker, I’d need more or the effect wouldn’t happen at all. Despite only using once or twice a week, I still found I had to back off for weeks at a time because the effect got shorter and shorter. You basically have to monitor your intake and view it like a drug. It can be addicting to get in the gym and blast it, and many users want this natural high every single day. Truth is, no nitric oxide user can make that happen, regardless of what they say in magazines. The body is one of the world’s best adapting mechanisms. Try as we might, sometimes we can’t trick it.

The altered blood pressure (both high and low) can be dangerous for many people – not just those traditionally thought to be in the “high blood pressure” category, like the elderly. Anaerobic sports like MMA mean explosiveness – whether it’s with a deadlift or a takedown, a kettlebell snatch or a knee-strike. These explosive movements are often accompanied with what’s called the “Valsalva” maneuver – a term that basically means the holding of the breath so that the body’s core stabilizes itself. Know how you squeeze when you’re sitting on the toilet? It’s nearly identical to this – and with this movement comes a natural and skyrocketing increase in blood pressure. So, coupled together, nitric oxide and explosive movements that result in the Valsalva could increase blood pressure to dangerous levels that cause fainting or worse. Again, even the supplement companies recognize this and often say their product is designed for “those between 18 and 50 years old.”

Minor side effects like dry mouth and rashes have been reported – although some of the rashes may be due to the natural skin-tingling effects from a combination of arginine, citrulline malate and high levels of B vitamins. Interestingly, herpes outbreaks are reportedly higher (and more intense) with nitric oxide users because L-arginine impacts the virus’s ability to replicate. The amino acid L-lysine can then lessen this effect. Told you, it’s a true science here!

Nitric Oxide on General Health:

Some studies have shown that increased levels of nitric oxide can actually help neurotransmitters, support the immune system and reduce general inflammation – which research shows has direct links to many cardiovascular diseases. But nitric oxide boosting need not come from supplements – things like pure cocoa powder, coffee, walnuts and coconut can naturally produce similar effects, albeit less intense. Exercise in general boosts our body’s levels of nitric oxide. Being at a healthy bodyweight and having healthy cholesterol numbers can mean you may have less plaque in your arteries, and less plaque means nitric oxide travels better.

Cameron is the author of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet.

This article was originally published on Sherdog.com.

Aug
13

MMA Diet: Caffeine

Does caffeine impact sports performance? Absolutely.

“Most of us know caffeine as the stuff in coffee that gives us a morning boost. It’s estimated that 80% of us drink coffee regularly. But according to the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) caffeine is the world’s most commonly used drug, according to Vanderbilt University it is the “most inexpensive and readily available drug known to man,” many nutrition sites list coffee as the world’s most powerful and ingested antioxidant beverage and according to many athletic improvement sites it is considered the most widely studied aid to enhance physical performance.

“Athletes at all levels – including the Olympics – can be banned and even have their medals taken from them due to caffeine levels over the sport’s testing limit. Yes, caffeine, a substance most of us drink every morning, is on the list of banned “supplements” just like steroids and cocaine – but only if the urine test comes back at 12mg/L (basically 8 cups of traditional coffee, depending on body size). A “moderate” amount is generally considered 250mg/day. Positive correlations between caffeine and focus/athletic performance have been found ranging from 150mg-600mg/day, but after this amount the effect doesn’t increase much and may even turn negative. If caffeine is the world’s most commonly used drug, then it’s also the world’s most commonly used performance enhancer. It’s certainly worth exploring the effects of caffeine on MMA performance. As we know, MMA is as much mental as it is physical, so let’s look at how caffeine could effect both. Note: Caffeine’s effect varies not just among individuals, but also quite significantly between individual users (those who have developed a tolerance) and non-users.”

A Brief Mental Primer

Caffeine directly stimulates the Central Nervous System – think medulla and cortex – and can do so to the point where it allows people to be more alert and more focused for a few hours. We all know this, but many of us know this as it relates to getting up in the morning for work or swigging down an espresso so we can finish the drive home. In terms of MMA performance, the ability to focus is paramount. Essentially, MMA is high-speed physical chess. The moves are so technical – each one creating a potential opening for a counter – that a slight lapse in concentration could be the difference between turning your head a few degrees the wrong way while caught in a triangle…or escaping the triangle and moving to side control. Huge difference. And it all can happen in less than a second. Lastly, as we will also see below, caffeine can alter our perception of pain – meaning we may be able to endure more of it.

