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Fuel The Fighter: Losing the Gut

"Fuel The Fighter" discusses each month how a mixed martial artist can apply physiology and nutrition to optimize his or her training and performance.

Fuel the Fighter Physiology and Nutrition for MMA

Losing the Gut

I've been approached by a variety of MMA athletes who just can't figure out how to trim those love handles and gut. Their confusion is well founded. They have excellent cardio vascular stamina, they consistently work their abs, and eat mostly healthy foods. So why does their midsection still pudge over their fight shorts?

The thing is, you can do as many sit ups as you want, and work out as many hours of the day as you can manage, but if you are taking in the same amount of calories that are being burned, the fat over the midsection has no hope of giving up its lease. We've all heard our tubby friends talk about their "six pack under the beer belly." It is definitely possible to possess incredible core strength under a layer of fat. However, until the weight is lost, the abs of steel will remain hidden.

The importance of losing the gut is not just about looks. Fat around the midsection can have serious health consequences. Fat tissue is not just a stagnant lump. The cells are very active and when there is a buildup of fat around the core, fat cells can start to infiltrate surrounding organs like the liver.

Without surgery, it's not really possible to target a specific area for fat reduction. It will all come down to creating a calorie deficit that will cause general weight loss. One pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories. So that means that if you want to lose 2 lbs in one week, each day of that week you need a deficit of 500 calories. A reasonable plan is to consume about 300 fewer calories than you require, and then leave the rest of the calories to be burned off by exercise. (Unless you are seriously overweight, losing more than about 2 lbs per week may be unhealthy since it's likely that muscle protein is being burned off with the fat.)

The following are some of the most infamous weight loss saboteurs to watch out for as you plan to cut those calories.

1) Refined Grains
White bread, white pasta, and sugary cereals are composed of very simple carbohydrates that digest quickly and cause a spike in blood sugar. When the body compensates by rapidly lowering blood sugar levels, you're left with a headache and a desire to eat more. You've probably experienced this a few hours after Chinese takeout. (The sweet sauces and noodles are a killer.)

INSTEAD: Go for the whole grains like whole wheat, pumpernickel, rye or any type of whole grain. The soluble fiber digests slowly so sugars are gradually released to the bloodstream and you feel fuller longer.

2) Fruit Juice
There's no argument that fruit juice is better than soda, but as you guzzle down your juice, you're taking in high amounts of sugar, without all of the fiber that is naturally found in whole fruit. Just one cup of OJ has 20 grams of sugar. This is the same amount of sugar in a Twinkie!

INSTEAD: Replace your morning OJ or apple juice with an actual piece of fruit! An average orange has about half the sugar as a glass of juice. With fresh fruit you'll still get all the nutritional benefits in the juice with the addition of fiber to help curb the appetite.

3) Skipping Breakfast
Eating breakfast up will help to jump-start your metabolism. Most people who skip breakfast are far more likely to over eat at meals and snacks throughout the day.

INSTEAD: Make sure to eat within an hour or so of waking up. Coffee and milk isn't going to cut it! Egg whites and a side of oatmeal is my personal favorite.

4) Eating fewer than 1,000 calories per day
A very low calorie diet will cause numerous problems. In addition to the likelihood that this kind of depravation will cause a food binge later, the body's metabolism will slow down. This makes sense since your systems will try to conserve resources in times of famine. Additionally, this low calorie stress can compromise the immune system and make you more susceptible to illness.

INSTEAD: Keep your metabolism in full swing by consuming enough calories. For most men, a minimum of 1,500 to 2,000 calories is recommended.

To read previous "Fuel The Fighter" installments, click here.

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