Can what and how you eat affect your physical activity, and fighting?
Whether you want to defend yourself, train optimally, or just operate at a highly efficient level throughout the day, what and how you eat definitely does affect your ability to perform. Now, we all know that you won't be able to perform optimally on a full stomach and that you need to wait a few hours after a big meal to train/exercise and fight, but I'm talking about how foods affect your performance based on what it does to your body.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
One time before a mixed martial arts competition, I made the mistake of eating a 'Sloppy Joe' for lunch (for those who don't know what that is, it's a bunch of ground beef in red sauce, on a big hamburger bun). My fight wasn't for another few hours, so I figured it would be fine. Boy was I wrong! My body did not want to do anything, let alone fight. As the fight began I was bloated, nauseous, weak and couldn't focus. I remember just praying for the fight to be over. Not only did I lose the fight, I also threw up multiple times afterwards. My body couldn't handle trying to break down the red meat, while also performing at the highest level (fighting).
When in college, it was not uncommon for me to skip breakfast so I could get to class on time. One day a bully started a fight with me after class. As I tried to defend myself, I immediately felt drained of all my energy. It was like the power going out in your home. No warning, just dead! Fighting when you are hypoglycemic is a horrible and scary feeling, because your brain is telling your body to do things that it has no energy to do. Talk about helpless!
So what is ideal to eat before a fight, or any physical activity that required useful energy?
Carbohydrates: This is the preferred fuel source of the body because it is the easiest to convert to glucose (AKA blood sugar). This glucose is the main energy source used by the bodies muscles, other tissues, organs, and every cell. Great sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, sprouted breads, whole grain pastas and rice.
Fats: Your body uses this as a secondary fuel source (via gluconeogenesis), after all your glycogen reserves are used up. It takes longer to break down, but is also a more concentrated source of energy. This is because fat has 9 calories per gram as opposed to carbohydrates (and proteins) 4 calories per gram. If you are going to do a long duration event (i.e. five rounds of MMA, or marathon) you need to eat fats to sustain you. Great sources of fats include nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil.
Which foods are not so great to eat before a physical activity/fighting?
Proteins: These are the last source of energy for the body, because proteins are complex molecules that require many processes to convert them into usable energy. However, proteins are excellent to eat after fighting/physical activity as it can help with muscle recovery and growth. Great sources of proteins include eggs (whole), fish, beans, and cottage cheese.
Other eating tips to help you operate at the highest level:
Don't go longer that 5-6 hours without eating: This can cause hypoglycemia leaving you unable to operate (fight/train).
Don't overeat: This will leave you slow, lethargic, and confused.
Drink water throughout the day, it will keep you alert and energetic.
Stay away from alcohol and drugs prior to the physical activity (or if you're in an unsafe place where a fight can break out).
So there you go: If you are going to participate in long duration fights or extreme training, fuel with carbs and fats first, but remember to eat proteins (and carbs) afterwards for recovery.
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Author, The Short Fight