clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nutrition and Training in Cole's Corner #1

Is a low carb /high protein diet correct for MMA training?

~ Mike M.

Dear Mike,

While the low carb/high protein diet is all the rage among casual dieters, it is not at all ideal for the MMA athlete. In fact, those who rigorously train MMA (>90 minutes per day) greatly benefit from a diet with a greater percentage of carbs than protein.

One of the major reasons for this has to do with the different roles that protein and carbs play for an athlete. Protein is used to build muscle, bone, skin, tendons, ligaments and other various bodily tissues. Carbohydrates on the other hand (along with fats) are used to supply energy during exercise. If a minimal amount of carbohydrate is available to fuel an athlete, the body compensates by breaking down its own protein stores in muscles to build its own carbohydrates for energy. Carbohydrates provide energy for active muscles either from the blood stream, or from glycogen, the stored form of carbs located in the liver and within muscles themselves.

An excess of protein may in fact cause adverse health effects for the kidneys, and bones.

The nitrogen that is at the heart of every protein can't be stored or metabolized by our bodies. The kidneys are responsible for excreting all nitrogen from protein in urine. So having large quantities of protein puts extra stress on the kidneys. High levels protein in the diet may also cause dehydration since extra water is needed to flush out the nitrogen in the urine. (Yet another compelling reason to keep hydrated!)

Additionally, a high intake of protein is associated with an increase in the amount of calcium that is normally lost in the urine. Calcium is a mineral that is vital to the integrity of strong bones so obviously unnecessary losses should be avoided. There is also some evidence to suggest that this phenomenon is more common when athletes obtain their protein from purified protein supplements that also contain phosphorus. (Obviously if someone is getting their protein from fatty animal sources this increases the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis)

So just how many grams of carbohydrates and protein should a fighter aim for?

This question is more precisely answered with reference to body weight as compared to a percentage of total calories.

For active male athletes regularly participating in strength and endurance training (>90 minutes daily)?.

Carbohydrates: Maximum of 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per lb of body weight

Protein: Maximum of .77 grams of protein per lb of body weight

To calculate your own needs, simply multiply body weight by amount of grams

A 165 lb male athlete.
Carbohydrate needs: 165 x 4.5 = 742.5 grams of carbs
Protein needs: 165 x .77 = 127 g of protein

Best of luck with your training!

P.R. Cole
MS, RD Candidate
Program in Nutrition and Applied Physiology
Columbia University
New York, New York will help you take your training to the next level!

Email your MMA training/nutrition questions to P.R. Cole at

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting