As many of us know, diet is key to preparing for any fight.
However, the strategy here is much different than your standard fat-loss diet, which tends to throw new fighters for a loop.
Here I’m breaking down why the pre-fight diet is different, followed by what to eat and when to maximize your energy and strength levels during the match!
Diet Changes to Make to Prepare for a Fight
As fighters, our diet is already an intricate balance of eating enough to fuel intense training sessions and strength gains, while limiting the wrong foods that can cause weight gain and mental sluggishness (aka: tons of processed “junk” foods and sugar).
Preparing for an actual fight in a weight class takes this a step further. You want to make sure you are able to still fuel your training while also keeping in mind that you’ll likely have a weigh-in in 2-3 weeks and will be cutting weight.
Typically, training intensity will be lowered slightly a few days before your weigh-in since you’re unable to consume as much food to fuel muscle recovery, which will aid in the mental side of sticking to a strict diet. Following the weigh-in, you’ll be able to consume more of the foods you were heavily restricting before the weigh-in.
Below you’ll see the foods to restrict in the weeks leading up to your weigh-in, which ones to consume more of, and what to eat after your weigh-in to fuel your fight as optimally as possible.
The focus on protein is going to be heavier in the weeks leading up to weigh-in, especially since you’ll be dropping your carb intake. You want to focus more on fresh, lean proteins as well as fatty fish like salmon (great for recovery since the omega-3s help fight inflammation). Supplementing with protein shakes is okay if you need to, just keep it at 1-2 scoops per day following your training, and make sure it is a clean protein with no added sugars, chemicals, or unpronounceable additives.
Focus on getting 4-6 ounces of lean protein per meal such as:
• Chicken and turkey breast
• White fish and fatty fish like salmon
Carbohydrates and Veggies
This is where the “hard” part of dieting for a fight comes in: you’re going to start decreasing your carbs to switch your body into fat-burning mode and start losing excess water weight. Carbs hold the most molecules of water of all the macronutrients, which is the basis for losing “water weight” pre-fight.
You don’t want to eliminate all carb sources, as these are also your source of essential minerals and nutrients you need for training and, well, living, but instead focus on getting your carbs from nutrient-rich low-starch veggies like:
• Bok choy
• Leafy greens (kale, spinach, arugula)
• Butternut squash
• Green beans
• Seaweed (extra minerals to fuel training)
Be sure to have very generous portions of these veggies, since they will be the primary antioxidant and nutrient fuel for your training.
Before weigh-in, fats are going to become your primary source of fuel. This will train your body to start burning your body fat to support training, which will cause you to start dropping weight. Since you won’t be getting as many calories from carbs, you’ll want to be semi-generous with your fat portions (but don’t go overboard). Think adding a tablespoon of olive oil to your salad along with half an avocado, adding a small handful of seeds of nuts to your smoothies, etc …
Fats to eat more of:
• Nuts and seeds (measure your portions, as these are calorie-dense and easy to overdo)
• Hemp seeds
• Fatty fish
• Virgin olive and coconut oils
Salt and Water
Another common tactic to reduce water weight before weigh-in is to reduce your salt intake, while upping your water intake, 2-3 days beforehand. This will cause your body to flush any stored water.
Make SURE you stay hydrated during this time to avoid dizziness and weakness.
Note: don’t continue this diet along with your training for more than 2 weeks, as it is extremely restrictive and can result in not getting enough nutrients and calories in the long-term. This is strictly for pre-fight usage.
Whew. You made your weigh-in. Now what?
NOW it’s time to re-fuel.
More specifically, you want to start eating the carbs you were avoiding. This will refuel your glucose stores to give you extra energy and stamina during your fight.
Focus on loading up on:
• Sweet potatoes
• Brown rice
• Berries and citrus fruits
Now, you don’t have to go absolutely crazy, but do add hearty servings to your plate in addition to your protein and fats.
In addition, this is also the time to add salt back in to replenish your sodium stores.
Since you may have lost quite a few minerals during your diet, focus on drinking some coconut water, eating more low-sugar berries and leafy greens, and consider a multi-mineral supplement.
The Bottom Line
The diet changes you make to prepare for a fight are definitely a challenge … but I like to think of it as part of the fight. I’m in the ring with myself, preparing the meals that are going to fuel my victory.
Keep your foods clean, limit your carbs pre-weigh-in, and re-fuel post-weigh-in, and you’ll be flying toward your win.