Mixed martial artists who are training regularly must have good nutrition and that means the right amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat in their diet. Messing with the right percentages will cost the fighter strength, speed and stamina. The wrong mix can mean more than a bad training day, it can mean a hospital visit because you got a broken arm, choked out, pummeled or all three by the other guy who has been dieting and training right. So how important is it to get it right?
The correct percentage of carbohydrate, protein and fat in the mixed martial artist’s diet varies among the athletes. Each athlete will have a different nutrient and caloric demand depending on their metabolism, training and various other factors. There are accepted equations which have been developed to help calculate the right mix. One method is the ole BMR, Body Mass Index. In our example we have an athlete who is 30 years old, male, 70” in height and 170 pounds. BMR for this athlete is calculated by using this formula (for men):
BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in year )
After plugging in our athlete’s variables we get a BMR total of 1810.1. This recommends that our athlete consume a total of 1810.1 calories a day. Well, if you’re someone who’s ever trained you’re thinking what I’m thinking, “You mean total per meal, right?” Well, for athletes we need to continue on with our calculations. The Harris Benedict Equation uses your BMR multiplied by an activity factor to calculate a person’s total caloric need as so:
1. If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
2. If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
3. If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
4. If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
5. If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9
Using our athlete’s BMR of 1810.1 multiplied 1.9 times we now come up with something more sustainable for a total daily caloric intake; 3439.19. With this our athlete will have the energy to crank out a decent training session. These numbers and calculations should not be considered the end-all but rather a soft suggestion, or a starting place. The athlete should raise or lower their caloric intake appropriately to suit their individual exercise routine and the bottom line, pay attention to what their body demands.
Now that we have a total caloric intake we can begin to solve for our unknown percentages, carbohydrate, fats and protein. We can start by calculating the amount of protein needed for our athlete. Research has concluded for aerobic, endurance and strength athletes, a protein intake of 1.5 to 2.0 g/kg of body weight is ideal. (Baechle, 2000, p. 234) Using this figure we convert our 170 pounds into kilograms (170 / 2.2= 77.27) and then multiply times 2.0 (77.27 * 2.0 = 154.54) with the resultant of 154.54 gm protein per day, or 618.16 calories per day. (Protein has a caloric value of 4 calories per gram; 618.16 / 3439.19 = .1797) This reveals to us that of the 3439.19 total daily calories, about 18% of our athletes calories should come from good sources of protein. (This means vegans and vegetarians may need more.)
Our calculations here are supported well according to Sharon Howard, R.D., M.S., C.D.E. FADA, “The protein goal is about 12 to 20 percent of total calorie intake. Moderate exercisers need additional 10 percent protein above the RDA, and athletes in training may need 25 to 50 percent more than the RDA.” The research suggests that a majority of athletes will intake around 27% of their calories from fat, but athletes should not reduce their fat intake to less than 20% of their daily caloric intake in order to spare the amount of carbohydrates converted to energy during high-intensity workouts. The fat available as an energy source will also spare the protein needed to be used for muscle repair. (Howard, 1999)
Okay, now if you’re following closely you’re already aware the remaining calories belong to the carbohydrates; roughly 60 percent. Carbohydrates are vital to sport performance to the extent that carbohydrates are said to be the most important source of energy for the body. The nervous system is also reliant on carbohydrates for the level of glucose in the blood is important to the proper function of nerve cells since nerve cells do not store carbohydrates. And, we all need carbohydrates to have enough energy to metabolize fat, not just athletes. However, the intensity of the sport or the activity level will dictate the demand for carbohydrates. The relationship is directly proportionate, the more intense the sport or activity, the more carbohydrates are needed. (Fink, 2006)
Carbohydrates are primarily metabolized as shown in the illustration below. Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen within the muscles. Oxygen is the primary ingredient of metabolism and during athletic activity, especially prolonged and strenuous activity, oxygen uptake is increased naturally (we breathe faster). Carbohydrates are the energy source of choice, but the carbohydrate stores are limited. For our athlete’s hour plus workout, fat supplies are relatively unlimited but the conversion rate (into usable energy) is much slower. This is why our bodies must use a mixture of carbohydrates and fats to fuel intense activity. Much like a novice SCUBA diver eats up the oxygen in their tank, an untrained athlete quickly use up their carbohydrate stores. Our athlete hits the veritable “wall” many athletes talk about. This infamous “wall” may very well be the depletion of readily available carbohydrate and therefore muscle glycogen will be exhausted.
Glycolysis is how energy (ATP) for use by the body is made. It includes the numerous steps and chemical reactions illustrated above. Since glycolysis doesn’t use oxygen it can be considered the first step in aerobic and anaerobic energy processes.
A positive protein balance within the muscles is term an anabolic state. When not performing rigorous activity the synthesis of protein will be greater than the breakdown of protein. The part of metabolism which provides the energy and components needed for anabolic (building) reactions is termed catabolism. Catabolic reactions are those which occur in order to break down proteins into their components or into usable components. Referring to proteins, these smaller components are termed enzymes. The enzymes act to release the energy in the citric acid cycle and the electron transport chain. (illustrated above) The process in a general description is this; Protein broken down into amino acids, into the co-enzyme Acetyl CoA, next the Citrc Acid Cycle releases NADH to be acted upon in the process of Oxidative Phosphorylation to produce the energy molecule ATP.
Niacin is a B complex vitamin involved in the body’s energy production process. Niacin is a component of two coenzymes: nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP+). These coenzymes are involved in the transfer of hydrogen ions in the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems. During aerobic exercise, D+ can accept a hydrogen ion and become NADH, carrying high energy electrons to the electron transport chain for the production of ATP. In anaerobic metabolism, NADH is responsible for transferring hydrogen to pyruvate to form lactate during the breakdown of carbohydrates for energy. (Fink, 2006, p. 158)
During day to day activity the primary means of energy production is considered aerobic. This means that the primary source of energy is fats and carbohydrates. Protein can be used as an energy source but the body prefers to use carbohydrates and fats for energy production. At rest about 70% of the ATP our bodies is derived from fats and during high-intensity workouts 100% is derived from carbohydrates. If we continue to sustain the high-intensity activity our body will gradually shift back to using fats for energy. (This process is usually most efficient in well-trained endurance athletes.) The triglycerides stored within the fat cells is broken down through an enzymatic process called oxidation and then fatty acids are released into the blood stream to be taken up by the muscles. The fatty acids are broken down inside the cells by beta oxidation and the resultant is the co-enzyme acetyl CoA, described earlier. The acetyl CoA enters the Krebs Cycle [citric acid cycle] and the energy releasing process occurs as described above. (Baechle, 2000, p. 80)
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