T Nation

Nutrition for Combat Athletes


#1

I’m trying to dial in my nutrition these days - I work out plenty, but my diet has always left something to be desired, and I’m carrying more fat than I need to. So I’m doing the standard things: Eating more fruits and vegetables, less shitty carbs and added sugar, etc. etc.

But I’m curious about pre-and-post workout nutrition. I see a lot of different advice about this online, mostly involving some mixture of carbs and protein an hour beforehand and within an hour after a workout. It’s also all the rage lately to talk about drinking something like this during your workout - advice which, if you’re a combat athlete, you know is pretty much insane and only applicable to weightlifters.

So what do you guys do?


#2

I have been training on an empty stomach as my goal is losing weight right now. I drink an electrolyte and BCAA drink while I train and it does seem to help me get through tougher training sessions. Post-training I have 1 scoop of protein isolate (30g) in 8oz of almond milk.

The rest of the day I have a protein shake for breakfast and 3 meals consisting of 5oz of chicken or fish, 1 cup of brown rice and 1 cup of veggies of some sort. If I am really hungry at night I will have an apple or a pear and 2 tbsp of peanut butter. I also have 1 or 2 cheat meals a week. I don’t go super-overboard on these though. Lately I have just been having a big bowl of Captain Crunch. If I hit a plateau on my weight loss I will have 3 or 4 cheat dinners in a row which seems to jump start my metabolism enough to continue losing weight.

I hope this gives you some ideas.


#3

This thread is calling out for @Aragorn

I not that big on supplements

I have been using a pre-workout or during work out drink

that has a BCAA a shit ton of b vitamins and not much stimulants/caiffiene
and that helps bust through what training I can do.

I do of green/veggie juices in the morning, and take fish oil, tumeric, glucosamine
not too scientific

I dont really adhere to the post work out stuff- I just eat food


#4

Thanks for the heads up @bagofbro.

Irish mate, it’s kind of funny you posted this recently and I just see it today. I’m currently writing and updating diets for some fighters right now. Pre- and post- workout nutrition is in my opinion the most important time of the day. Tons of thoughts but not tons of time for this so:

Most of my fighters have carbs and protein during their training sessions, both weights and fight training (depending on how hard the session is supposed to be). They have no problems with it. In fact, they have more energy, power, and feel great. Amounts depend on what the training session is.

Not everybody does this–it’s geared mostly around their job schedule and practical matters and some guys I’m working with are Army on restricted areas and training during lunch.

This is something I really feel strongly about that combat athletes could learn something from weightlifters here. We know

  1. that muscle is an advantage in the ring all things being equal between fighters (ignoring weight cutting concerns for weigh in) and
  2. muscle mass helps you burn calories and thus drop weight more effectively.
  3. bodybuilders and weightlifters are better than anybody else at building and maintaining muscle mass through caloric deficit dieting. They’ve had decades of focus, learning, and practice at it. I’ve been using intra-workout nutrition since at least 2003, long before it hit the mainstream news.

Now, OBVIOUSLY you’re not a bodybuilder or powerlifter and have no interest in being one. You shouldn’t train like one, again very obviously. However–if your goal is to lose fat as efficiently as possible and set your body at a new “set point” that is leaner and lighter, there are lots of things you can be learning from these lifters in terms of supplements and nutrition timing. As someone smart once said “success leaves clues” and they do it better than anybody else.

Anyway, stepping off the soap box, here’s the general concept my fighters work with:

  • Meal 90- 2 hours before training, carbs and protein sources with a little healthy fats to keep hunger at bay

  • 30-45 minutes prior to training: creatine, beta-alanine, fat burners or other pre-workout supps (not a fan of stims, but some guys won’t stop them)

  • 20 minutes prior–carbs and BCAAs/whey hydrolysate in ~ 1 L water. Begin drinking. We usually want to get 1/3 down before the training. Some guys feel better with 1/2 of it finished by the start of the session, and they re-dilute bottle with more water for the training. Amount of liquid is the biggest determinant on stomach issues.

  • During training–continue drinking. Finish by the end of the workout.

  • Post training–meal according to diet plan, could be low or high carb. Timing depends on hunger and what we have experimented with, there’s no hard rule of timing this. Typically for guys who are restricted in being able to get their workouts in I have them eat immediately afterwards, while for guys who have more freedom with the schedule and therefore supps the meal will happen between 1-2 hours after the training session.

Some guys work better with the creatine/alanine combined with the carbs/protein, and some are better with them both before the training shake.

It also depends on how many training sessions they have in the day and how much they have to lose.

