“Most know how to eat well, but don’t do it. Noncompliance is our biggest obstacle.
Having good nutrition is more than just “eating clean.” It means executing the right plan to make you feel good, look great and perform at or above expectations. Our visions of “eating clean” conjure images of boring meals, being miserable, and the endless work that comes with cooking your own three squares a day.
Following basic nutrition principles looks easy enough on paper. Most of us know we can and need to eat better, but we eat in a way that would make the Cookie Monster proud and our grandmothers shudder. Don’t despair. You’re not alone. Practicing good nutrition on the regular is simple in theory, but can be difficult in execution. Most of us know how to eat well, but we don’t do it. Noncompliance is our biggest obstacle.
If you’re anything like me, you love to eat. Personally, I have a pretty big sweet tooth. I don’t eat just one cookie – I eat all the cookies! It’s taken me years to figure out how to eat without sacrificing my sanity.
Heck, even after competing in a couple of fitness competitions, I still struggled with how to balance my plate with my real life. I wanted to look good without being totally miserable, but I had a hard time doing it. Just like many other people, I lived at one of two extremes of the nutritional bell curve:
We don’t want to stay at either end of this bell curve for very long. While eating (and training) like a fitness competitor may give you the abs that you’ve always wanted, it can also make you crazy – and deprive you of friends and a social life. Likewise, going completely against the grain may give you the gut you never wanted.
So how do you reach a happy medium?
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First, there are a few realities that you must accept:
Now, you’re training in Muay Thai. You’re getting into the groove of training regularly and starting to feel more like a badass, but something’s lacking: your nutrition. Whether you’re a recreational Muay Thai practitioner or a fighter, you don’t want your hard work to go to waste with a sub-par diet.
Training to fight is a nutritionally-demanding exercise. Does that put vegan fighters at a disadvantage? This Plant Powered Warrior says otherwise.
Generally, we overestimate the number of healthy things we eat and underestimate the not-so-good things in our diet. It’s an honest and innocent mishap in our inherent desire to believe that things aren’t as bad as they seem. In some cases, this may be true, but it’s important to remain objective.
The first thing I recommend when it comes to committing to changing your nutrition is to honestly evaluate your current nutritional situation. Approach your dietary analysis in a reasoned and non-emotional manner. The point isn’t to judge or make yourself feel bad, but to ultimately improve yourself and in turn improve your Muay Thai game. Beating yourself up will not help you to improve or change. Be honest, love yourself and move forward.
Yes, it’s kind of old school at this point, but journaling what you eat is a great first step towards assessing your overall diet.
As a fitness competitor, I tracked my diet like a madwoman. It was effective in keeping me on track, but it was also extremely annoying and time-consuming. The goal with your diet journal isn’t to record your intake for eternity, but instead to take a high-resolution snapshot – to get “the big picture.” Think of this exercise as a tool to collect data in order to gain the necessary information you need to become a badass in the gym.
Aim to journal your foods for 3-7 days. If you’re doing only a few days, pick the days that are most representative of how you normally eat. For example, choose two weekdays and one weekend day. A bonus to journaling your diet is that it will create awareness and help you to eat better, without having to immediately commit to significant changes.
You can record your intake simply by using good old fashioned paper and pencil. Or if you’re fancy, you can use a food tracking app.
Nutritionally speaking, not all foods are created equal. What gives you the best “bang” for your buck? Try these three unusual foods for training and recovery.
The two biggest mistakes that people make in their food journals are:
First, remember that this food journal is only for you, so be honest! If you are not honest with yourself, you will have a hard time being successful. If you ate an entire box of Girl Scout cookies, then own up to it and write it down.
Second, it’s important to record everything you put in your mouth. Be especially inclusive when considering this. All the condiments, the toppings, the break-time sodas, even the stuff you put in your coffee – it’s all go to go in the journal.
The awesome thing about temporarily tracking your nutrition is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need to weigh and measure to complete your nutrition journal, just keep it simple and record it – that’s it. Once you have your data, you can see what you’re doing well and where you can improve. This insight can help you to pick the low-hanging fruit and observe things you may not normally notice.
