NUTRITION FOR JIU-JITSU - GENERAL PRINCIPLES
I wrote this article for SJJA but thought I would share here as well.
Nutrition is a complex and hotly debated topic. For every bit of advice you hear about a certain type of diet you will find conflicting evidence. This confuses people and they tend to get caught somewhere in the middle, missing out on key components that make up a good nutrition plan. The main thing to remember is that nutrition is very individual, so what works for one person may not work for the next.
This is why when we work with individuals at THP we do in depth screening forms, run blood work, perform body composition assessments, among other tests to gather information on the status of their general health, any current or past medical problems, nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, and how well their detoxification, immune, and hormonal systems are functioning. We do this to identify any underlying issues and address them through nutritional, lifestyle, and supplementation protocols if necessary.
In saying all this, I'd like to share some general principles that the majority of people can apply to improve their overall health and support their BJJ training.
The first thing to address is actually hydration. Many people, Jiu-jitsu practitioners included, do not drink enough water. This is a simple thing to do and has many benefits. Our bodies are made up mostly of water which needs to be replenished regularly like any other nutrient. Our muscles are 75% water and our brains are over 80%. As muscles and the brain are two key ingredients in performance, they require optimal resources to function at their highest potential.
To compete at your best in BJJ and any other sport you need to be hydrated.
Low hydration is the greatest detriment to strength. And as Jiu-jitsu athletes understand, we need every bit of that strength on competition day. A drop of 1.5% in water levels translates to a drop of 10% in your maximal strength.
On average you should try to consume between 2-3 litres of water per day and drink it from glass or stainless steel bottles. This amount will vary depending on body weight, activity level, and climate, among other things. You can add fresh lemon or lime to that water.
The basic concept around all nutrition plans is to eat whole foods with the least amount of processing possible. You can debate about the amount of protein, carbs, fats, and micronutrients in any given plan but for optimal health and performance, eating food as nature intended is your best bet.
To keep it simple, follow this one rule:
‘If it’s made by nature, eat it; if it’s made by man, DON’T!’
Now people always ask “Is this a good food or a bad food?” the answer is "it depends". For example, nuts are considered healthy but they are a terrible food if you are allergic to them. For another example, the Ketogenic diet can be extremely beneficial for some people (especially in the case of neurological conditions) but if you can’t digest fats properly then you may not do so well on that type of plan.
There are some foods that we tend to avoid as they commonly cause problems for most of the people we see. These foods are:
It’s not that people are allergic to these foods, the problem is much more insidious. People tend to be sensitive to these foods which can cause inflammation and can lead to other chronic problems after long term exposure. Some people may eat gluten, for example, and feel it in the joints. Some people may eat gluten and feel anxious, depressed, have brain fog, or others may experience gut issues. This can also be a delayed reaction, so you may not link a particular food with a symptom until after a few days or even weeks.
Which food should you eat and which foods should you avoid?
EAT THESE FOODS
Meats: Beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork, veal, kangaroo, deer.
Fish and Seafood: Salmon, trout, haddock, shrimp, shellfish. Choose wild-caught if you can.
Eggs: Choose free-range, pastured or Omega-3 enriched eggs.
Vegetables: Broccoli, kale, peppers, onions, carrots, tomatoes, etc.
Fruits: Apples, oranges, pears, avocados, strawberries, blueberries and more.
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and more. Make sure they are raw and unsalted.
Healthy Fats and Oils: Lard, tallow, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil and others.
Salt and Spices: Sea salt, Himalayan salt, garlic, turmeric, rosemary, etc. Make sure you read the label to ensure there are no other ingredients.
AVOID THESE FOODS
Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup: Soft drinks, fruit juices, table sugar, candy, pastries, ice cream and many others.
Grains: Includes breads and pastas, wheat, spelt, rye, barley, etc.
Legumes: Beans, lentils and many more.
Dairy: milk, commercial butter, yoghurt, cheese, etc.
Vegetable Oils: Soybean oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil and others.
Trans Fats: Found in margarine and various processed foods. Usually referred to as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils.
