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Elevating Your Game: Your Silent Ally in Competition – Nutrition.

Much like a finely tuned instrument, your performance in a competition is influenced by  various factors with nutrition playing a pivotal role. 

 

Your understanding and use of nutrition can be a silent ally propelling you to victory or end up as a hidden adversary sabotaging your efforts. So, put on your gi, tie your belt, and dive into the delicious and science-backed world of nutrition. It's time to unleash the warrior within by giving your body the nutritional support it craves, ensuring you step onto the mat prepared and thriving.


The Basics

First things first, our bodies need energy. This energy is derived from food and beverage intake and is called a kilojoule (kJ), although the term 'calorie' (kcal) is more commonly used. 

A side note for anyone who wishes to become nutritionally literate: to convert between kJ and kcal, you must remember that 1 kcal is ~4.18 kJ

 

To put it in simple terms, if you, our favorite athlete, routinely consume less energy than your body needs (aka a calorie deficit), then you should expect to lose weight; however, you may also feel lethargic, fatigued, and potentially demotivated. It is, therefore, essential to consume enough energy to fuel your training sessions, promote recovery, and maintain a healthy weight (excluding the cases of weight cuts for competitions, which is a whole other paper in itself).

 

Macronutrients

Macronutrients are the essential nutrients we need to consume in relatively large amounts (hence the ‘macro’) to provide the bulk of this energy.

 

  • The much-beloved carbohydrate is our primary energy source, enabling us to train hard in class. Carbs play a vital role in delivering the quick bursts of energy required for offensive and defensive moves against an opponent. 

  • Proteins are crucial for supporting muscle repair and growth, ensuring optimal strength and endurance.

  • Fats contribute to energy reserves and hormone regulation, forming a vital component in sustaining peak performance levels.


Micronutrients

Alongside macronutrients, micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, play a crucial role in maintaining our overall health and optimizing athletic performance. These micronutrients are involved in various physiological processes, including how we use energy, immune function, and tissue repair (aka recovery). 

 

Maintaining optimal micronutrient stores within our bodies is essential to provide a 'buffer' for periods of reduced intake, especially during weight cuts when your food intake may be restricted. This buffer helps mitigate the risk of deficiency-related health issues and ensures our bodies can function optimally under stress. 

 

For athletes, their micronutrient needs may be higher due to the increased physical stress and sweat loss, which can quickly deplete certain vitamins and minerals. Therefore, it's crucial to prioritize a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy or dairy alternatives to meet these increased demands and maintain optimal micronutrient status. 


Image of Healthy and Colourful Foods

 

A good rule of thumb is to include a diverse range of colorful foods into your daily diet (yes, that's right, just like our parents told us repeatedly as kids, we need to eat the rainbow). Colorful foods such as fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins we can't make ourselves, which help elevate antioxidant levels in your body to help reduce inflammation and support your immune system and healing wounds. 


Pre-Competition Nutrition 

Hydration is a critical aspect of pre-competition nutrition for Jiu-Jitsu athletes. Dehydration can impair cognitive function, decrease reaction time, and increase perceived exertion, negatively impacting your performance on the mats. Start hydrating well in advance before your competition, and aim to consume fluids regularly throughout the day. Water should be your primary source of hydration, but consider incorporating electrolyte drinks like 100+ active or coconut water to replenish lost electrolytes during intense matches.

 

Like a gi, there is no universal one-size-fits-all approach to optimal nutrition for Jiu-Jitsu practitioners like yourself. The concept of an 'ideal diet' will vary from person to person and typically will involve a lot of experimentation to determine what works best for you. 

 

Before you read on, it's important to clarify that the following advice is intended for individuals not undergoing weight cuts and already weighing in/around their designated weight division.

 

Alright. 

 

Now that you have a basic understanding of nutrition, it's time to get into the nitty-gritty of how to fuel yourself before a competition. 


Carbohydrate

At high exercise intensity sports such as Jiu-Jitsu, your body relies primarily on carbohydrates in the form of glucose. One of the primary goals before competitions is to maximize your glycogen stores. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose (our body's primary fuel) located in the muscles and liver and is critical during high-intensity sports like Jiu-Jitsu. During competitions, our muscles rely heavily on the breakdown of glycogen into glucose to sustain our performance. As you fight, these stores become depleted, causing you to experience fatigue and decreased power output, ultimately impairing your ability to perform at your highest level on the mat. 

 

Generally, a significant spike caused by the consumption of high GI carbs allows for short bursts of energy but quickly fades, leaving you feeling more lethargic. In contrast, low GI carbs support a more gradual release of glucose into your blood to support long-term energy levels. For those who don't know, GI refers to glycaemic index, or in other words, how quickly and how large a spike of your blood glucose (sugar) you will experience after eating a particular type of carbohydrate. 

 

Under the context of what you should eat on the day of the competition, aim to eat a carbohydrate-rich meal 2-3 hours before you compete. Ideally, it would help if you consume low GI carbohydrates such as oatmeal, whole grain breads, milk and milk products, pasta, and fruit (excluding bananas and dried fruits).


