Where do supplements fit into the combat athlete’s diet and regimen?
Let’s take an honest look. Most of our population grabs a stack of supplements from their local GNC store in hopes of changing their life around and transforming their body. As we all know, there is no miracle pill and nothing will come of worth unless the basics are covered – only then can we add anything “supplemental”.
Good nutrition will get us 80% there [maybe more] when it comes to fueling our body and its recovery. I personally did not rely on supplements for the majority of my career despite experimenting with them early on. I guess I had a bad taste in my mouth, literally and figuratively as I didn’t see the difference that they were making in my performance.
I filled my body with loaded pre-workouts, protein powders full of fillers that left my GI system in mayhem, and dozens of different pills recommended by gym buddies. [Throughout this time I did continue to take a multivitamin and creatine which I found to be both cost effective and helpful]
It wasn’t until I begin my run at the professional rankings that I added supplements back into my regimen. When I was in Thailand, I found myself cramping and excessively sore no matter how many coconuts I cracked open and electrolyte packets that I drank. My body wasn’t keeping up with the 7 hour per day training regimen and I was feeling overtrained for the majority of time throughout the week.
After breaking down completely, I knew my nutrition abroad was not as complete as it was at home. I had to do my research not only to add supplements to my regimen, but to add them in a way to make sure that my GI system was well taken care of [I am lactose intolerant]; a stomach ache in Thailand is no excuse to bring up to your trainer [if you want to compete].
After multiple failures and stacking certain supplements I found my solution; I cut it down to these four bare-bone supplements – what I would consider and complete as the athlete’s fundamentals.
Creatine is one of the most researched supplements to date. It has withstood the test of time, aiding not only performance and recovery, but even having a positive response to brain health. As a fighter, we do not have many modalities that ensure the safety of our brain cells, but hydration becomes key.
As creatine helps our cells retain water [often the only complaint about its use] this actually serves as a benefit. Most deaths in combat sports come from dehydration prior to a fight and improper rehydration before competition. The cells are not as pliable, dehydrated, and therefore do not withstand the damage done to the brain at the same capacity – in contrast to proper hydration which serves as a “buffer” for these cells.
Imagine the water within the cell acting as a shock absorber, with more water retention it serves as protection, when dehydration takes place, not only does our performance suffer, but the resilience of the cell is weakened. I will cut out the use of creatine the week of the fight if I need to lose a substantial amount of weight, but I do ensure that I properly hydrate and reap its benefits within the training camp in terms of recovery and performance.
Although anecdotal, I have physically felt the benefits of fighting within 5 lbs of my weight class on the most recent Lion Fight 36 card, not only in benefit to my conditioning, but in terms of absorbing damage to the head. During the fights where I dehydrated my body over 15 and up to 20+ lbs, I felt a constant fog, and very low resilience to becoming stunned within the fight – despite rehydrating back to my walk around weight.
[Automatically starts at 1:47] Here is a highlight from the fight mentioned, highlighting the two head kicks I walked through in the third round of the fight continuing forward to press and win rounds 4 & 5 as well as the complete fight:
There are a number of supplements that give you a million different sources and types of creatine, monohydrate is the one studied in every legitimate trial. I keep is simple and get the bare version that lasts me for a couple months for only about 12$ on Amazon from a trusted brand at pharmaceutical grade.
High Grade Recovery Supplement – Electrolytes, BCAAs, Creatine, Glutamine, etc.
If recovery doesn’t serve to be an issue, perhaps it is time to comb through the training regimen. Training must challenge the body in order to grow and to perform better; having your ass handed to you teaches life-long lessons. In this process of challenge and growth, recovery is often overlooked, in turn, decreasing performance in the gym.
Photo by: @lulu_lovelift
A balance must be discovered. The first steps I took to speed up recovery time and to minimize the soreness and damage done to my body follows as such:
- Avoiding going to failure during strength training; always leaving around two repetitions in the tank.
- Focusing on a prolonged eccentric portion of the lift and an explosive concentric movement to avoid minuscule muscle tears that lead to soreness and/or injury. [Squatting slowly / in a controlled fashion on the down portion of the squat, exploding up through the hips on the way up]
- Becoming picky with training partners; controlled and experienced sparring partners are key in keeping the body healthy and in the gym.
