In the modern-day, keto craze plenty of people are trying a thousand different diets and nutrition protocols to help them achieve their goals. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, that usually translates to something sustainable that provides ample energy for regular training. Moreover, there’s also the question of bulking up and cutting weight as well. To that extent, not all diets are particularly suited for high-level grappling or MMA training. Making a low-carb diet for combat athletes is not impossible but it requires a lot more than just a simple Google search.
The norm today, when it comes to training any kind of combat sports is to include the so-called trifecta. You need to train your martial art (or arts) of choice, you need to train to be in shape for training and fighting and you need to dial in your nutrition. Surprisingly, specific grappling or MMA training is the easiest part of this equation. Strength and conditioning is a subject for a different time and is probably the most complicated of them all. Somewhere in the middle is nutrition. Should you go high carb, low fat, or opt for a low carb diet? Vegan, vegetarian, or carnivore? What about gluten? these are just some of the questions that often arise in terms of combat sports nutrition. Today, we’ll tackle the question of low-carb diets and whether they work for grapples.
Low Carb Diet 101
So what is the deal with all this low-carb diet craziness? Are carbs really the enemy here? There are a host of different schools of thought on that one. For starters, let’s make a crucial distinction – carbs and sugar are not one and the same. Carbohydrates (or carbs) are compounds that are found in many different types of food. They have a very distinct function – providing energy. And sugar is just one type of carbohydrate available to us. So what’s the deal with everyone trying to ditch carbs and go Keto or high fat?
Our bodies use carbs as an instant energy source. When there is enough energy from carbs, the excess gets turned into glycogen for “safekeeping” in the liver and muscles. When they are full as well, all excess carbs turn into fat to be later released as an alternate source of energy. The more processed the carbs, the easier they turn into fat because they provide a lot of energy in quite small doses. So when you compare sugar to sweet potatoes or yams, you can see that there’s a huge difference.
A low-carb diet works by turning to fat metabolism as a primary energy source. To that extent, you have to understand that if you decide to grapple with low carbs, you’ll have to significantly increase the amount of fat you eat. The fewer (or not at all) carbs, the more fat. To that extent, fat needs to be in check as well, the less processed the better.
Cutting Carbs The Right Way
When you decide to give a low-carb diet a try, you have to remember that you’re also grappling or training MMA on a daily basis. That means that if you decide to drop all carbs today just like that, you’re training is going to suffer along with your health. Instead, whenever you decide to do major changes in your diet, you need to make sure you do them step by step.
In terms of nutrition, you need to start dropping carbs gradually. Start with the stuff that has no nutritional value at all. The first step in establishing a low-carb diet for grappling would be cutting out all processed carbs. That means all kinds of sugar, white or brown. Sodas, all kinds of sweet snacks, ice cream, etc should be the first to go. That also means no hidden sugars well, so there go cereals, all the “healthy” energy bars, and granola. Once you do that, let this change sink in, give yourself a couple of weeks to try it out, and get used to it. It is not just your energy metabolism, but also your gut bacteria that needs to get sued to the change.
What you’re left with now are natural carbs. Those are the carbs from fruit, grains, and root vegetables like potatoes or yams. If you’re looking to further cut carbs, you should start with grains. That means no bread, pasta, rice, corn, wheat, etc. of any kind, white or brown. Dropping fruit and root vegetables means you’re looking to go into Keto/Paleo mode. That requires a lot of tinkering and adjusting. If you’re looking for a low-carb diet that you can sustain, keep the yams, potatoes, and certain fruits. Drop honey, dry fruits, or sugary fruits like watermelons and pineapple.
Sustaining A Carb-Free Diet While Grappling
The main trouble with any low-carb diet is usually sustainability. We’re surrounded by carbs and delicious completely unhealthy and nutritionally useless food. That means that temptation is high every day. If you cut out carbs completely, you’ll most likely give in at one point or another. Once you do, there’ll be no turning back. Instead of going cold turkey, after you follow the above steps to cutting carbs out, you need a game plan for staying low carb for prolonged periods of time.
That said, your focus should be on low-carb foods, first and foremost. Those are lean meats like chicken, fish, eggs, leafy greens, greek yogurt, avocados, nuts, olive oil, and certain fruits like berries, to begin with. these should be the staple of your low-carb diet. For regular grappling training, I’d advise not dropping potatoes and fruits altogether. Instead, use them smartly, consuming them only after you train, when your body needs them the most.
Next up, make sure the meal plan you choose is sustainable. It will be really hard to sustain a low-carb diet if you do not prep ahead of time. Meal prepping should become a habit, particularly on days when you know you’ll be really busy. Also, going shopping for handy low-carb snacks once a week is a great idea. When you have stuff like nuts, seeds, boiled eggs, hummus, veggies, and even fruit at hand, you’re less likely to reach for processed stuff and fall off the wagon.
If you like to really understand, and combat sports nutrition you should turn to the foremost expert in the field – George Lockhart. His “Nutrition And Weight Management System” has it all, from diet templates to weight cut protocols. Comes in a bundle with an E-book and a DVD set.