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Importance of Nutrition for the Combat Athlete Part 1: Off-season/In-between Camps

First things first: food gives you energy. Without energy, you can’t perform. As in any sport, food powers your workouts and helps you recover afterward. Without proper nourishment, you will fail to improve any aspect of your training regimen. 

For combat athletes, nutrition is probably the most crucial aspect to their daily routine. Why? Because combat athletes are not only required to compete at the highest levels, but they have to do so while making weight—and the biggest factor in a successful weight cut is nutrition. However, nutrition needs to be incorporated into a combat athlete’s daily routine year-round.

 Here’s why. 

Off season/In-between camps

This part of a fighter’s training season is probably the most overlooked and also the most important. Too many times combat athletes take this time to enjoy the foods they’ve avoided for weeks or months. While there is nothing wrong with a little self-indulgence, an uncontrolled diet can add substantial weight in no time at all. This practice of constant weight-cycling increases the time fighters spend trying to drop pounds before competition instead of focusing on performance. In worst-case scenarios, it also can lead to eating disorders and increase the risk of injury.

The main goal during this period is to maintain a healthy body weight appropriate for your height, stature and physical activity level, and minimize the amount of weight that needs to be lost for competition. In combat sports, the weight an athlete can maintain without dieting is going to be higher than their competition weight. The key is identifying exactly what weight that should be. Working with a registered health professional can help you determine a maintainable range—but the true focus during this time is recovery!

Periods between fight camps are the best time to allow your body to recover and put yourself back in an energy balance—meaning you are adequately replacing calories lost during exercise. During fight camp, you rarely will be able to build muscle, power and strength in an extreme calorie deficit. In fact, severe energy restriction combined with intense training has been shown to negatively impact the ability to lose weight and also results in loss of lean muscle tissue. Losing muscle mass is undesirable for a number of reasons, mainly because it increases risk for injury and illness, results in lower metabolism and can result in regaining fat mass once calories are restored. Additional consequences include: decreased performance due to decreased energy stores, decreased concentration and coordination, increased irritability and stress, and poor nutrient intake. 

Promoting recovery and maintaining energy balance can be easily achieved with these simple guidelines:

  1. Consume adequate carbohydrates before training. Eating a mix of simple and complex carbs before training is going to give your muscles the fuel they need to perform for long durations and high intensities. Examples include: oatmeal, fruit, whole grain bagel + jelly, granola bars.
  2. Consume a rich source of protein and carbohydrates after every training session to promote muscle recovery. Examples include a protein shake + piece of fruit, beef jerky + tangerines, Greek yogurt. 
  3. Consume adequate fluids. Always replace fluids lost during exercise! The best method for this is to weigh yourself before and after training, and also check the color of your urine! Tip: You want your urine to be a light, lemonade color. Use of electrolyte powder and sugar solutions/drinks can be useful to help replace fluids lost during exercise. 
  4. Build meals to match your training:

High-Intensity Training Days:

Make half your plate carbohydrates such as rice, beans or sweet potato. Carbohydrates provide the most efficient fuel for high-intensity exercise bouts and will also aid in muscle recovery. This is especially important for multiple training sessions in day. Make ¼ of the plate fruits and vegetables to promote intake of essential vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants to decrease inflammation. Make ¼ of the plate protein (20-30g) for optimal muscle recovery.

Low-Intensity Training/Rest days:

Since less energy is expended on these days, less energy in the form of carbohydrates is needed to fuel daily activities. Fill half the plate with fruits and non-starchy vegetables to promote intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Additionally, increasing fiber intake will promote satiety and help with weight-maintenance. Make a ¼ of the plate whole grains or healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, peanut butter, hummus). Make ¼ of the plate a lean protein to promote muscle recovery and increase satiety.


To reiterate, in-between camps is the best time to restore your energy levels, allow your body to recover, and focus on building up strength and power. The nutrition focus during this time should be balance—always making sure you’re providing your body with plenty of energy to train and recover. Nutrition is all about optimizing performance. In order to do that, nutrition needs to be a major focus year-round!

Images obtained from CPSDA Sports Nutrition Fact Sheets: Building a Performance Plate. For more information visit and

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