As a side note, if you can drink Gatorade during a workout without getting sick–which is carbs–you should never have a problem with getting something in during your training. The biggest thing people have a problem with is buying shitty quality supplements and/or digestive system health. Even bodybuilders experience this depending on what they get, that’s why everybody has individual preferences on what kind they get.


#5

That’s a great reply Aragorn, thank you for that.

But I am not big on supplements, mostly because I can’t afford the expense. I use protein powder regularly because I get it relatively cheaply, but the rest of the stuff - creatine, etc. - is sort of beyond my range.

If I had to get one other supplement you considered most important, what would it be? BCAAs? And if so, is their pill form sufficient or should it be in water?

Also, for that meal a couple hours beforehand, what would that look like? A protein shake and a bowl of rolled oats? Or something else?

Again, forgive my ignorance. I am just awful at deciphering nutritional jargon that many on this site are already familiar with. For me, I may as well be trying to read the matrix …


#6

My pleasure mate. I’m glad bagofbro thought to tag me or I may have missed it.

I understand the budget concerns completely. My approach with supplements is always starting conservative for people I consult because of that. I mean, if I had the money I’d personally spend around $800 a month happily, but nobody has that kind of cash lol. As they get more able to spend, the list expands to whatever their budget is comfortable with.

From my perspective there are a couple possibilities on top supplements. I have to say I really think carb powder to put in your workout drink is essential, but I understand not being big on that and also starting to get intra-workout calories very gradually. Trying it all at once is a sure way to mess with your stomach. In general I consider protein powder food because it IS really just powderized food, but anyway to your question:

BCAAs and beta alanine are probably the two top supplements for a fighter in my opinion.

Beta alanine buffers muscle cell pH during training, so that gnarly burning sensation and the “wall” doesn’t hit you as fast. That’s really important for fighters going 3-5 minute rounds.

BCAAs are really valuable on calorie restricted diets in my opinion, so anybody cutting weight can see benefit from them. They also improve “time to exhaustion” in studies on endurance. Best use is during training or about 15-20 minutes before a meal. BCAAs are a “trigger” to your metabolism but you still need whole protein sources, so you can pull the trigger prior to a meal and get the ball rolling.

Pill form works just as well as powder for both of those, but is usually significantly more expensive. I mean, you can literally get 1000 grams of beta-alanine powder for around $35, which would last you between 3-9 months lol. Pill form is stupid expensive compared to that. BCAAs are about the same in powder form. I can’t link to any places to get them on this forum–even though I love Biotest it’s not the most cost-effective method for you–but you can surely google bulk powder suppliers. “pure” “bulk” “supplements” in your search terms. Carb powders are more expensive in general because they’re big business right now.

Meal wise, it varies by the person. Typically 2 hours ahead you’re fine on solid food rather than a shake, but if you like oatmeal then that’s a good place to start. Just experiment with different food sources and find what you feel best on. You can also play with the timing–some people like to eat closer, say 90 minutes, others like 2.5 hours away. Really any healthy food based carb source–rice, oatmeal, potatoes, fruit. If you find you feel hungry again too soon, add some healthy fats like coconut oil or olive oil to slow down digestion–or use a different meat source or carb source–to help keep you from getting hungry. I get hungry really quick after fruit, but starches like rice keep me full longer as does oatmeal. You can also just change the timing of the meal so you’re not hungry.

If you’re cutting down on carbs in your diet, I would absolutely cut the carbs pre/during workout LAST. Once someone has gradually gotten used to drinking calories during training, I try to keep them in if at all possible because they really help training energy leading into a fight.

EDIT–I forgot, beta alanine is like creatine in that you want blood levels saturated. So there is a loading period, but with a cheap supplement it’s not a real problem from a budget stand point.


#8

Fast throughout the day.

Water pre workout.

Train.

Chicken curry post workout.

Fish oil.

These preworkout chemicals, peri workout bullshit, post training window, etc. only dilute what intelligence people have left. Why the fuck do people make this shit so complicated?

And also
" add some healthy fats like coconut oil or olive oil to slow down digestion"

Fat doesn’t slow digestion.


#9

That’s some of the dumbest shit I’ve heard in the last year regarding nutrition. You might want to rethink your knowledge base.


#10

Why is that dumb?
Are you saying that amateur athletes require all those chemicals to function properly?


#11

No, I’m not. If you’ll look, Irish specifically asked about pre- and post workout nutrition, of which supplements are a major part for many people. Second, on top of that, you’ll notice I said the following to start off my answer: [quote=“Aragorn, post:6, topic:222892”]
I understand the budget concerns completely. My approach with supplements is always starting conservative for people I consult because of that…[/quote]

I then gave him 2 options. In no way is that “all those chemicals”.