Now, the programming of your training and sparring plays into about 80% of your recovery, in all honesty, this 80% is unaffected by supplements or nutrition. The remaining 20%, however, can be manipulated through good nutrition and the right supplementation. A highly anti-inflammatory diet free of added sugars for example, has helped my recovery tremendously, even in recovering from a bicep tendon tear I suffered in my first year of training.
To keep your body going and growing, you avoid sugars, substitute them with a high intake of anti-inflammatory foods and healthy fats such as ginger, wild salmon, coconut oil, avocados etc.
In terms of supplementation, there are a ton of supplements for recovery. Proper hydration and replenishing electrolytes become key, adding in creatine, glutamine, branch chain amino acids, and everything else proven to aid in recovering faster and promoting muscle growth becomes a giant stack of supplements. To cut room in my bag and cabinets, I began to take recovery complexes that contain all of the above. After some trial and failure I began to take PNP’s Recovery Surge, mainly as it is formulated in a GMP certified facility.
GMP certified facility gives you the assurance that PNP’s supplements are correct, with the appropriate strength, composition, quality and purity they should contain, giving you peace of mind that each supplement is a top quality product that has met stringent safety standards set and mandated by the FDA.
For the full list of ingredients in the complex check out: PNP Supplements – Recovery Surge [Scroll down for a full list of ingredients, benefits, and additional information]
Well Sourced Whey
Another supplement that has been a staple of the athlete’s diet and supplementation for decades now is protein. As said before, I endorse having whole foods as the staple for protein, but for those on the run and with time limitations, a shaker bottle, some water and a scoop of a well sourced whey becomes key in your recovery, performance, and muscle growth.
My biggest issue with protein supplements has always been gut health as I am lactose intolerant. Although most whey proteins don’t have a high amount of the lactose sugar, their fillers and lack of digestive enzymes stirs mayhem in my stomach, affecting my performance, and the radius in which my team wants to stay away from me. . .
. . . I can spew paragraphs of information on the draw backs of cheap protein, and the benefits of others, but at the end of the day I look to spend money once to get the benefit that I want. Adding bovine colostrum rich in anti-oxidants, IGF-1 and proteins has significantly helped in terms of gut health and how my body feels. Although colostrum comes at a cost, it has been studied for its ability to improve athletic performance; its effects on body composition and its ability to supply body building nutrients are widely acknowledged.
Once again GMP-certified, my recommendation for the top shelf protein would be Whey Pro-5.
For a cheap alternative Optimum Nutrition 100% gold standard has sat with me rather well, but it was my second option.
In terms of vegan protein, I have gone through a handful of brands and I could not find one to sit well with my gut as they often times have too much fiber. If you have any feedback for those looking into vegan alternatives, I would love to hear it.
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As a combat athlete your training regimen requires a more plentiful intake of nutrients in comparison to the average person. The amount of fuel we cycle through, sweat off, and use to recover in combination to an often limited dietary intake requires us to cover our bases. To ensure optimized physical and mental function a multivitamin covers any deficiencies that we may have. It is a small investment in insurance, to keep us healthy and in the gym.
With this in mind, some vitamins contain fillers that could be potentially hazardous to your health, choosing the right brand is essential in making sure that the vitamins being ingested are in benefit to your body and not damaging it in return. The process ensuring safety and consistency in dosage of supplements is almost a joke in comparison to that of Drugs.
Most supplements, vitamins, and minerals are not FDA approved, and even if they were, the FDA allows the usage of artificial colors, flavors, hydrogenated oils [often genetically modified], led, mercury, and magnesium silicate [American College of Healthcare Sciences].
Paul Banasiak is a Professional Muay Thai fighter/addict, 9x champion, trainer, and fitness professional currently living, training, and fighting in Thailand. After leaving medical school without looking back, he decided to fully follow his passion of helping others become the best version of themselves, creating MuayThaiAthlete.com. A website for those who are already passionate individuals that want to take their life, mindset & training to the next level.
Today we begin forging our bodies and
strengthening our limitless minds.
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