Eating for MMA part 1/4: performance nutrition

performance nutritionFor I don’t know how long now, I’ve been following the “see-food diet”. It’s been dirty, it’s been big, and it’s been fun. My bodyfat percentage has never fluctuated past 15% and today I’m riding a muscular 190lbs: probably the biggest and most muscular I’ve ever been.

That’s been hard work. Years of dedication to eating any old crap I could stuff into my mouth. You see, I’m a classic “ectomorph”. I struggle to put on a drop of weight and can lose it in a heartbeat. As long as I could keep my protein intake high, I was happy to shovel refined carbs, fats, sugars, high-GI, low-GI, ANYTHING, into my mouth.

I blame Michael Phelps. Sometime during the Beijing Olympics I read on a website his shocking training diet:

Breakfast: Three fried egg sandwiches; cheese; tomatoes; lettuce; fried onions; mayonnaise; three chocolate-chip pancakes; five-egg omelette; three sugar-coated slices of French toast; bowl of grits; two cups of coffee

Lunch: Half-kilogram (one pound) of enriched pasta; two large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise on white bread; energy drinks

Dinner: Half-kilogram of pasta, with carbonara sauce; large pizza; energy drinks

The diet that won him eight gold medals at the Summer 2008 Olympic Games. All nutrients were nutrients in my book, and carbs especially were necessary for any gruelling training regime where I was often training six-days a week, and hoping to build muscle with a three-four day a week weightlifting programme. Insulin is one of the most anabolic hormones the body produces, and if I was going to put on any weight or maintain what I had, I’ll need to keep my insulin spiked. To me, this formula was the key to performance nutrition.

Well things have changed, ever since I started reading about the damaging effect of some of the more “dirty” nutrients on hormones, neurotransmitters, inflammation and various diseases of the hearts, pancreas, liver, gut and other major organs.

The neuro-endocrine system is a finely interconnected system, and insulin, which is most closely related to nutrition, plays a crucial role in the balance of cortisol, testosterone, estrogen and all and any other hormones in your body. Not something to mess about with.

And that’s not to mention the effects of other nutrients on oxidative stress, inflammation and the immune system.

The next six weeks is going to be an experiment in cleaning up my food intake and dropping a few bodyfat percentages. At the same time, I’m going to be slipping into a low-carb diet (more on that in part 2 to this article).

Performance nutrition

The key measure of the efficacy of this diet is how well it helps me perform in training. I want more energy, more focus and a better capacity to learn overall. To do this, I recognise I will have to address both my mental and physcial health as part of the overall performance nutrition plan.

So I picked up The UltraMind Solutionseveral months ago on recommendation from a friend who suffers ADHD (don’t we all?), presenting a natural solution in optimising brain chemistry and nutrition.

It’s an interesting approach, especially for someone attempting to balance the demands of a 9-5 job with a six-day a week training programme, which often leaves you burnt out mentally before it does physically.

Those people (like me) often resort to some sort of stimulant addiction to deal with these demands (caffeine in my case, though I know notable fighters hooked on Adderall and worse).

According to the blurb, the book, by Mark Hyman, “teaches the reader how to use the body to heal the body, this time making lifestyle changes that will foster brain function, including memory, mood, and attention span as well as battle everything from brain fatigue to depression”.

The book presents a six week plan to optimising “brain health” – which is a combination of performance nutrition and lifestyle changes. This plan is broken down into four parts:

1) Healthy eating plan

2) Basic supplements

3) Life-style changes including exercise, relaxation and brain activities

4) Live clean and green

Before the programme starts, there is a one week preparation phase which requires eliminating the following from your diet:

  • Caffeine (no tea??? Could be a problem).
  • Processed and refined carbohydrates and sugar (will require careful dietary planning).
  • High-fructose corn syrup (not a problem).
  • Hydrogenated (trans) fats (again, not a problem).
  • Processed, packaged, junk, and fast foods (pretty broad, ambiguous category).
  • Alcohol (don’t really drink much anyway).