But that wasn’t what you said in your post. You said: [quote=“Jarvan, post:8, topic:222892, full:true”]
Fast throughout the day.[/quote]

Is fucking stupid, especially for an ATHLETE and especially for one that works a physical day job…like Irish does. No sports nutritionist, no matter if they hate supplements or not, is going to suggest to ANY athlete that they fast throughout the day.

Complete and utter bullshit. Like, empirically understood and acknowledged to be untrue. Digestion is a function of many things, but two of the biggest are 1–gastric emptying rate and 2–rate of fat digestion/uptake in the small intestine–which slows gastric emptying by the way. Not to mention 3–surface area of food 4–caloric density (fat is the most calorically dense nutrient available) 5–volume of food in the stomach (otherwise known as mechanical pressure on the pyloric sphincter).

So pretty much everything you said was total horseshit, and you were using scare language, and you stated things that are empirically and provably untrue, and acknowledged by damn near everybody with expertise or knowledge to be untrue.

That’s why.


#12

Well done, sir.

You’re right about the chemicals comment. I wrote that hastily without much thought when I really meant to say supplements. Still, I myself take fish oil which is also a chemical, just like anything else we put into our bodies.

In terms of fasting, again, I was out of line because I didn’t know irish had a laborious job. However, I’ll anecdotally attest to the benefits of not eating before training… whether it’s three hours of Muay Thai, or a couple hours hitting weights.

And perhaps you’ll agree that our understanding of nutrition, albeit not in its infancy, is still very subjective.


#13

Alright, I’ll tone down the language here because you’ve been really polite. It really aggravates me when someone use the kind of charged language you did (“dilutes intelligence”, “chemicals” etc) when also espousing the opinions you wrote down, and I let it get to me too much.

Note please that your original post didn’t say “train low” or “don’t eat before a workout”, it simply said “fast throughout the day” which across both literature and the Interwebz refers to intermittent fasting as a whole dietary strategy for a work day or entire week instead of simply “don’t eat before a workout”. I disagree with the position of not eating before a workout unless there are stomach issues that impair performance, but not nearly to the degree that I do the idea of “fasting”.

Also please note that having a solid meal 90 minutes-2 hours ahead is what I suggested in my post, not 15 minutes ahead. I suggested liquid carbs/protein for the workout period–which isn’t unusual because if you drink Gatorade during workouts or games like football (also a workout) you are taking in liquid carbs. It’s still fuel, albeit suboptimal in my opinion.

I do agree that our understanding of nutrition leaves a lot to still be discovered. However I would not agree that it is, to use your term, subjective. Subjective implies that there is no truth–it’s all just personal opinion. I would suggest it has shades of ‘gray’, meaning we don’t know everything and there are personal factors in terms of genetics and personal history and environment/context that can color the specifics of good nutrition in every case. But we know too much for it to be subjective. We know the effects of fueling a workout–both strength and endurance workouts–vs not fueling them. We know the effects of eating regularly vs fasting for athletic performance. We even know the effect of creatine and beta-alanine. Very well I might add.

Anecdotally you may be correct. You might feel great. Now, while I respect that personal experience, it simply isn’t optimal for a performance or endurance standpoint let alone a strength and power standpoint. There’s hard numbers that shows the contrary in performance everywhere: in the olympics, in the literature, in collegiate athletic departments, as well as my athletes.


#14

I actually appreciated the fact that you stood your ground when I challenged you. Also want to say that I myself would have been a bit aggravated, so no offense taken.

It is very apparent that you are a scientist from the way you condone verifiable information. I do as well, but I take it all with a grain of salt.
What I meant by nutrition being ‘subjective’ is that there is proof, if you will, of a spectrum of methods.
Very simple and most commonly, veganism. More specifically, raw veganism. I myself don’t subscribe to the idea, but it doesn’t mean I’m not enthralled with it. Theoretically, they should be diabetic with gout, barely capable of completing a workout. Nearly nil fat and protein, and a shit ton of sugar everyday, and they are somehow not dead and not even fat (they are slightly overfat, but not what you would call obese) And can’t forget, according to the law of thermogenics, their 5000+ daily caloric intake should be creating morbidly obese people… But it isn’t. I don’t put much weight on calories, but sugar I do.
If you don’t mind, I wouldn’t mind hearing your thoughts on this.

The vegans can scientifically prove animal products will kill you while the Paleo people will prove that it will save you. So who’s right? Dr. Dean Ornish or Dr. Mary Enig? High fat or high carbs? To juice or not to juice? Hence, the perspective of subjectivity.

