With Mike Leng
Dieting – it’s a funny old thing.
Everyone does it eventually. From the bodybuilder who just wants to be as big and strong as possible, to the athlete who wants to dominate their sport.
When it comes to combat athletes the main reason that they diet is for competition. They want to either make weight after having too many treats, or fit into a weight class below so that they can be the biggest and strongest in that class.
To be honest there are not many bad reasons for dieting (as long as you do it the right way). Every athlete would always be better with a little less fat and a bit more muscle. In my opinion, excess body fat serves no purpose in combat sports. There is an argument that could be made for more leverage in certain moves or for feeling stronger, however I have often found that it is overweight athletes who are making that argument. I have never spoken to a single person, athlete or otherwise, who didn’t feel a hell of a lot better by getting in shape.
The problem comes with how to do it right.
Many people have a terrible experience when it comes to dieting as they simply don’t know what they are doing. And it’s not their fault. There are that many schools of thought out there that often contradict each other; who isn’t going to get confused! Where do you start? Do you fast? Do you carb cycle? Do you have cheats? The list of confusing topics is endless.
The topic of setting up a diet for combat sports is a large one and could easily fill a few books with ideas and strategies (I should probably get on that). The purpose of this article is not to give you a ready made plan for your diet, but to point out a few common mistakes that will make any diet ineffective and make you downright miserable.
If you want to get a good plan for your diet, then I highly recommend speaking to your coach or a professional about having one set up tailored to your individual needs. Consulting your doctor before undertaking any kind of new nutrition plan is also heavily advised.
Ok, so what are the major diet mistakes? What really trips people up? Here are a few mistakes that most people make, and how to avoid them.
Leaving no room for adjustment
Nearly everyone is guilty of this first time around. People start by doing everything they have ever heard of all at once. They drop their calories right down, start doing loads of cardio, start fasting, start carb cycling, start fat loading, water depletion etc., etc. They get good results for a few weeks (despite feeling like death and having terrible training sessions) then the weight loss stops.
Where do they go from there?
Do they eat less? Do more cardio?
Even if they do make some sort of adjustments and see a little more progress, it soon stops.
This is because they have done too much, too soon. They should have started off slow and made small adjustments as they went. Rushing to do it all at once leads to the body stalling out pretty quickly. Your metabolism crashes and you just can’t lose weight no matter what you do.
You must remember that the body doesn’t want to lose weight. It likes being a fat mess that doesn’t do anything. This helps it survive. We need to give it a softly, softly approach to keep it losing fat.
With my clients I always want them to be eating the most they can and still get the best results. Crash dieting and starvation are never an option!
You don’t know your own body
By this I mean that you have never dieted before, at least to a target weight in a specific amount of time.
What often happens is that people decide that they want to be in the weight class lower. They look at how much they have to lose and then think about how much pro athletes cut before a competition. They then decide that they only need 4 weeks to lose 20 pounds.
What they forget to remember is that the pro athletes have done this a million times and know exactly how much they can lose in a given time frame and still perform correctly.
What then happens is that our athlete finds out that this fat loss malarkey isn’t as easy as they thought. They panic, then they start crash dieting.
What they should have done is either a longer diet, where they could take their time, or have done a test diet WAY before their competition so that they can gauge what works for them.
You start off way to low
When people initially set up a diet, they generally sit down and work out how many calories they should be eating. The problem is they always start FAR too low. Again this comes back to the first point, they leave themselves nowhere to go.
This leads to poor training, a terrible environment for fat loss and a damn miserable athlete.
I like to start people at about 15 calories per pound of body weight and adjust from there depending on results. Of course this isn’t the same for every client and some eat more while others eat less. It all comes down to the individual and knowing your body (see the second point).
As always, consult a professional if you are unsure.
People get confused over macro nutrients
Macro nutrients are the major nutrients that make up our diets. They are known as protein, carbs and fat.
The problem arises when people don’t know enough about these nutrients, then start to try to set them up.
They are often talked about in percentages, i.e. 30% protein, 30% carb, 30% fat (please don’t use that as a template, it’s just an example to illustrate what I mean).
Macro nutrients are highly individual. Every single person is different and each handles each one in a specific way. Some do better with less carbs and high fat, others do better with high carbs and low fat. It really is individual.
Either do some reading on how to set up diets for certain sports and lifestyles, or ask a professional.
You are relying on your weight cut to save the day
Let’s make a distinction while we are here.
Dieting is losing fat while retaining as much muscle as possible, over a number of weeks and months.
Weight cutting is using water loading, dehydration and sometimes even saunas and diuretics to shed excess water in order to make weight.
The mistake happens when someone has no idea what they are doing when it comes to the weight cut as they have either:
A) Never done it before
B) Over estimated how much they can cut safely
C) Done it for a same day event
Let’s get a few things straight. Weight cuts are dangerous: they have killed people. They should only be done by professionals with a coach taking them through it and NEVER for a same day event.
People also over estimate how much they can lose while doing a weight cut. This makes them lazy during the diet and leads to them doing really stupid stuff like wearing sweat suits and riding a bike in the sauna.
DON’T DO THIS. Be a damn professional and be committed to your craft.
Most athletes would feel and perform a hell of a lot better by following a proper diet and coming in at the correct weight instead of doing everything last minute.
There are a few mistakes that most people make when approaching a diet.
The main take away from this article is to be prepared and know what you are doing.
If you don’t know what you are doing then hire a professional. You use a professional to teach you to drive, teach you your sport or how to be qualified for your career. Using a nutritionist is no different.
If you don’t want to use a professional then please make sure that you do your research and have everything well set up before you start. Treat all aspects of your competition and diet prep the same; be a professional and be prepared.
If you liked these quick tips, feel free to check out my eBook 50 Diet Tips for MMA and Combat Sports, available at www.unorthodox-nutrition.com. It’s also available on Kindle, Amazon, iBooks, Kobe and a whole host of other platforms.