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Maintaining Performance and Making Weight: Nutrition Tactics Utilized by Elite Athletes During Fight Camp

Fight Camp

Fight camp is when the grind gets tough. Conditioning and team training are pushing your body to its limits, and you’re striving to reach your top physical shape. However, your performance and weight-loss goals will suffer tremendously unless you properly fuel.

Under-fueling is the biggest impediment to a successful camp. Every time you train (especially at high intensities) your body releases hormones that stimulate your nervous system to tell your body to break down stored energy for use during exercise. When you don’t replace the energy you burned, those same hormones remain elevated in your system, which prevents you from recovering properly. Poor recovery can cause fatigue, making future training sessions more difficult. It also can damage your metabolism. Plus, you run the risk of injury or sickness!

Under-fueling also makes the dieting portion of fight camp more difficult and more miserable. Weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume, but when you force your body into a starved state, you stimulate certain hormones that tell your body to conserve as much energy as it has to avoid shutting down.

So how do you successfully diet during fight camp without compromising your performance? First and foremost, understand how many calories your body needs for basic functioning – this is known as your BMR or basal metabolic rate. You never want to consume less than this number because it will lead to a myriad of issues — among them, decreased muscle strength, performance and coordination; increased risk of injury and illness; increased irritability; and disruptions in hormonal balances.

After obtaining your BMR, you need an estimate of how many calories you burn during exercise; add these numbers together to get your daily calorie needs. With this number, you can calculate how much of an energy deficit you need to create in order to stimulate weight loss. There are many different calculations that can help you get these estimates, but it’s always best to get tested to obtain accurate data. Remember if you aren’t testing, you’re guessing!

Strategies to achieve successful weight loss during fight camp are as follows:

1.) Always eat Before and After Training:

Especially if you’re training multiple times a day. Training fasted will cause greater breakdown of energy in your muscles and make it more difficult to continue with strenuous training sessions throughout the week. Moreover, you want to provide your body with sufficient energy to perform at high levels. Even something as small as 100 calories will be extremely beneficial. Remember, high intensity exercise utilizes carbohydrates as fuel. Therefore, foods such as fruits, granola bars and oatmeal will be best before your hardest sessions. Lower intensity sessions don’t require as much fuel, so consuming fruit and some sort of fat, such as nuts or peanut butter, can provide you with prolonged, sustained energy. After training, always consume a rich source of protein (at least 20g to 30g) and carbohydrates to enhance muscle recovery and glycogen replenishment.

2.) Keep protein intake high:

Protein intakes of at least 2.2g/kg of body weight (or 1g per lb body weight) during extreme calorie deficits is shown to preserve lean mass, while decreasing fat mass. The goal during any dieting phase of a fight camp is to preserve lean muscle mass. Muscle is very metabolically active and stores water. Ideally, the more muscle you have the more water you can lose. Fat on the other hand does not store water and is not metabolically active – therefore the main goal is to target fat loss.

3.) Never go more than 3 hours without eating:

Plan your meals and snacks around training, always consuming something before and within an hour after exercise. Even during the dieting phase, it’s important to keep your body fueled in order to perform and promote recovery.

4.) Increase intake of vegetables on rest/lower intensity days:

Vegetables are rich in many vitamins and minerals, which are essential to your health and recovery. Vegetables are also high in fiber and low in calories – meaning they will keep you satiated for a low-calorie cost.

5.) Listen to your body:

Feeling really fatigued and sore after every workout? “Hitting a wall” halfway through training? Feeling restless and irritable at the end of the day? You could be dehydrated or not consuming enough food to power training sessions and/or promote recovery. Make sure you are staying hydrated and replenishing electrolytes lost from sweat. Losing more than 3% of your body weight in fluids can lead to decreased endurance performance and increased fatigue. Next, evaluate if you are consuming adequate carbohydrates prior to training. Aim to consume at least 30g of carbs before high intensity exercise – this would equate to 2 slices of bread. Finally, focus on recovery. Always consume a rich source of protein and carbohydrates after training to replenish your muscles!

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