The Physical Side

Like most other supplements, caffeine was originally tested in athletes competing in endurance sports like running, cycling and swimming, so it is there where we have the most robust and tested studies. The effects of many studies were significant – not only did athletes who took caffeine have higher total work outputs (more revolutions on the ergometer in 75 minutes, for example) than those who received the placebo, but several studies showed that caffeine allowed the athletes body to first (and more efficiently) burn fat. This means that as the placebo endurance athlete blew their glycogen load and began to fatigue, one of two things (or even both) were taking place in the caffeinated athlete: Their body had reserves of glycogen left because fat was burned first and/or their energy systems had an easier time tapping into fat stores to fuel the final leg of their performance. Regardless of the reason, caffeinated athletes often performed at a minimum of 5% better. Lastly, last year I attended a presentation on caffeine and athletic performance at the NSCA’s annual conference in Las Vegas. They were reporting that caffeine had a numbing effect on the “burn” associated with muscular fatigue. This means that when your shoulders are so on fire that you can’t throw another punch, caffeine may help increase your endurance by allowing you to throw a few more combinations. Who knows, that last combination might include the final left hook that brings the bout to an end.

Some conditioning coaches say MMA is 75% anaerobic and 25% aerobic – or other similar figures. But MMA isn’t like other games. Lebron James runs up and down the court for two hours with intermittent bursts of explosiveness. Soccer players, depending on their position, need to be more explosive or more aerobic. MMA varies even more drastically. A fight can be a test of absolute bouts of explosions with short rests or a super-high and super-consistent aerobic output like a Jon Fitch grinding decision victory. Or it could end in fifteen seconds. Of course, MMA athletes need to be as explosive as possible, but even just the basic nerves and focus prior to a fight can raise the heart rate of a fighter sitting in a chair to a level judged to be “aerobic.” Regardless of the breakdown percentages provided, MMA is always both anaerobic and aerobic and there will never be a way to put specific numbers on either.

As more studies confirmed caffeine’s positive effects on endurance performance, more anaerobic sports were tested. Findings were again in favor of caffeine – showing that even athletes in absolute burst sports like powerlifting could achieve more powerful muscular contractions. What could this mean? It could be the difference between having a takedown stuffed or plowing through your opponent.

The Side Effects

My note about variability matters greatly. Just as athletes need to practice their weight cut, so do they need to practice and experiment with how caffeine effects their performance. For some, having a cup or two of coffee before entering the cage may give them an edge, for others it may simply increase nervous jitters, increase heart rate and thus lead to the athlete fatiguing more quickly. Athletes who do not ingest caffeine regularly will urinate more. Coffee does not dehydrate those who frequently drink it – the tolerance levels in the body treat it as any other liquid. But for those unaccustomed to drinking coffee or taking caffeine, it may take a few weeks for the body to begin excreting less urine. Other athletes may use caffeine to compensate for a lack of sleep and this can lead to a host of problems, including overtraining and even depression. Other athletes still may get an upset stomach or worse because of coffee’s acidity. The adrenal glands produce the hormones we need to handle stress, and some studies are showing that caffeine can lead to adrenal burnout which can lead to a decreased ability to cope with stress, increased nervousness, anxiety, etc. Lastly, as most of us get caffeine via coffee, it’s important to be aware of what you put in your coffee. I drink black, always. Adding artificial creamers and flavors only adds meaningless calories and some studies show it actually impedes some of coffee’s health effects (including the impact of caffeine). Of course, if you choose to experiment with caffeine as a performance-enhancing supplement, do so moderately and smartly. Document each experience in writing so you can compare it not only to your memory but to something more tangible.

To join my team, support my work or to ask me any health-related questions, please feel free to visit my Facebook Page. There I will answer questions daily, and if I can’t comfortably answer your question I will direct you to those who can.

This article was originally published on Sherdog.com.