Artificial Sweeteners: Aspartame, Sucralose, Cyclamates, Saccharin, Acesulfame Potassium. Use Stevia Leaf instead.
Highly Processed Foods: Everything labeled “diet” or “low-fat” or has many weird ingredients. Includes artificial meal replacements.
These are perfectly healthy – in small amounts!
Red Wine – a high quality red wine is high in antioxidants and beneficial nutrients.
Dark Chocolate – choose one that is 85% cacao (NOT COCOA) content, usually you will need to go to a health food store for this.
Peri-workout nutrition refers to nutrition around the workout period (pre, during, and post). For most people who are training once a day and generally active this isn’t all that important as your normal nutritional strategies will be enough to fuel your workouts and help you recover. Where peri-workout nutrition really comes into play is when you are training hard in preparation for competition and doing multiple sessions per day.
I encourage my athletes, including Jiu-jitsu World Champion Bruno Alves, to consume a meal 1-2 hours before training. This time frame is very individual but generally this gives them enough time to digest the food enough before hitting the gym. When doing mat work or a conditioning type session then I would suggest 2 hours minimum. It may be consumed on the way to training if they are travelling a long distance or are stuck in traffic.
The meal before training should consist of protein, fats, and some green vegetables or salad. I don’t like to eat carbohydrates pre-workout as they increase insulin and serotonin which is the calming/relaxing neurotransmitter. I want them to have drive and focus for their session so we generally just tell our clients to eat some form of red meat and a handful of nuts. This combination will enhance dopamine and acetylcholine which are the neurotransmitters for drive, focus, and attention span. You can read more about the methodology behind this here.
Some people do well with small amounts of carbs pre-workout but in general I find it best to consume them post workout and if you are lean enough. Lean enough is under 10% for a male and under 16% for females.
Supplementation wise I don’t like commercial pre-workout formulas. I would much rather use brain nutrients such as fish oil with a high concentration of DHA, alpha GPC, gingko, and things of that nature.
Intra workout I like to use BCAA’s, EAA’s, beta alanine, and coconut water. BCAA’s have been shown to increase lean muscle mass, prevent muscle breakdown, improve insulin sensitivity, increase work capacity, and reduce muscle soreness. The dose is something we individualise for the athlete but in general I like to use 20-40g for males and 10-g for females.
Beta alanine can help improve anaerobic power output, increase time to fatigue, decrease fat mass, and increase lean muscle mass. With the dosage of beta alanine it is very individual with some athletes needing only 1-2g and others needing 10g. It is something you need to experiment with to find your optimal dose.
I like to add in some coconut water during the workout to help replenish electrolytes as many athletes drink a lot of straight water throughout the day but often are low in electrolytes. Adding some sea salt to this water is also good to do. I don’t recommend commercial sports drinks to replenish electrolytes.
Post workout I like to use whey protein (if not sensitive to it), glutamine, and some glycine. Or some EAA’s again if you are sensitive to whey protein. Again I do not like commercial protein powders, I like to use a whey protein that comes from NZ grass-fed cows and has no flavours, colours etc. in it.
In addition to this shake you can take some vitamin C and magnesium. Once you get home and eat dinner you can add in some carbs at this point, something like sweet potato or rice. Again the amount will depend on the athlete and how well he deals with carbohydrates and the goal at that point in time.
Before bed, a drink made up of glutamine and inositol is also recommended to further calm down the nervous system, decrease inflammation, and promote a deeper sleep.
This is by no means an extensive list and, as I mentioned, these are simply general recommendations to help any part-time athlete who works long days then trains Jiu-jitsu at night to recover and enhance performance.
Sleep, avoidance of toxic chemicals, recovery methods such as sauna and massage are all key components of optimal performance but something outside the scope of this article.
To Sum Up
Make sure you are hydrated.
Eat foods that come from nature. Avoid processed foods
Avoid foods you are sensitive to.
If you are training hard consider peri workout nutrition.
The amount of carbs you should eat will depend on how lean you are. You have to deserve your carbs.
If you would like to consult with us, please feel free to contact us.
Nathan Waters - Total Health Performance
Phone: 0437 308 915