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Now that you’ve gotten an idea of what it is that you eat, it’s time to do a little bit of cleaning.
The goal of a kitchen cleanout is to get rid of the non-nutritious items and make room for healthier options. Yes, this will require getting rid of stuff and, yes, this may be difficult.
However, by creating an environment that makes healthy the first (and hopefully, the only) option versus the second, third or fourth down the list, you will have a much higher chance of making the best nutritional choice.
How do you know what to keep and what to pitch? Use your common sense. Generally, if it’s something that is easy to eat and convenient (chips, cookies, soda, condiments), then it’s not going to help you to reach your goals. It’s gotta go. Check nutritional labels. If it reads like a chemistry textbook, pitch it. The more identifiable ingredients on a label, the better.
I’m not saying that you can’t ever have this stuff. I’m suggesting that you don’t keep it around in the first place. If it’s not there, then there is nothing to resist. This is especially important when trying to reach certain levels of performance, body composition, and health goals.
Here are a few additional tips to help set yourself up for success:
When I see something in the grocery store that looks really, really tasty but I know is antagonistic to my goals, I say no right away. Then I don’t have to say no again later. I want my fights to be in the gym or in the ring, not on my plate.
Help set yourself up for success by creating an environment that supports your goals. Doing so will not only help you to more easily reach your goals, but it will make you healthier too.
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I’m not a fan of obsessively weighing and measuring my foods. As a working professional with a passion for training that consumes my free time, I can’t commit to meticulously studying the number of grams of protein, carbs and fats that I need to eat each day or with each meal.
An easy way to portion out your servings is to simply use your hand. This might not be ideal for a fitness competitor days before the show, but that’s not our goal. Consider these useful estimates:
FATS – one serving is about one thumb
VEGETABLES – one serving equals about a fist
CARBS – one serving is about one cupped handful
PROTEIN – one serving is approximately the palm of your hand
Of course, this is just our framework. Your individual needs and lifestyle will vary and determine how much you need to eat.
What I love most about this guide is that it is specific and unique to you and your individual body type. Plus, there’s no lugging around a food scale and measuring cups with you everywhere you go. And unless something really bad happens to your hands between meals, it’s a tool that goes anywhere with you.
The more you get familiar with yourself and your routine, the more you can dial in what you need to eat. Pay attention and adjust accordingly. Aim for progress, not perfection.
The day job is a reality for perhaps all but the elite 1% of any combat sport. How do you fit both Muay Thai and your career into your schedule?
Now you have collected your data, determined areas of improvement, made room for nutritious foods in your home, and have an idea on portions. It’s time to start cooking! If you’re a novice in the kitchen, we’ve got you covered with plenty of nutritionally-packed recipes – like here, here and here!
Hands down the best thing you can do is to create a weekly routine, or what I like to call a “food ritual.” A food ritual helps to form a habit of regularly planning your weekly nutrition. As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
Over the years, I’ve learned to streamline my weekly food ritual by keeping it as simple possible. Here are the keys to my success:
At first, the process may feel like it takes a lot of time, but by doing the majority of your meal prep at once – especially the meals you’ll eat away from home, you actually save yourself time and precious decision-making energy. Knowing how to create a meal plan or how to grocery shop without falling apart in front of the frozen pizza section can feel overwhelming. There’s a lot of temptation out there that can prevent you from becoming the fighter you dream of becoming.
Become a badass in the gym by fueling yourself appropriately. Get the grocery shopping tips, recipes and other tools you need in the Fuel the Fighter guide.
Even if you’re not a fighter, get the most out of your training sessions and become healthier by fueling yourself appropriately.
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Lindsay trains in MMA, Muay Thai and jiu jitsu at Kansas City Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and American Top Team KC. She fell in love with the sport and began training after her husband forced her to watch UFC 1-12, bouts from Pride Fighting Championships, and The Ultimate Fighter. You can follow Lindsay on Instagram at instagram.com/lbeatmma.
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Sean is a professional fighter currently living, training and fighting in Thailand. His mission is to provide you with the tools, resources and inspiration to accomplish your Muay Thai dreams!