In this, the second part of my 3 part series, we look at the world of supplements. It is a minefield in the MMA world given the number of recent athletes testing positive for banned substances due to comtaminated supplements .
For MMA fighters, who will be looking for anything that might give them that extra 1%. A competitive advantage, if you will. The thing about supplements, is that this 1%, is really all they offer. They are the cherry on the top of your nutritional sundae, and something athletes, be they professional or recreational, should ONLY be worried about AFTER they have everything else dialled in. See part 1!
That being said, supplements do have their place, so I will go through some of the ones I think are worth the investment.
A good quality multivitamin: This is a must, for the general population and especially for MMA athletes. Vitamin C and all of the B Vitamins are water soluble. This means the water you drink flushes them out of the body, so they need to be replenished daily. This also means it’s nigh on impossible to overdo it.
While a balanced diet should ideally provide most of the nutrients you require, it can be difficult, especially in winter to make sure all the boxes are ticked. This is particularly true when a fighter is cutting weight. Less calories, means less nutrients and this can lead to deficiencies.
I personally recommend Revive Active. It comes in a sachet and you just mix it into water or juice. It is a super product. I was going through a bout of illness last winter and it really helped get me back on my feet. It is €60 for a month’s supply, so €2 per day, which may seem pricey, but it works out about the same as your beloved can of Monster.
There are three main reasons why I believe Revive should form a part of every fighter’s arsenal.
It contains 150mg CoQ10. CoQ10 decreases in the body as we age and we cannot replace it. This decrease can lead to fatigue.
It contains 3g of D-Ribose which stimulates energy recovery and helps beat fatigue.
Vitamin B12 also helps reduce tiredness and fatigue and contributes to normal energy levels. The combination of these three elements means MMA athletes will have long lasting, natural energy.
If you are more sensitive to price, you can pick up fairly decent multivitamins in tablet form pretty much anywhere. Most supermarkets have their own brand versions, and these are unusally inexpensive.
Protein: As I discussed in Part 1, protein is crucial for growth and repair of body tissue. However, getting adequate amounts of it can be challenging. Especially if you are doing multiple training sessions per day, and struggle to find time to digest a meal before getting back to the gym. This is where protein shakes can save the day.
There are literally millions of brands and types of protein powders out there. What I have found is that the price often does not reflect the quality. I would always advise clients, especially those on a weight cut, to avoid products with lots of added sugars. You can spot these easily, as they are normally the ones with fancy names like “Serious Mass” and “Hard Gainer,” and impressive packaging.
If you tolerate dairy, the cheapest alternative is a simple whey protein. If you have a hard time digesting lactose, whey isolate may be a better choice. I have bought both of these products from Myprotein.ie. They are really cheap, between €20-€25 for a 1kg bag, they have super quick delivery and always have special offers on their site. They tend to be a little on the sweet side for my taste, so if I go for a flavoured one, I will always buy an unflavoured one too and mix them.
Always be careful of marketing. My particular favourite is “Women’s Protein.” Ladies, there is no such thing as specific protein for us. Chances are what they are doing is adding in folic acid or something, so they can target it at us, slap on a pink label and charge twice as much.
Creatine: Creatine occurs naturally in the body, however only in very small amounts. Without going down a rabbit hole of scientific terminology, creatine is associated with improved performance. Creatine use can increase maximum power and performance in high-intensity, anaerobic repetitive work (periods of work and rest) by 5 to 15%. These periods of work and rest are exactly what we see in combat sports.
The body only has limited storage space for creatine, so once you reach the optimal level of 3.5-5g, additional supplementation will have no impact. In short, a 5g scoop in with your protein shake will do the trick. It will make you retain some water, so you will likely experience weight gain in the first week or two of taking it. This is something to be taken into consideration, as you may want to cycle off of if before you weigh in.
Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant an has been shown to increase central nervous system output, and therefore improve performance. In order to be effective, it needs to be consumed within 60 minutes of training or competition. The effective dose is 250-500mg. There are tonnes of supplements out there, but honestly a plain old cup of coffee will do the same thing (Americanos, not pumpkin spiced lattes.) If you want to spend your money, invest in a Nespresso machine.
Individuals have different tolerances to caffeine, so make sure you test it out prior to Fight Night. It has a diuretic effect, and obviously can keep you awake at night, so it’s worthwhile testing how your own body responds to it in the weeks leading up to your event.
Fish Oil: A rich source of Omega 3, which is associated with brain and joint health. Two things combat athletes should be particularly concerned with. You can literally spend as much money as you want to on these, as they range in price dramatically. However, you should be able to get a month’s supply for less than €20 in any supermarket or pharmacy.
I have personally taken Seven Seas Joint Care Complex and found it to be quite good. I don’t tolerate oils very well, they tend to upset my stomach. If you have similar issues, try increasing your intake of oily fish such as salmon and sardines instead. Sardines in particular are great as they are also a rich source of collagen, which is good for connective tissues.
Revive also do a joint care product, which I find fantastic, but again at the higher end of the price scale at about €60 per month. I tend to only take this on days when I know I am asking a lot of my body.
BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids) If you are going to take BCAAs, make sure they contain all three, namely leucine, isoleucine and valine. These are three of the essential amino acids, which means the body cannot produce them, and so they need to be provided either in the diet, or by way of supplement.
A protein rich diet should provide your body with all the amino acids it needs. However, as leucine in particular is associated with muscle growth, taking an extra supplement is no harm. It is useful to take BCAAs during high intensity exercise when fat loss and muscle preservation is desired. MMA fighters, that’s you!
BCAAs are available in tablet or powder form. I advise my clients to use the powder form, as they can pop it in their water bottle and sip away during training. You can get a 25g bag for about €19 from Myprotein.ie.
The supplements I have talked about are only a handful of what is available on the market. I have tried to limit this discussion to the ones I consider to be most important. Although not an exhaustive list, I think it contains most of what you should need.
Much of nutrition is highly individualised. If you have questions about specific supplements, ask you coaches or feel free to reach out to myself. Be wary of snake oil salesmen. For every useful product out there, there will be 100 whose only purpose is to part you with your hard-earned money.
Arwen Sheridan is a qualified Nutrition Coach and writes on this and many subjects on her personal blog.