Eating for Boxing
Over the years I have gained a lot of experience working with boxers and other combat sport athletes and many of the same issues seem to arise every time. Due to the nature of the sport, getting their nutrition wrong can have a serious affect on both performance and health. In this article I will be highlighting some of the issues that can be seen in boxing as well as useful advice to explain what boxers can do to improve their training and competition performance.
Getting nutrition right for training can make a break a boxers main fight as it is where they will gain strength and cardiovascular fitness which translates into punching power and the ability to last the full fight should it go the distance and more importantly it is responsible for their weight which determines which weight category they are. The issue with weight is that it only tells a fighter how heavy they are, not what is going on within their body in terms of fat and muscle, which is what will make the difference in performance. More muscle = more power = harder punches.
In order to get the most out of training sessions, it is essential that boxers are adequately fuelled and hydrated, while ensuring a good intake of micronutrients to help prevent illness and promote effective recovery.
The quality of the diet is also extremely important. Consuming good sources of carbohydrate from things like grains, cereals, fruits, vegetables etc will help to provide fuel and promote recovery. There are a number of factors that determine how much carbohydrate should be consumed, including weight, lifestyle and training volume/intensity but it will likely be in the region of 5-10g/kg body weight.
Protein intake is something that must be consistently achieved and plays a huge role in a boxers diet and is often one that people get wrong for a number of reasons, primarily muscle growth, repair and recovery. Protein intake should be spread out over the full day, in moderately sized portions including those from snacks and post-exercise recovery. Protein intake for boxers should be around 1.6-2g/kg body weight, but this is dependant on a number of factors.
To put these into context, ahead of his title defence against Dillian Whyte on the 23rd April, Tyson Fury weighed in at 126kg. For his training he would be looking at consuming around 250g protein and could be as much as 1000g of carbohydrate in the height of his training.
One of the big issues with boxing and combat sports in general, is the weight categories. Many athletes are very conscious about their weight and as a result, will not replace thier sweat losses sufficiently to avoid their weight going up. However, this weight increase is necessary as it is rehydrating fluid losses, it is not an increase in body fat. So, it is essentially showing thier true weight.
Dehydration is an incredibly serious issue in boxing. It can lead to a reduced power output (weaker punches), reduced aerobic and anaerobic capacity (basically fitness), impaired reaction time and reduced cognitive function. If you think of this in the context of a boxing fight, a reduction in any of these things could quite easily be the reason for someone losing. Due to the nature of the sport, suffering from dehydration and getting punched in the head for several minutes can worsen the consequences of concussions or head injuries which could be very serious.
Weight cutting is unfortunately a common aspect of combat sports and is something that many athletes try to use to gain an advantage over their opponent. The idea being that they can weigh significantly higher than their weight class then chronically dehydrate themselves and heavily restrict their food intake to promote extreme weight loss in time for the weigh in. Following this, they will try to rehydrate and refuel back to their normal weight so they are at a heavier weight and thus, have an advantage over their opponent. However, if they have chronically dehydrated/under-fuelled, it is very unlikely that they will be able to adequately replace all of this in time for the fight so they will most likely fatigue early.
I can’t stress enough how dangerous it is to do an extreme weight cut like this. There have been many athletes die as a result of doing this, so please remember that your safety is much more important than a boxing fight!
For boxers and coaches, it is important that they understand the difference between long and short term weight loss, how they will impact the performance in the ring and they should have a strategy for both. Reducing weight in the long term is about losing body fat and the focus should therefore be on reducing total energy intake to achieve this while still providing sufficient fuel for training sessions and recovery.
In the short term, there are various strategies that can be adopted to allow for safe weight loss to make weight. These include: a mild fluid reduction, reducing salt intake and having a low residue diet (low fibre foods). I would recommend that boxers remain no more than 2-3% of their fight weight 1 week before. This is a safe amount of weight to be able to drop in that time without risking performance or athlete safety.
Boxing nutrition is incredibly complex and there are so many things that need to be considered when working with boxers and it is recommended that professional guidance should be sought if a fighter struggles with achieving weight safely or find there are issues with training nutrition.
Other common nutritional considerations for boxers include:
Many athletes suffer from nerves going into a competition which means they really struggle to eat prior to the fight. When this is the case they should look at foods that are light, easy to digest, low in fibre or even liquid foods as they are gentler on the gut.
Eating after training and competition is really important as the body needs to repair damaged muscles, replace fluid losses and glycogen stores. For this to be effectively achieved, a protein and carbohydrate rich meal or snack and plenty of fluids should be consumed as soon as possible after finishing exercise, ideally within about 20-30minutes.
Young athletes have the issue that they are still growing and coaches can unfortunately push them to achieve a specific weight, despite the fact it is inevitable that they will get heavier and they risk the athletes physical development being affected. They should be allowed to move up weight divisions as they get older and grow, with the focus being on trainingskill development and promoting a healthy diet, NOT WEIGHT LOSS!