Aug
05

MMA Diet: The Importance of Meals

It sounds simple, but meals are important. We skip them more than we think. Cameron explains their importance, especially as it relates to the MMA athlete. Click here to read the article on Sherdog.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Supplemental bars and shakes have their place in the fighter’s diet. Grabbing a bar in between a training session can help replenish sugars, electrolytes and vitamins while providing the protein necessary to help repair the body from the grueling demands of training. However, while bars and supplements are great for providing what we think of as the staples of nutrition (protein, fat and carbohydrate) they aren’t food in their natural states and this often means many of the smaller chemicals (one example: the healthy bacteria that help maintain everything from a healthy intestinal tract to a strong immune system) are either severely lacking or not present in nearly the same quantity as they would be if the foods that made up the bar were eaten in their natural, unprocessed state.”

Aug
05

MMA Diet: Supplements

The supplement industry is catering to the demands of MMA fighters. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Which supplements are worth taking or worth waiting on?

Many nutritionists I’ve met instruct their clients to avoid supplements or say that supplements aren’t needed. The reality is that supplements, while they may not be absolutely essential, will be taken. The reality is that many nutritionists are amazingly knowledgeable about nutritional concepts and food choices, but severely lacking in knowledge about modern-day sport supplements. The result is that the nutritionist tries to avoid wading into waters where they may feel uncomfortable. This is at once noble (because they are not going beyond their scope of practice) and unfortunate (because fighters are going to get supplement information somewhere and it’s better to come from a studied nutritionist rather than a supplement company or buddy at the gym).

Here’s the short of it: Supplements can and do change to bodies in miraculous ways. Bodybuilders incorporate fat burners during the final six weeks before a show and they are able to get absolutely shredded before they hit the stage. As we’ve seen in baseball, players are able to hit more homeruns when they are “juicing.” However, while we know that many supplements do work, what we don’t know precisely is what else they may be doing to our bodies. Many researchers suggest that steroids can cause muscles to grow stronger than what the tendons and ligaments can support and stabilize and that this leads to injuries. Others assert that steroids can lead to heart disease and hormone deregulation – this opens the door for basically every known human health problem.

We know that protein shakes can help athletes recover from strenuous workouts.

We know that energy drinks can provide a burst of energy, but that the body responds in two ways: It usually crashes when the energy supplement wears off, or it responds to the supplement well for a few weeks and then adapts to it and no longer feels its effects – the latter can cause fighters to “megadose” and take more than the recommended dosage.

We know that supplements are often so refined and processed that they’ve lost many of the important properties contained within whole foods. Mark Haub, nutrition professor at Kansas State University, recently made news because he lost 27 pounds in two months while eating only Twinkies, Oreo cookies, powdered donuts and other sweets. He ate 1800 calories per day. He proved his premise: In weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most – not the food’s nutritional value.

However, because the media is infatuated with “weight,” it’s only given a short period of time to convey a large piece of information and, through no fault of their own, are a bit ignorant regarding nutrition, they dropped the ball on how they presented this “diet.” By relying on refined junk foods, Mark Haub was robbing his body of the important chemical compounds in real foods. Here is a list of antioxidants in just one sprig of thyme: 4-Terpineol, alanine, anethole, apigenin, ascorbic acid, beta carotene, caffeic acid, camphene, carvacrol, chlorogenic acid, chrysoeriol, eriodictyol, eugenol, ferulic acid, gallic acid, gamma-terpinene isocholorgenic acid, isoeugenol, isothymonin, kaempferol, labiatic acid, lauric acid, linalyl acetate, luteolin, methionine, myrcene, myristic acid, naringenin, oleanolic acid, p-coumoric acid, p-hydroxy-benzoic acid, palmitic acid, rosmarinic acid, selenium, tannin, thymol, tryptophan, ursolic acid, vanillic acid.

However, many of the media who presented the study called it the “Twinkie Diet” despite the fact that Mark Haub also took a multivitamin pill and drank a protein shake daily. And he ate vegetables, typically a can of green beans or three to four celery stalks. The media conveniently withheld this information because it wouldn’t be as big of a hit.

(1) A safe recommendation regarding supplements is to use what is regarded as the safest of the supplements – protein shakes – when you’re in a hurry. Try to use your own powder rather than a ready-to-drink shake. Powders will often contain less preservatives and contain fewer filler ingredients. Look for: Micellar Casein, Casein, Whey and/or Egg as the first ingredient.

