Fight Camp Nutrition with Dan Garner | Modern Manual Therapy Blog

Fight Camp Nutrition with Dan Garner




This weekend is the NSCA Training for Combat Sports conference in Las Vegas. Day 1 featured tons of super relevant and interesting content, including a talk about fight camp nutrition with Dan Garner. Dan is a strength coach and nutrition specialist that works with many UFC fighters. This is a topic I’ve talked about before on this blog and something I’m deeply interested in – how do we make weight while maximizing performance?
Dan’s talk was packed with information, but I do want to share some important concepts. Remember that nutrition is highly individual and while these are great guidelines, you should contact a professional for a personalized program.
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Dan reviewed 6 elements for a strong fight camp nutrition framework:
  1. Psychology
  2. Energy Balance
  3. Carbohydrate Intake
  4. Peri-Workout Nutrition
  5. Immune Function
  6. Vitamin & Mineral Status
Dan’s ideal timeframe for fight camp is 10 weeks with a goal of cutting 1-2 pounds per week in order to minimize extremes as you approach weigh-in. As you train hard through fight camp (or in the weeks leading up to your competition), your focus should be on performance and NOT making weight. This comes with precise, strategic planning.
Although there are tons of weight cutting and diet strategies, the bottom line is that everything is dependent on energy balance or imbalance. Meaningful strategies to determine calories in versus out allows a fighter to plan their weight loss over the duration of a fight camp. This sets up the final weight cut to start from a lower number in order to reduce extreme methods and unpredictability at the 11th hour.

The most common weight cutting strategy I hear around the gym is some kind of carbohydrate sparing or ketogenic diet. However, the importance of carbs for for fighters is critical. To get some buy in, Dan referenced studies by Noakes et al and Hall et al that found no difference in weight changes across subjects who sustained a low or high carbohydrate diet given the same decrease in overall calories. In addition, another study showed that subjects who included bread in their diets actually lost more weight than those who did not – highlighting the importance of a diet that is sustainable, rather than the mystery weight loss qualities of bread.

Proteins, carbohydrates, water, and electrolytes should all be consumed before, during, and following a training session. The main one most fighters don’t get enough of is actually WATER. Can you imagine water being the difference between winning and tapping out? Actually, performance and endurance levels start to decline with as little as a .5% loss in body water! This only worsens at greater levels of dehydration with strength and coordination deficits, cramping, heat exhaustion, and even altered mental capacity when you exceed a 4% water loss. This can mean a slower reaction time to get your underhook or maybe even forgetting your game plan.

Immune function depends on 2 major factors: diet and sleep. We’ve touched upon energy balance, but I’d like to quickly discuss sleep. Sleep is an essential component of recovery and regeneration without which our bodies could never see gains. While it’s important to achieve an adequate training level to spark adaptation, it’s equally important to sleep in order to maintain these gains and minimize the risk of getting sick during your fight camp. There are tons of methods to improve sleep hygiene including decreasing screen time before bed, breathwork, and meditation, but I think the biggest takeaway from Dan’s talk is that even a 15 minute increase in sleep has been demonstrated to improve immune system function.

Your supplement needs depend on your personal vitamin and mineral status, so it’s really important to work with a professional. But I will share 2 of Dan’s examples of how supplementation can influence training if appropriate.

  • ZINC: Your body needs zinc to create thyroid hormones; thus, depending on your baseline, zinc levels can significantly affect your metabolism. Dan referenced someone who added zinc supplementation and increased their metabolism by 992 calories per day. This not only impacts the possibility for weight loss, but also could be used as an additional 900+ calories towards fuel for performance and recovery.
  • IRON: Iron is critical for strength development and muscle function. Dan referenced a study where a volleyball team was split into a control group and a group receiving an iron supplement. During the season, all members of the team had the same training and competition program, but those who were repleting iron experienced 2x increases in strength. This could be critical for maintaining strength levels in sports with constant competition, such as BJJ.
Below I’ve added a few takeaways from Dan’s lecture that I found most interesting regarding each of these elements:
1. Psychology
2. Energy Balance
3. Carbohydrate Intake
So not only is it supported by the literature that percentage of carbs doesn’t affect weight loss, but carbs are essential for performance and recovery. Carbs fuel anaerobic performance – this means kicking, punching, jumping, and many other integral movements for martial arts. In addition, carbs are truly the master fuel. This means that when you’re training, the body uses carbs as the primary fuel source. In a carbohydrate depleted state, there is an increase in stress hormones that actually breakdown muscle tissue and decrease muscle mass and immune function. The body needs a readily available fuel source in order to spare muscle tissue.
Peri-Workout Nutrition
You can see that it is essential to achieve proper hydration to maximize performance. Dan suggests a minimum threshold of .5oz per pound body weight daily, that increases with training intensity. Strategies that I use to ensure that scaled amounts above threshold are appropriate for training include re-hydrating based on weight change during a training session, as well as urine analysis.
Immune Function
Vitamin and Mineral Status
A big thank you to Dan Garner for sharing what was obviously just a tiny peek into his vast knowledge about training nutrition. Remember that your nutrition needs may not be the same as your teammate’s. It’s important to reach out to a professional to develop the best program for you. Finally, always listen to your body, it will give you more insight than you can imagine. I am looking forward to rewatching this lecture on the online stream to pick up even more information!
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Find out more about Dan Garner at www.coachgarner.com.
Read more from Laurey at @Combat_Physio or combatphysio.com

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