Thursday 16 May 2013

Dieting through a training camp – Part 1

Dieting through a training camp – Part 1

Most amateur and professional boxers will have some time off between fights and once a date is agreed for their next fight they will increase their training and start their diet to make weight (heavyweights obviously excluded from this), this is the period they refer to as their training camp.

What I’m going to discuss here are some key diet and supplementation points to consider for the fighter who has to make weight, the what’s and what not’s to stress over, I’ll even brush on the dreaded but now almost essential dehydration process. Hopefully you’ll pick up some key points, which you can apply to your own training and nutrition plans. My experience comes from the boxers and MMA fighters I have worked with and all of my work is backed by science, something that should not be ignored in exchange for fad diets or self-proclaimed guru’s new methods. If the scientifically backed methods don’t work for you then it’s not the science, its’ most definitely you. Crash diets suck big time, don’t get in the viscous cycle of that being your only option to make weight. Oh and don’t bitch and moan about having to diet, if you hate it that much fight at your natural weight.

As a performance athlete making weight you really must do all you can to protect your metabolism, there’s no doubt as bodyweight and fat stores drop the so will your metabolic rate, however you need to protect it and make sure it is not magnified. This is your key tool to making weight the easy way. Crash dieting and bingeing after a fight are a sure fire way to metabolic damage, now the science is not vast on this area (check out the seminal Minnesota Semi-Starvation Study for good info on metabolic rate decreases) my experience with athletes is that every time you binge and add fat it becomes harder to shift that fat each fight, compounded by alcohol and age. I’ve worked with many fighters who through a combination of steady state cv, low calories and then bingeing after a fight just find it harder each time to make weight and the calories have to go lower for longer. Soon enough you’re left with nowhere to go and end up living on barely any food and using stimulants to get through training sessions, that is not a good place for increasing performance coming in to a fight. what’s really happening in this situation is your testosterone levels, nervous system output and thyroid drop through the floor and yet cortisol levels sky rocket, this is a bad environment for performance, recovery and fat loss, albeit somewhat inevitable when you do this, limiting it is key.

I have seen fighters eating sub 500kcals for 2 full weeks prior to the weigh in, this is a crucial time and using stimulants to carry you through training brings about the other real issue of adrenal fatigue. So at all costs protect your metabolism, to do this you need to be sensible and here are the techniques I use with clients who have suffered with this:

·      If you have a lot of weight to drop then drop it at the start of training camp, don’t leave it until 4 weeks out where you have to starve yourself
·      Don’t binge after a fight if you’ve starved yourself, your body is not a position to handle a huge influx of calories from sugar and processed foods you will have been craving
·      Increase your carb intake after fights slowly 25g increments per week
·      Don’t stop training after a fight, you may want a break but you cant eat all you want and not train, you’ll just get fat quickly, so just keep in your s&c sessions and your hiit conditioning work if you wish to cut back
·      Start your dieting early, get the bulk of the weight off quickly and then slowly eat and train your way in to your weight
·      Keep protein high. Protein has been shown to help increase metabolic rate.
·      Don’t steady state cardio as your calorie burner – not only will those long runs damage your knees and joints but too much of such activity has been shown to slow metabolic rate, I hear of current world champions going for a steady run to burn off the calories every night. We’ve all seen the overweight guys walking for an hour on the treadmill in the gym, saying he’s burnt 1000kcals off at a steady pace barely breaking a sweat, the fact is he’s not and he’s still overweight
·      Finally don’t worry, permanently screwing your metabolism up is pretty much impossible, what’s important is making the changes to make things easier so you can concentrate on your performance rather than constantly worrying about making weight, stress is not good for your metabolism either.

You’ll notice that I advise to strip weight quickly at the beginning of a training camp, the reason for this is two-fold: firstly it will leave you to concentrate on what should be the most important factor which is your performance as the fight gets closer, secondly, dragging a heavy body around the treadmill is hard work, you need to increase your power: weight, this is basically the speed at which you can move with keeping your heart rate in the 90%+ zone, the higher the speed the better, after all speed is a key performance component for fighter. If you’re trundling round the treadmill at 14kph at over 90% hr you need to increase this and you will see a marked improvement in your performance in the ring, which is ultimately what you want.

The single best way to do this at the beginning of a camp is a ketogenic diet. This is a far from ideal style of dieting for performance athletes, although recent research out of Italy showed performance not to be affected on a 1 month ketogenic diet it is in my experience not optimal long term for an athlete. Although carbohydrates are not actually an essential macronutrient they are essential for fuelling and recovering from gruelling twice a day workouts, however a ketogenic diet alongside a steady increase in training intensity will drop the weight off you quickly, most of which will be water/glycogen to start with but there will be some fat loss too, this method allows you to bring carbohydrates back in around training to fuel and recover from workouts quickly as well as being closer to your fighting or pre dehydration weight. 3-4 weeks should be the longest timeframe to use a ketogenic diet, if you’re doing longer than this then you’ll notice your performance either dropping or plateauing. You may also start to feel like you are overtraining as by this time your training intensity should be peaking. This is the exact tactic I have used many time with fighters, the fact they’re eased back in to training allows for this type of harsh diet.

To be continued, hopefully/obviously...

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