(2) Be wary of other supplements – including those claiming to boost energy or burn fat. While protein shakes have been proven relatively safe, many other products on the market can increase your heart rate at rest and cause the body’s hormones to respond differently. This may or may not have long-term health risks, and it’s generally not worth the money, especially when a rich cup of organic coffee can give you the same boost and contains many other health benefits as well.

(3) A multivitamin might not hurt or hurt much, but it might not help or help much either. Eat a variety of colorful foods and your body will pull from those foods what it needs.

(4) Fish oil is a supplement worth taking.

(5) Vitamin D is a supplement worth taking.

There’s the crash course on supplements.

This article was originally published on Sherdog.com.

Aug
05

MMA Diet: Pre-Workout

How do MMA fighters fuel their bodies for a grueling workout? What are some of best foods to eat before our workouts?

The term “pre-workout” is a common phrase, but far too vague to adequately describe the complexity. We hear of pre-workout drinks and pre-workout meals, pre-workout bars, and pre-workout supplements. What we don’t hear much about is, well, what type of workout? The type of workout influences the type of pre-workout nutritional demands.

For example, a BJJ player about to drill stack defense from the spider guard for two hours will not want a large meal. The food will get pushed around and the athlete may eventually vomit, or, at the least, the discomfort will result in the focus not being on technique. Of course, we have the athletes like Herschel Walker who can eat one meal per day and seemingly break all the established rules for nutrition and exercise. Some top MMA strength and conditioning coaches like Mike Mahler suggest doing HOC (High Octane Cardio) on an empty stomach. So, we are left with conflicting information and an endless amount of conflicting research. Where do we go from here? Enter the journal.

Only after we begin to track how we feel, what type of workout we are doing and what our results are will we begin to piece together all of this information. We’ve got some research that says never to workout on an empty stomach, we have other research that says there are certainly positives. Now that we are armed with options, we must get inside ourselves and come up with an individualized approach. Whether fitness is part of your career or is simply a part of your lifestyle, checking in with yourself and recognizing what works will help you sustain a longer-term (and smarter) commitment to your body. Some questions to begin asking:

(1) How do I feel (during and after) when doing light/medium/intense cardio on an empty stomach? Do I feel exhilarated? Do I feel rundown and weak? After a few months do I notice my body is getting leaner or storing extra fat?

(2) What time can I / do I workout? Can this schedule change? If I could choose the optimal time for me what would it be?

(3) What pre-cardio meals seem to sit best with me? What pre-MMA-training meal? What pre-lifting meal?

(4) Does coffee or tea provide a good pre-exercise boost for me? (Studies are showing that caffeine, aside from the stimulant aspect, can actually lessen the “burn” feeling that comes from higher rep exercise.)

(5) Am I functionally fixed? Is it a mental battle to have breakfast or not? Am I making decisions based on mental comfort or based on bodily comfort?

(6) If I workout in the morning, what time do I go to bed and what time is my last meal? (I don’t recommend fasting for more than eight hours and then working out without a small meal.)

Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls liked to have steak and potatoes before games. Cyclists and marathon runners “carb-up” days ahead of time by piling massive amounts of complex grains into their systems in order to have steady fuel for their performance. How do you train? Was it that you need?

Men’s Health has several links, including this one, that will allow you to make healthy and healthier breakfast choices: http://www.menshealth.com/jumpstartyourday/breakfast-slideshow.php

Also, the Mayo Clinic has consistently solid advice regarding breakfast and every other meal during the day: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/food-and-nutrition/NU00197

As Ben Franklin said, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” This can be applied to other, but also to ourselves. We are our own authority. Question and critique and analyze your workouts and the foods you eat beforehand. It’s quite the holistic approach, but it’ll get you in the right direction.

Post-workout nutrition is an area where we can be more specific. We don’t need to worry as much about upset stomachs, workout types, whether to eat or not, etc. Stay tuned for that article.

This article was originally published at Sherdog.com.

Aug
05

MMA Diet: Control

We’ve all heard it before: Portions matter. But we need splurges, right? Do MMA fighters splurge? What’s the best way to splurge?

With rules, especially strict rules, come thoughts of breaking rules. Often, with thoughts, especially repeated thoughts, come actions influenced by those thoughts. These ideas pair with many societal aspects – from school dress codes to religious dogma. Our focus now is control as it relates to our MMA Diet.

Look, the term “diet” conjures up negative thoughts in many of our minds. We associate “diet” with a short-term, strict (and often miserable) nutritional plan that means eating tasteless foods and drinking tasteless drinks in an attempt to lose a few pounds. In recent years, many nutritionists have moved away from phrases like “prescribing a diet” because it sounds short-term, or like something a doctor would say while we’re on the gurney in a white-walled sanitary hospital. Words like “lifestyle” and “holistic” have filtered into nutritional talks as a way to show that “diets” aren’t something that should be ephemeral. Our nutritional intake consumes a significant portion of our days, and a healthy awareness regarding our food and drink choices should not only be when we’re eight weeks out from spring break or from a fight. It should be for life.

The preface here is necessary because when we make nutritional changes, it’s easy to go “all out.” With this “all out” mentality comes a self-imposed set of strict guidelines – and this cycles us back to paragraph one. Whatever dietary changes you choose to embrace based on what you’ve read in this Sherdog MMA Diet series or in books like Robb Wolf’s “The Paleo Solution,” be sure to implement the changes slowly. After one month of eliminating soda from your diet, it’ll become a habit and you’ll be itching to add one more healthy change from your list. Maybe the next step could be cutting your consumption of red meat down to once per week. Then, there you will be, entering your third month of nutritional awareness and you’ll have already made habitual two very healthy dietary changes. Month three can be the addition of a vegetable to each meal, and so on until you feel you’ve reached a place where you’re not only happy, but you’re in control of your diet rather than letting your diet control you.

Many people, including myself, have unsuccessfully tried the “six on, one off” diet plan. Essentially, this means a super-strict diet for six days followed by a “splurge day.” What happens is that you’ll begin looking forward so much to the splurge day. You’ll see junk foods throughout the week and there’ll be a sort of “wait until Sunday” type of mentality, and when Sunday comes it’s usually a splurge far larger than you originally intended. Many yoga poses work on the tourniquet effect. Essentially, this means getting into a position that temporarily cuts off blood flow to a particular part of the body. After twenty or so seconds, the pose will be released and a rapid surge of blood will flow back to the area. The idea is that with this fresh flow of blood comes a stream of healthy nutrients and a ridding of that which impedes the cleansing of the body. A set of strict diet rules is comparable to cutting off the blood, eventually there’s going to be a surge or splurge – except, unlike in yoga, the dietary splurge isn’t going to be something good for you and it may even entice you to splurge more often or to drop your dietary changes altogether.

Us MMA fans are always hearing of “control.” One of the ways MMA contests are scored: Octagon control. We hear of B.J. Penn having great “back control” or of how wrestlers are able to best “control” where the fight takes place. My Muay Thai instructors here in Bangkok speak of how the jab and the lead leg can “control” the rhythm of the fight. The Buddhist monks here speak of how we can cultivate mindful awareness not be controlling the thoughts of our desires, but by controlling our ability to be aware of the thoughts of our desires so we can make conscious rather than subconscious choices regarding them.

Dietary control is a complex topic. It’s far psychologically deeper than “being tough.” Just like in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, there are ways to use leverage (albeit in the mind) in order to increase the likelihood that the moves you make lead to better and better positions.

The MMA Diet is one that recognizes our humanness and takes into account our natural weaknesses – just as the martial artist with a short reach will work on getting inside or a striker new to grappling will strive to keep the fight standing.

Here a five ways to exhibit control as part of your diet:

(1) Portion sizes. Do you stop eating when you’re full or when you’re content? Bring awareness to this at your next three meals.

(2) Food selection. How often do you eat meals where you know every ingredient used to make the meal? Might there be a way for you to make time to increase these types of meals?

(3) What “splurge” foods do you find yourself craving or having in the house? Can you replace your sweet-tooth craving for a bowl of ice cream with a bowl of frozen yogurt topped with blueberries?

(4) Recognizing habits. Do you instinctively put cream and sugar in your coffee? Might you be able to cultivate an enjoyment for the taste of pure black coffee? Begin at one day per week and go from there.

(5) Do you find yourself mindlessly munching on crunchy potato chips while watching television? Could the same fulfillment of salty crunch be had with a healthier alternative like Triscuit or salted almonds?