Performance nutrition eating plan

After the one week preparation phase, the six week “program” starts. The first part of this MMA diet is a “healthy eating plan” based on the following principles:

  • Clean up your diet. Eliminate gluten and dairy to see if you have a sensitivity to them. See how you feel without them at the end of the six weeks. Eliminate sugar and all process foods. Eat whole, real, organic and unprocessed food.
  • Eat whole unprocessed, clean, organic food. Eat lot of fruit and vegetables, full of colourful phytonutrients. Eat local foods that are in season.
  • Meal timing: eat breakfast every day and eat protein for breakfast every day. Eat something every four hours to keep insulin and blood sugar levels normal. Avoid eating 2-3 hours before going to bed
  • Eat food with lots of omega 3 – especially oily fish and omega 3 eggs. Use extra virgin olive oil which contains anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Should be your main oil but not for high temp cooking. Use unrefined sesame oil (or coconut oil*) for high temperature cooking.
  • Eat protein in every meal, chosen from beans/legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, organic poultry, small amounts of organic red meat (one-two times a week).
  • Eat the right carbs, beans, lentils, fruits, vegetables, slow low-GI vegetables, minimise root vegetables that are starchy and high-GI.
  • Increase detoxifying and anti-oxidant food, five-nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Focus on anti-inflammatory sources of foods like plant sources of omega 3 fats such as walnuts and flax seeds, red and purple berries and dark green vegetables and orange and yellow vegetables such as sweet potatoes. Include detoxifying vegetables such as kale and broccoli and chards and artichokes. Herbs like turmeric and rosemary and ginger, garlic and onions. Drink green tea and dark chocolate.

Supplements

The Ultramind Solution also lays out a list of supplements which Hyman assumes are lacking in our diets, or we need extra portions of to make our brain functions perform at their best. Therefore, I will be adding the following to my diet:

  • A multivitamin which includes all daily requirements of vitamins and minerals.
  • Additional Calcium and Magnesium (Calcium Citrate 600-800mg total, Magneisum 400-600mg total – from all sources), a day.
  • Vitamin D3 – 2500iu, a day.
  • Omega 3 fatty acid 1000mg two-times a day.
  • Methylation factors – folic acid 800mcg, Vitamin B6 50mg and Vitamin B12 1000mcg, a day.
  • Probiotics to improve digestion, reduce food allergies and reduce gut inflammation.

Lifestyle changes

With your performance nutrition taken care of, Hyman then describes various “lifestyle” factors for achieving the perfect “brain health”. These are broken down, thus:

  • Exercise.
  • Relaxation.
  • Improved sleep pattern.
  • Brain exercises.

Live clean and green

The final part of The Ultramind Solution is “live clean and green”. This is broken down into four parts:

  • Drink clean water. Hyman recommends 6-8 glasses of water a day. Avoid tap water which is highly contaminated with microbes, plastics, metals, toxins and fluoride. Use a reverse osmosis filter that can get rid of microbes, pesticides, metals and many other toxins.
  • Limit your exposure to chemicals and metals. Avoid car pollution and second hand smoke. Avoid microwave foods which create more oxidative stress and inflammation. Use air filters and ionisers. Have house plants in your home to help “clean” the air. Also, reduce intake of large predatory or river fish which contain high levels of metals such as mercury. Avoid fluorescent lighting,
  • Keep your body fluids moving. One-two bowel movements a day, drinking six-eight glasses of water a day and sweat regularly and profusely with exercise.
  • Reduce your exposure to electro-pollution or electromagnetic radiation. Minimise the use of wireless communication devices (cell phones, and WiFi devices), don’t use wireless or wired headsets which may still conduct radiation. Don’t keep cell-phones in your hip pocket, because the proximity to you genitals could affect fertility as well as the bone marrow in your hips which produces the majority of red blood cells in your body. Sleep six-feet away from all electronic devices.

So there you have it. Some of these ideas seem wacky, some extreme and impractical and others common sense.

I’m going to attempt to live as closely to these principles as possible for the next six-seven weeks and report back my results. But first, in part two to this guide, I’m going to outline the MMA diet to which I’ll be switching as I seek to clean up my nutrition.

Pick up your own copy of The Ultramind Solution from Amazon:

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