Proper nutrition is important for everyone, but especially professional MMA fighters who train six to eight hours a day. Nutrients foster everything in the body from adequate energy levels in muscles to healthy skin and muscle growth. Unfortunately, many fighters face the pressure of dropping 10, 20, 30 or more pounds to make a weight class and choose to malnourish and dehydrate their body before a fight.
Cutting body weight at the last minute is not only a poor battle strategy, but hazardous to a fighter’s health, according to dietitian Mary Bell of Rudog Nutrition.
“You compromise the energy reserves of the muscle because there isn’t enough stored carbohydrates,” Bell said. “Athletes cutting weight this way are going to be fatigued, irritable, and hungry. It also affects them hormonally. They also don’t sleep well when they are doing that which affects recovery. And for somebody who is doing this several times a year, year after year, you weaken organs which are protein based. All of which becomes a pretty bad domino effect that can lead to injury, inability to recover from an injury and illness.”
Instead, Bell explained a safe cut is considered anywhere from five to 10 pounds, which is mostly water weight. Any cut over 10 pounds is primarily induced by starvation, she said, which causes the body to burn muscle tissues to burn off weight. This is the result of the muscle fibers not having enough fuel to utilize.
With thousands of hours of training and practice, Bell stumbled upon MMA through her children and realized something had to be done. She found that many previous wrestlers become MMA athletes and they continue to starve and dehydrate themselves to make weight class cuts.
“My kids began taking a mixed martial arts class,” Bell said. “Just being in that environment, you start to meet the other adults who are coming in later to take adult classes. The instructor there was an aspiring MMA fighter and that was my first case of what that looked like. And it occurred to me that nobody was servicing them in the nutrition arena in with regard to how to train and eat.”
After a lot of what she calls sweat equity, building and maintaining relationships and growing one client at a time, Bell created Rudog Nutrition. The company is a nutritional information database filled with training and weight loss tips for athletes at a nominal fee.
“Many of these athletes don’t have a lot of money,” said Bell. “They need expertise they really can’t afford to go pay for. We put credible nutrition information out there for everybody, but just make it ridiculously affordable so that cost is never a reason to not get proper nutrition education. If you go see a dietician you’re going to pay 80 to 100 dollar for one visit. You may get what you need, but you may not. Rudog is the online version of a dietitian. It is ten dollars a month and they basically they get all the education I’d be giving them would be in person. They get it online and as a member they can text of email me any questions.”
Although Bell resides in Dallas, TX, she has helped many professional MMA fighters across the country including Wisconsin’s UFC fighters Anthony Pettis, Erik Koch and Daniel Downes. To start, Bell consults via phone and email to uncover fighter’s healthy histories and background information. He suggested that some of the fighters try using mma and bjj dummies.
“I had Anthony track what he was eating for two or three days generally a couple of week days and then a weekend because they tend to be very different. I want them to put everything, alcohol all the good stuff all the bad stuff so I can assess where they are calorically and then I decide whether they should go in calories or down.”
Most of the time, Bell said, the fighter’s need to eat more calories. Many should be eating 4000-5000 calories a day, but reluctantly they consume half of that. Compared to other athletes, MMA fighters need a high number of calories to fuel them through long hours of endurance training.
“While I did an interview with Anthony, I asked him ‘What do players think about how much they are supposed to be eating?’ He said, ‘We have no Idea what we are supposed to be doing.’ And because they don’t know what to eat they opt not to. Many of these athletes don’t eat nearly enough, so they are never really at the peak of their game because they are always nutritionally compromised.”
When consulting, she looks at what fighters are eating and what type of meal plan is most sensible on an individual basis. This, she said, is an estimate of what their training needs are in contrast to what their upcoming fighting weight is. Over time the diet slowly encourages weight loss, but keeps the fighter energetic and ready to rumble.
“If we work with the guys when training camps starts, we get to see a lot of variation in their diet. When training camp is intense for those weeks we are feeding them everything they need, so they will do a 50-60 percent carbohydrate and about 15-20 percent protein diet all from food. As they get closer, we begin to evaluate their energy level and start tapering calories a little bit. The final week before, we drop the carbs to about 40-50 percent and protein will go up to about 20-30 percent and we’ll shift the carbs too mainly during the day. No huge or drastic changes,” Bell Assures, “We want everything to stay the same so come fight time they don’t have to do anything different and can worry about the fight.”
One person who can attest to the dietary aid of Rudog is Roufusport’s Daniel Downes. After his last minute entrance to WEC 49 left him looking out of shape, he began following Bell’s personalized diet for his second bout in the WEC.
“Working with Mary has taken my training to the next level,“ Downes said. “Before with weight cutting, I kind of stumbled along and didn’t really know what I was doing. For my last WEC fight, thanks to her I woke up the day of weigh ins exactly at 155 pounds.”
Since her personal mission is to overturn the last minute starvation strategy, Bell loves to watch as her clients understand they can eat and train.
“I always tell the guys a diet is an important piece of your training,” Bell said. “But it shouldn’t be so important that distracts a fighter from doing the other things he needs to do to get ready for a fight. If the diet is too gimmicky it’s a distraction, if it’s too brutal it’s a distraction if you can’t sleep because you aren’t eating it’s a distraction. Your diet has taken up more than its fair share in the pecking order. We are trying to put it where it needs to be, easy, functional and practical. The one time they don’t have to cut weight they never go back. They can’t believe how much better they fell during a fight. It’s really fun to watch these guys get a taste and say wow is I really eat I can really really train and really really win.”