To ask me any health-related questions, please feel free to post on my Facebook Page. There I will answer questions daily, and if I can’t comfortably answer your question I will direct you to those who can.

This article was originally published at Sherdog.com.

Aug
05

MMA Diet: Fiber

What is fiber? How does it benefit the MMA athlete?

Fiber is being made sexy. Most nutritional product commercials to the masses often involve fiber – we’ve got Fiber One® cereal and even flavorless fiber powders like Benefiber®. The commercials usually present the health information as singular and already understood, that is, that having more fiber will help you spend less time on the toilet, and more time, as commercials seem to insinuate, either out golfing with the guys or being sexily shaped like the actual curvilicious container. Disclaimer One: I promise not to use that word again in future articles.

Disclaimer Two: Fiber supplements should only be used if one simply cannot acquire enough fiber from real food. As these products are often highly processed, some people may experience excessive laxative effects, stomach bloating or even interference with the body’s natural process of breaking down food and absorbing nutrients.

What is fiber? Put simply, fiber is a carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. What can it do besides relieve constipation? Ingesting an adequate amount of fiber has been found to lower the risk of our country’s two most pressing heath concerns: heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

One reason of many why I am adamant about eating whole fruit over drinking fruit juice is because the whole fruit provides fiber. If you’re drinking that morning cup of orange juice, try to replace it with an actual orange.

Same goes for whole grain foods. Often the whole grains have more fiber than the “enriched” A.K.A. the “processed” kind. Reminder: Grains advertised as “Enriched” or “Enhanced” or even “Fortified” often really mean, if grains could talk:

“We’ve been made with cheap white flour which has been stripped of most nutritional value. However, people have added ‘nutrients’ back into us synthetically and now we get an awesome title like ‘Enriched’ on our boxes.’”

It’s similar to how fat-free cow’s milk has been “Fortified” with Vitamin A, although the Vitamin A was already naturally present, taken out, then added back to it (as the fat content is stripped from the milk, so is the fat-soluble Vitamin A). Of course, the National Pasta Association will release statements like: “With so many talking heads vilifying ‘white carbs,’ it’s easy to be confused.” But they are no different than the coal associations denying that coal has dangers to human or environmental health, or the corn associations fighting on behalf of the wonderfulness of high-fructose corn syrup. It’s their livelihood; I guess you can’t blame them for putting their livelihood ahead of the livelihood of others, right? After all, “I” is always more important than “them.”

So, what does this all mean specifically for the MMA fighter? First, becoming more aware of food labels and company intentions will only result in a healthier, more mindful diet. Second, becoming more “regular” will mean your body is adequately removing waste product rather than storing it. This could make weigh-ins easier and even allow one athlete to carry more muscle on their frame than another athlete with a similar weight and body fat percentage. If two athletes weigh 180lbs, but one is storing several pounds more solid waste product than the other.

Also, an MMA athlete eating a diet naturally high in fiber will generally have a healthier diet. Foods naturally packed with fiber are generally healthy foods. For example, all plants that are eaten for food contain fiber. This includes fruits and vegetables, but also legumes and grains.

Current recommendations are to get twenty grams of fiber (from food not supplements) each day. Of course, this is based on caloric intake. So, the more calories you are taking in, the more your fiber needs will need to increase. The average American consumes far more calories than the 2,000 that most assessments are based on, yet they only get fifteen grams of fiber per day.

Another tip: As fiber is increased in your diet, so too should water intake. Fiber absorbs water. This ends up providing a great one-two punch for greater health.

Fiber is talked about and studied in two categories: Soluble and Insoluble. According to studies, both have their benefits in the diet and both have positive, but differing impacts on human health. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, here are some foods grouped by which type of fiber they possess. Note: It’s not ironic that all the foods listed below are foods that should be incorporated into an MMA fighter’s diet.

Soluble Fiber

  • Oatmeal, oatbran
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes
  • Beans
  • Dried peas
  • Lentils
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries

Insoluble Fiber

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Barley
  • Couscous
  • Brown rice
  • Bulgur
  • Whole grain breakfast cereals
  • Wheat bran
  • Seeds
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes

To join my team, support my work or to ask me any health-related questions, please feel free to visit my Facebook Page. There I will answer questions daily, and if I can’t comfortably answer your question I will direct you to those who can.

This article was originally published at Sherdog.com.

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