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Nutrition 101 for Martial Arts Students

nutrition Feb 02, 2023

Whether you started martial arts to get in shape or win sports matches, nutrition is paramount to your training and competition.

Foundational Fueling 

Regardless of whether you're in shape now, or working to be in shape the way to get there and stay there is to eat like you're already in-shape. This means taking in adequate nutrients to support your daily needs and your training needs. The last thing you want is to under-eat thinking you want to lose weight, so you don't eat. That will backfire on you every time. This will send you into your training in a RED (Relative Energy Deficiency-in sport) state. 

Foundational fueling starts first with eating enough nutrients to support your lean body mass. Your dietary intake should consist of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean-meats and fish, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. 

We need fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for our body's preferred source of fuel. Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for our body and our brain. Not having enough will leave us feeling weak, tired, and slower in reaction time and focus. The sugar naturally found in carbohydrates is a must for health and performance. We do not need to avoid it.

Lean meats and fish supplement the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains by adding in protein to support maintenance of our body's tissues and immune system. This may seem a bit confusing, so think of it like this, all things have some protein in it. If the food was ever alive; plant, animal, or fish it has protein in it. Unless you're exercising a lot, there's a good chance you're getting plenty of protein. The key is to focus on quality protein first!

Nuts, seeds, and healthy oils help balance inflammation in our body, provide additional source of calories, and are packed with required vitamins that cannot be found in other foods. 

Our food provides us energy and benefits us through the macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. The diversity of our choices also ensure colorful foods are loaded with vitamins and minerals. The vitamins and minerals allow processes in our body to occur. They help out with healing, energy production, and maintenance of healthy tissues. 

Foundational fueling supports our day-to-day activities and needs. When we don't eat enough it's like not making enough monthly salary to pay your bills. Do that enough and your electricity is shut off in your house. The food you eat daily is what you need to pay your bills (body systems). This is what it means to have a Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (REDs).

Fueling up your Training

The additional food we eat after meeting our basic needs is the calories from food required to support our exercise and training. Notice, I'm not saying eating to support your total body weight. Basic Needs for your Lean Body Mass + Daily Exercise = total caloric intake.  If you have extra body fat, you’re not trying to replenish the body fat. You’re focusing on fueling the lean body mass AND replenishing stored energy in the muscles. This is called glycogen.

If you under eat, and then exercise, you will then be further in caloric debt. You don’t have enough to pay the bills of your house (body). Now your electricity is shut off and you can't pay your rent. Get the hint. Food is a must. Don't avoid it.


Most classes for students are in the evening. For some that means waiving off dinner until after class, while others are consuming dinner before class. What you eat and when will impact your training. This means the types of foods and how much, and how soon to your training.


If you eat lunch at 12pm, and then come to class at 5pm, a snack should occur around 3 or 4pm. If your snack is at 4pm just fruits and whole grains are good. If it's at 3pm have some protein with your fruits and whole grains. Keep this small in size. Just enough to provide some fuel for the training. Perhaps yogurt and fruit. Cheese stick and vegetables. Or apple slices with peanut butter. Something small to satisfy your tastebuds and provide you fuel to train without sitting heavy in your stomach. After training, clean up and have a good dinner with protein, carbs, and healthy fats. 

If you're training at 7-8pm, perhaps a small dinner at 5pm, and then small snack after training will suffice. Just be careful with what you eat prior to bed, as it will affect your sleep quality.


To set up your day for success, plan each meal to have protein, vegetables and fruits with a little whole grains, and small amount of healthy fat. Then plan your snacks with a little protein and fruits or protein and vegetables. 

Being consistent with your food quality will lead to improved health and performance. Remember eat like a champion today and you will become one in time. Don't wait to be better to act better. Start today!

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