If you need a last-minute energy boost (around 30-45 minutes) before your match, aim to consume low-fibre, high-GI carbohydrates such as Medjool dates and a banana. Aim to consume about 0.5-1g of carbs per kg of your body weight to start with.


Image of Medjool Dates


Choosing familiar foods that you know sit well with your stomach and avoiding experimenting with new or unfamiliar foods on competition day is key to minimizing the risk of digestive issues during your matches, especially if you are very nervous. 


Protein

It's generally recommended to consume around 1.5-2.0g protein per kg of body weight for combat sport athletes. Lean protein sources such as chicken, fish, or plant-based options like tofu and tempeh are optimal choices for pre-competition protein intake. These sources provide high-quality protein, which is essential for supporting muscle recovery and repair, thereby enhancing your readiness for intense physical exertion during matches.


Image of Protein Food Sources


It's worth noting that not all protein sources are created equal. Fatty meats such as pork, fast-food hamburgers, and certain types of cheese contain higher levels of saturated fats. While they may still offer protein, the presence of saturated fats can slow down digestion and potentially lead to feelings of discomfort and bloatedness during competition. 

 

Much like carbohydrate consumption, timing is crucial when it comes to incorporating protein into your pre-competition meal. Aim to consume lean protein sources approximately 2 hours before stepping onto the mat. However, individual preferences and bodily reactions vary, so adjust the timing whenever necessary.

 

By choosing the correct protein sources and timing your intake appropriately, you can maximize the benefits of protein consumption and feel physically prepared to tackle the challenge of competition.


Fat

While fats are essential for hormone production, providing energy for lower-intensity activities and more, they digest slower than carbohydrates and protein. This slower digestion can leave you feeling sluggish and weighed down if consumed immediately before your match. As a result, it's generally recommended to keep fat intake low in the immediate pre-competition period to avoid any digestive discomfort or feelings of sluggishness on the mats. 

 

However, incorporating sources of unsaturated fats into your diet in the weeks leading up to the competition can still benefit overall health and performance. Aiming for 30-35% of your total energy intake coming from fats (with those trying to lose fat going even lower) is recommended for your daily diet. Foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil provide essential fatty acids that support cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation, and aid nutrient absorption. Including these foods in your regular meals in the weeks leading up to the competition can help you meet your body's needs and support your day-to-day training.



A good example of a breakfast before a competition using all these principles would be - scrambled eggs with spinach and tomato on whole grain toast and Greek yoghurt topped with a handful of berries to get a nice mix of micronutrients. 


Side Note - IRON

As a note on the side for all my fellow women Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, it is crucial to emphasize the importance of iron, mainly those currently menstruating. Iron plays a pivotal role in transporting oxygen in the blood and producing our red blood cells. With insufficient iron, we can develop iron deficiency, which leads to feelings of fatigue and weakness and puts you at higher risk for dizzy spells and fainting (this is more common than you think). 

 

Trust me, as someone who has made the mistake of competing while deficient in iron, it is not a pleasant feeling to battle your body while trying to win the match. Therefore, ensuring an adequate intake of iron-rich foods, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, legumes, and fortified cereals, in your daily diet regimen is essential for maintaining optimal health and vitality. 


Nutrition During a Comp

If you have a long day of competing ahead of you with many matches in your division, it's vital to keep supporting your energy needs throughout the day. Firstly, staying hydrated is critical to prevent dehydration and impaired performance. Drink water regularly throughout the competition, aiming to sip fluids during breaks between matches to avoid feeling overly full and bloated.

 

Secondly, between matches, it's good to consume easily digestible carbohydrates (generally those with higher GI and low fibre) to replenish your glycogen stores and provide quick energy for your next match. Opt for simple carbohydrate sources such as sports drinks or honey to fuel your muscles efficiently without causing digestive discomfort.

 

A good rule of thumb for day-long competitions with unpredictable match timings would be to pack lots of snacks and bring them to the venue. Examples of snacks include energy bars, bananas, sports drinks, etc. This ensures you can keep your energy up without feeling sluggish and full. 


Nutrition After a Comp

Immediately following a competition, we again need to prioritize replenishing glycogen stores and promoting muscle recovery by consuming a balanced meal rich in carbohydrates (0.8-1.2g/kg) and protein (0.8-1.2g/kg). This should ideally be consumed within 30-60 minutes after competition to maximize nutrient uptake and aid in recovery. An example could be a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with some fruit. 

 

Later that evening, continue to support recovery and refuel your body by consuming a main meal consisting of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. A simple example would be grilled chicken with rice and mixed vegetables. 

 

Hydration remains crucial throughout the post-competition period, so drink plenty of water to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. Listening to your body's cues and providing it with the necessary nutrients and hydration will aid recovery and prepare you for future training sessions and competitions.


Conclusion

As you navigate the delicious world of nutrition, remember to listen to your body's cues and fuel it with the nutrients it craves to thrive in the arena. So, whether you're tying your belt for your first match or stepping onto the mats as a seasoned competitor, let nutrition be your secret weapon to unlock your peak potential and unleash the fighter within. Now go out there, fuel up, and conquer the mat.

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