And with that said, what I do know for myself is that I have spent the better part of my training years focusing on pre workout meals, the pills, the bcaa peri, and the powders within the protein synthesis window.
I got results, for sure… But it doesn’t compare to the performance I get now from regularly fasting. It’s less maintenance, I never count macros, and the only supplement I take is fish oil. I don’t dip in energy, and I have to legit remind myself to leave some in the tank for the next day. I feel like a vegan now giving a testimonial. But I’ve been regularly fasting for nearly 6 years now and can’t say I miss the supplements and constantly planning meals.


#15

Veganism and Paleo are both fad diets. They are built on misuderstanding and misinterpretation of evidence and what it actually means.

This is particularly true of veganism, which is by definition a choice on morality rather than nutrition. I equate them to anti-vaxxers both in their fanaticism and their complete and oftentimes willful misunderstanding–or misrepresentation–of science and nutrition. Their diet would never have been realistically tenable in any past generation. Its popularity is built on a modern, affluent material culture. Also, high sugar is not a part of a vegan diet, unless you mean fruit. They’re scrawny and have precisely the traits I would expect from people ignoring a large chunk of their nutrition needs by ignoring animal products.

Paleo has at least as its base foundation an attempt to understand and coordinate human nutrition with our genetic makeup and evolutionary development, no matter how flawed it is currently or has become in popular usage. In this regard it is far and away superior to veganism. I have issues with paleo but that is a discussion for another thread, it is both much to time consuming and involved for this one as well as irrelevant to Irish’s OP questions.

They both completely misunderstand and misinterpret what the science ACTUALLY says. Vegans are worse, but still…

If you like fasting, by all means keep at it. I do not believe a couple supplements and a simple directive to have nutrition during workouts is really all that burdensome for most, but I do thoroughly believe people should do what they enjoy and if you enjoy it more power to you.

As far as my job, however…my job is geared around results–in the cage, on the stage, platform, field etc. There is a lot of good evidence over multiple decades that fasting is subpar for athletic performance and strength and power and endurance. Since Irish asked his question in the context of wanting to know more about a field he has not really dived into, and wanting to understand if there were performance gains to be had or ways to ease weight cutting, that is the way I answered his question.


#16

The only real way for a raw vegan to get all of their calories is through fruit. Hence, a majority of their food intake is comprised of fruit. Not to mention eating too much raw veggies will cause some serious problems.

But the main point I’m trying to make is that these people, and many others, don’t have beta alanine, creatine, or even a sufficient amount of EFA’s and EAA’s in their diet to adhere to a standardized scientifically sound diet… And yet they thrive, they move, and seemingly healthy.

What do we make of that if they counter ‘popular’ science, but still make strides?


#17

[quote=“Jarvan, post:16, topic:222892, full:true”]
The only real way for a raw vegan to get all of their calories is through fruit. Hence, a majority of their food intake is comprised of fruit. Not to mention eating too much raw veggies will cause some serious problems.

But the main point I’m trying to make is that these people, and many others, don’t have beta alanine, creatine, or even a sufficient amount of EFA’s and EAA’s in their diet to adhere to a standardized scientifically sound diet… [/quote]

I think this is a conversation for a different thread. We are far afield of Irish’s original question, therefore this is the last post I’ll make on this topic in this thread. If Irish wants to resurrect the thread for questions pertaining to his needs I will contribute to keeping the thread on topic.

That said, fruits are not the only way–beans/lentils, nuts, starches and grains are all very much “vegan” friendly foods. There is no requirement for all the non-fiber carbs to come from fruit.

This is the main problem. Vegans are known to have a separate set of highly prevalent health issues on a population level due to being deficient or depleted in a number of areas, and in any case a LARGE number rely on vitamin supplements and ‘vegan friendly’ nutrition supplements to get a lot of the nutrients they are lacking. Iron and zinc, B12, omega 3s, calcium, vitamin D, carnosine (needed for mitochondria) etc…

The second main problem is that you are talking about “seemingly healthy” and I am talking about elite level performance. These are two different universes. According to the RDA you need about 60 g protein per day to avoid being protein deficient. “Not being clinically deficient” is not in the same league as “needed for optimal body composition, recovery and performance”. And you’re doing the same thing here.

I understand the point you’re trying to make, but it’s flawed in several ways. In any case, in the previous post you asked me for what I thought about vegan diets and I told you–they’re nutritional anti-vaxxers with a moral superiority complex, following a diet predicated on moral choices instead of nutritional needs. This thread was about Irish’s desire to fuel himself better, not relative comparisons between vegan diets and omnivorous diets or pet theories.