Nutrition for MMA Fighters: The Basics Part 1

Everyone knows what food is, but not everyone knows what food is made of. We have allheard of carbs, fats and protein, but defining what they actually are can be tricky. It getseven more complicated when we try to find foods that fit in to the categories of carbs,protein and fats. When you get in to it, you find out it is not as straightforward as you maythink it should be specially in planning your healthy diet.

Over my next few blogs I will describe what each of these are and what important pointsyou need to know, and then relate them back to your training, recovery and performance. Iwill also go over how to find good sources of them and how to incorporate this in to yourcurrent diet and nutrition plan. Let’s start with carbohydrates.


First of all, let’s answer a seemingly simple question; What is a carbohydrate? Simply put, a carbohydrate is a sugar. Sugar, or glucose as it is scientifically known, is a chemical structure that your body uses for energy. It is a quick and useful source of energy and that is why our body is so well designed to deal with it.

All carbs are broken down in to this sugar molecule. That is not to say all carbs (sugars) are bad for you. Processed and added sugars are not good for your nutrition, but whether you define carbs as being good or bad for you depends on how much of what type you put in your diet.

If you’re a visual learner, this is what sugar, or more specifically, glucose, looks like in its most basic form. Just to go over it again, all carbohydrates are broken down in to this sugar molecule. The only difference is how fast this happens.

glucose molecule

Glucose Molecule Structure

Fast Carbs

If we think of our sketch of glucose just above, then we can describe our fast carbs as being either the single molecule above, or two of them put together, like this guy here.

Sucrose molecule

Sucrose Molecule Structure

Remember for our body to use carbs as energy it needs to be a single molecule. This is why these are called fast carbs, it does not take a lot of breaking down, if any at all, to get them in to a form that can be quickly used as a fast hit of energy.


In terms of food this includes; table sugar, honey, fruit, milk and sports drinks.

Slow Carbs

slow carbs complex carbohydrates

Slow Carbs, Complex Carbohydrate Molecule Structure

These are lots of sugars linked together. Remember, for our body to use them as energy, they need to be a single sugar. These are called slow carbs because it takes time for our body to break them down in to these single sugars. As it takes time, it is more of a slow release of energy in to our system giving us gradual energy as a result.

In terms of food this looks like; rolled oats, sweet potato, rice, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, couscous or sour dough bread.


Let’s keep this one simple. Fibre is found in fruit, veggies, grains and cereals, but our body cannot break it down in to our single sugar molecules. Fibre passes through the system undigested. When you process foods, you often remove a lot of, if not all of the fibre, for example turning brown bread to white bread.

How Our Body Reacts to Carbs

When we eat carbs, our body breaks them down to sugar. This sugar moves in to our blood and circulates in our body. This passes our pancreas, which says ‘there’s sugar here, we better do something about that’. It releases a hormonecalled insulin. Insulin is responsible for storing the sugar.

We have two options here;

1. Give it to our muscles to store away

2.Turn it into fat and store it.

Here is how our body decides between these options;

1. Do our muscles have enough carbs stored away for reserve energy in case we need to suddenly run from a bear? If no, then put it in the muscles. If yes, proceed below.

2. Our muscles are like storage cupboards, we can only put so much in there before they’re full. At this point your body sends it to your liver to turn to fat and store away.


In a nutshell; We eat carbs, they are broken down to sugar, that sugar circulates in our body, if our muscles need it, they will take it. If not, we will put it away as fat.

Putting It All Together

Knowing all of this information you can start looking at your own diet and asking yourself these questions;

* What foods in my diet are fast carbs and what are slow carbs?

* When would it be better to eat fast carbs as compared to slow carbs?

* How much carbs can I have before my body starts storing it as a fat?

* How would I know if I was eating too many carbs?

* How would I know if I was not eating enough carbs?

As mixed martial artist or combat athletes we use a lot of carbohydrates when we train. The catch twenty-two is that it is a weight-based sport, so we are often reducing our body weight(weight-cut) while doing these big training sessions. Understanding this basic system is fundamental in planning your nutrition to be able to get the most out of your mixed martial arts training and recovery.

These will be addressed in later blog posts, but first we have to cover the other Macronutrients. Next, we will go over what protein is, and why it is important for combat athletes.

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