Guide: Nutrition Basics for the BJJ Athlete
You've probably heard it before... something along the lines of "I train so that I can eat whatever I want," or "The only reason I'm not [insert hypothetical weight here] pounds is because of jiu jitsu." Or you may have heard one of a thousand stories from people who have lost an incredible amount of weight just by training BJJ.
Yes, jiu jitsu is amazing, and for the average practitioner, it does have some incredible benefits. However, for the majority of BJJ athletes, jiu jitsu alone isn't going to cut it when you're trying to maintain peak condition and hit the podium time and time again. In addition to high-level jiu jitsu instruction and training, a BJJ athlete also typically needs a proper nutritional program, in order allow him/her to endure long, hard training sessions, recover quickly and efficiently, and maintain a healthy weight.
What does that look like, you ask? Read on...
Staying hydrated is probably the single-most important thing any athlete - of any sort, not just BJJ - should be doing. However, research shows that most athletes are only drinking half of what they need. According to a University of Michigan sports dietician, proper hydration helps to "delay fatigue, maintain mental focus, regulate body temperature (especially in hot environments), satisfy thirst and to improve the ability to recover from training and competition." Think about it... if you're only half-hydrated, you've impaired all of those factors affecting your ability to perform on the mat.
So how much water should you be drinking? Well, that depends on your own bodily needs, as well as how long and intense your training session is. It's important to "listen to your body" in order to gauge what optimal hydration is for you. However, it's important for a BJJ athlete to know that proper hydration begins long before your training session. It's suggested that an athlete drink 7-12 ounces of fluid 15-30 minutes before a workout or training session, then 4-8 ounces during a workout every 15-20 minutes, with added carbohydrates and electrolytes during longer training sessions.
Sufficient Protein Intake
It's no secret that athlete's need more protein than the average person. But why? And how much? When you train, not only do your muscles use up glycogen (the sugars that your body stores in your muscles as a source of energy for your cells), but some of the proteins in your muscles also get broken down or damaged. Consuming protein within a couple hours of training provides your body with the amino acids ("building blocks of proteins") it needs to repair, rebuild and grow new muscle proteins.
Some nutrition guides suggest that protein be consumed within 45 minutes after a workout, others within two hours, in order to maximize its effect on muscle repair and growth. Especially if you're not able to eat a meal within that time frame, keeping a high-quality protein powder supplement in your gear bag is always a great idea. How much protein should you be eating? Many sources suggest athletes consume between 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight; approximately 80 to 135 grams for a 150 pound athlete.
Nutrient Dense Foods
Nutritionists don't all agree on what constitutes the "perfect diet" for an athlete... some suggest a high-fat diet, others a high-carb diet. However, almost all will agree about one thing: avoiding "empty calories." These are foods that lack the micronutrients - vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytochemicals and antioxidants - the cells in your body use to "function, to repair, to build, to maintain, to produce, to clean up, to metabolize, to transport, and to communicate." Fried foods, processed foods, sugary drinks, energy drinks... all of these add to your calorie count without contributing much - or any - nutritional benefit to your body. Particularly if you're preparing for a tournament, these aren't foods that will help you fuel your body for hard training sessions or help it to recovery efficiently afterward.
Not everyone's nutritional program will look alike. Every individual will have his/her own needs and bodily demands. But as long as your program considers these three general guidelines, you'll know you're on the right track.
Train... and eat... on. Oss.