Few athletes have as wide a range of physical and psychological demands as that of a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter or ‘combat athlete.‘ High levels of strength, aerobic and anaerobic capacity, speed and power, as well as flexibility, are required in every competition, leading to unique training programs for these fighters that aim to develop all of these qualities.
However, the above diverse range of demands placed on MMA, along with the requirement to compete in a weight class, puts nutrition as well as training, at a particularly high priority for these competitors.
Protein intake, in particular, is one of the most important considerations, as it can help maintain strength and power performance when cutting weight, as well as help further improve these qualities during training and promote recovery.
The need to keep weight low, however, presents the need for sources of protein that are both high quality and low in calories.
Below, the best protein for MMA athletes is shown, along with how they can be implemented into the diet to help maximize performance and when approaching competition, assist in reducing weight.
Along with the above qualities, whey protein has been shown in multiple studies to outperform other proteins in boosting muscle protein synthesis, protect muscle mass when cutting weight and enhance recovery after strenuous workouts.
When reducing weight, whey protein isolate supplements can be taken to help further reduce calorie intake without compromising the amount of protein eaten. It can also help fat loss.
Protein from fish, especially oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, cod or tuna, are both high in protein, low in calories and also high in Omega-3 fats, which can further help increase muscle protein synthesis, increase muscle growth signalling and promote recovery and strength development. It also contributes to improving overall health and may help prevent injury as well as decrease hunger, which can be especially useful when making weight.
These benefits make for an efficient food choice for MMA fighters when looking to obtain both healthy fats and high protein both in competition preparation and off-season.
Eggs and their protein, known as egg albumin, are also a healthy source of protein, which, unlike the above sources, can be made lower or higher in calorie content by adding fewer egg yolks and more whites for fewer calories or a larger amount of yolks for higher calories (13, 14).
Adding more yokes also increases the amount of healthy fats and cholesterol in the eggs, which makes it an ideal food when trying to gain weight but can easily be adapted to make it an effective weight loss food.
Considerations for Protein Intake in MMA athletes
Regardless of which source of protein you choose, the amount of protein taken in remains a key factor in promoting muscle growth or maintenance.
As such, depending on the training goal, recommendations for how much protein is needed will provide optimum benefits. From reviews of the existing research, 1.4 to 1.6 grams per kilogram of bodyweight each day seems to be the optimal amount of protein if cutting weight is your goal.
If you’re looking to gain or maintain weight, 1.8 to 2.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight each day is the recommended amount.
You can also further increase these benefits by including the above proteins into a mixed meal with both carbohydrates and healthy fats, particularly Omega-3s, as this can further help increase muscle protein synthesis and digestion.
Incorporating the above recommendations and protein-rich foods into the diet will play a vital role in improving performance in your next fight, recovery from a hard training session and make weight cutting a little bit easier.