A Hunger Within - Part 1



Pre-Fight Nutrition

It's the day of the fight. You've already weighed-in, eaten a large meal the previous day and now you're rested up. Its hours before the fight, you're a little hungry and beginning to wonder what you should eat. You may be thinking, "Should I eat meat? Should I load up on carbs? Should I just eat some fruit? Or should I skip eating all together and fight on an empty stomach?" Questions Like these are on many fighters’ minds when that Big Fight Day comes. Obviously, you want whatever you eat to help your performance, as opposed to weighing you down, but many fighters don't know how to best achieve that. It's hard to present one specific plan that works the same for every fighter, because every athlete, every BODY is different. Each person may have an approach, a system that works for them personally and is usually discovered through trial and error. However, there are some basic principles that can be applied by everyone to help make that fight day a little less stressful.

For most boxers, fighting with food in their stomachs is not only painful and difficult, but downright nauseating. It takes a tremendous amount of energy for your body to digest food. Energy that should be geared towards fighting, not digesting that Big Mac you ate and hour ago. Your body has a number of functions that are relevant to this process.

In my opinion, it is best to perform any athletic event with little or no food in your stomach. That means that all food has been digested, absorbed, and passed through your stomach and small intestine, leaving the gastrointestinal tract clear. This will ensure that all your body's energy is being geared towards optimal performance. Timing is crucial in this case. Choosing a healthy meal that will keep you full as the time passes, but still be wholly digested when the moment comes, is a tricky balancing act. It takes a personal understanding of how your individual body functions and care to listen to it.

Protein, fats, and carbohydrates, will all be digested at different rates depending on the size of the meal. A moderate amount of carbs can be digested in around three to four hours. Fats and protein require more time to digest and absorb; generally five to seven hours. The size of the meal certainly plays a role too. Larger meals will take much longer to digest than a smaller one. Nervousness (and please don't tell me you never get nervous before a fight) can also affect the strength of your body's digestion.

Blood Quantity:
Approximately five quarts of blood is constantly circulating throughout an average-size adult body. After a meal, blood is drawn away from other areas of the body that aren't in immediate need and sent to the stomach and intestinal area. This blood helps the digestion process. When exercising, an ample amount of blood is re-directed to the muscles and to the skin to cool the body through sweat production. At this time, there is very little blood in the gastrointestinal area being used for digestion. In other words, digestion and absorption of food is greatly diminished during exercise or an actual fight because the digestive system is utilizing that blood flow for athletic performance. So it is beneficial for a fighter to have the digestion and absorption process complete by the pre-fight warm up so that blood flow can be concentrated on muscle function.

Liver Carbohydrate:
The liver stores carbs called Glycogen. This liver carb can be released into the blood as a major source of blood glucose (blood sugar). If the blood sugar drops too low, functions that rely on glucose for energy (such as working the muscles and brain), can be robbed of this fuel source and not function optimally. Needless to say, this could yield some damaging results in a fight. The liver can store enough carbohydrate to supply the brain and resting muscles for about 12-15 hours. However, muscles that are engaged in intense combat will use up liver carbohydrate much faster. Being certain that liver carbohydrate stores are high is essential to last through a fight.

Understanding these important human functions and the anatomy of how your body handles food is the first step in finding what will best suit your needs for a pre-fight meal. There are a lot of options...some better than others...and there are still many important factors that come into play such as; timing, meal composition and your body's own, individual nature. All of these factors will be discussed in Part Two of this article. Until then, take the opportunity to observe for yourself how food affects your performance. Pay attention and listen to your body. Notice what you are eating, how it makes you feel after your workout and, most importantly, if it helps or hinders your performance in the gym. Doing so allows you to become much more in tune with your body. Knowing how your body responds to certain foods will allow you to adapt and alter your diet leading up and into the ring on fight day.

Spencer Ward is a Nutritionist with the Acupuncture Center in Overland Park KS.