Paulina Indara wasn’t tying to be rude or standoffish. She was just laying out the facts.
When a reporter asked Indara, one-half of one of MMA’s leading nutrition companies, if she had a few moments to spare last week during a media lunch for Joanna Jedrzejczyk in Los Angeles, she bristled. At least a little bit.
“My only hesitation,” Indara wrote via text, “is if Joanna needs something, she’s my priority.”
Jedrzejczyk, the UFC women’s strawweight champion, refers to Indara lovingly as her “gatekeeper.” It’s a catch-all term, really. Because Indara and her Perfecting Athletes partner Michelle Ingels do just about everything for Jedrzejczyk, including giving her a place to live in their Florida home during Jedrzejczyk’s training camps at American Top Team.
Unless Jedrzejczyk is training at the nearby Coconut Creek gym, Indara and Ingels are not far from her side. Perfecting Athletes might be a nutrition company — their tagline is “Making Weight and Feeling Great” — but they are much, much more to the Polish star, who defends her belt against Jessica Andrade at UFC 211 on Saturday night in Dallas.
Indara either cooks or coordinates all of Jedrzejczyk’s meals. She and Ingels configure Jedrzejczyk’s sleep cycles. They’ll run to the store for her, field media inquiries. Ingels is certified in endocrinology and acupuncture. Anything that isn’t actual MMA training is essentially done for Jedrzejczyk while she’s in the Deerfield Beach house.
“For her, she very endearingly calls me her gatekeeper,” Indara said. “Essentially, you have to get through me to get to her. If you want to talk to her, if you want to set up an appointment, everything goes through me. I filter the bullsh*t. I keep her focused, I keep her on track. ‘Have you gotten enough sleep?’ It’s not unlike raising a child.
“It takes all of the stress for her out. If she needs an errand run, we run that errand. The only thing she has to do is get up, go train, handle whatever media obligations happen to come by her way and we do everything else. From the shopping to the scheduling to the everything. Everything gets handled through us.”
All of that seems nice — who wouldn’t want all those things taken care of? — but the most important part for Jedrzejczyk is the company and feeling of home. She could be living in a hotel or apartment or even the American Top Team dorms while she’s away from Poland. Instead, she found a kinship with Indara and Ingels and the Perfecting Athletes dogs, Coconut and Jasmine. They’re a second family to her.
“I don’t like to be myself,” Jedrzejczyk said at that LA media day. “I like people around me. When I’m back home, there is always my fiancé, my sisters, my little nephew, my friends. Every weekend I go to my parents’ house and we spend the weekends together. It’s all about the right people.”
The routine is different when she’s in Florida. Jedrzejczyk wakes up (Ingels and Indara determine the time) and sits down for coffee with Indara. The two will have a conversation, Indara will determine how Jedrzejczyk is feeling that day and the two, together, will write motivational phrases on the fighter’s quart-sized bottle of Smart Water. (She drinks five of those a day during training camp, by the way). If you follow Jedrzejczyk on Instagram, you’ll know those well.
“Every morning, we have coffee, because I’m a big coffee fan,” Jedrzejczyk said. “We sit and talk about how I feel and what I’m going to do, who I’m going to work with. Then we put the notes. It’s our expression.”
The notes, she said, get progressively more vicious as the fight gets closer. They haven’t gotten too bad yet. On Monday, she posted two. One read, “May 13th starts with and ends with me as the UFC strawweight champion. No one will ever beat me.” The other said, “You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get.”
“It will go from ‘I’m gonna win this fight’ essentially to ‘I’m getting ready to kick you in the head with my shin’ to ‘oh my god, you’re roadkill,’” Indara said. “It gets pretty violent toward the end — to it’s ‘eff a bitch up day.’”
Ingels and Indara were captured this week on UFC Embedded with Indara joking, about the water-bottle notes, “Can we say knock this bitch out?”
The two, originally from Connecticut before moving to Florida in 2015, have been a team since the late-aughts. Indara was first a client of Ingels, a reproductive endocrinologist who at the time was focusing on a fertility practice. Indara was a martial arts master, a third-degree black belt in karate who was once ranked No. 3 in the world in women’s full knockdown karate.
Perfecting Athletes’ first MMA client was Ultimate Fighter veteran Dan Cramer. Soon enough, Ingels, who is also certified in Chinese medicine, was spending so much time on the road with fighters — and enjoying it — that she had to step away from her practice and jump into combat sports all the way.
“It was a nice way to get out of sitting in an office all day,” Ingels said. “I started focusing on it full time and I absolutely love it.”
Now, Perfecting Athletes has more than 200 clients. Ingels said she lost count after 215. Some of those clients are high-profile names in the combat sports world, like Jedrzejczyk, UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, former UFC bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw, former middleweight champion Chris Weidman, Tony Ferguson, Stephen Thompson and boxing standout Terence Crawford. Famed Brazilian supermodel Adriana Lima is also a client.
Not everyone has the luxury of living with Indara and Ingels like Jedrzejczyk does. Others speak with them multiple times per week to discuss nutrition intake, from food to drinks to supplements. Ingels and Indara are able to tell UFC fighters what substances and supplements are banned by USADA.
When a client comes aboard, Ingels said, she’ll discuss his or her medical history, nutrition history and diet. They’ll work together to come up with a plan that works best. Of course, trial and error is involved. Perfecting Athletes also helps with fighters’ medicals, advice on what to do when a fighter falls ill and healing injuries with foods or what Ingels calls “non-invasive interventions.”
Come fight week, an athlete mostly has the team’s undivided attention on site. Every meal is made and planned out by Indara, Ingels will be available for acupuncture, cupping and medical purposes, and both will monitor the weight cut.
Hearing about athletes depleting themselves of nutrients in order to make weight drives Ingels crazy. During fight week, she said, her fighters are eating three meals a day, including food consumption the morning they have to step on the scale.
“Every one of my athletes gets to eat and drink before they go to bed the night before weigh-ins,” Ingels said. “They all can — depending on how much weight they have to lose — eat breakfast the morning before weigh-ins. I encourage it. If I’m on site, I usually insist on it.”
The entire process from training camp to fight week, Ingels said, is geared so that the fighter can cut a reasonable amount of water without having to fast for hours or days. Thompson said he was skeptical the first time he did it with them, for his fight last year against Johny Hendricks, even though his brother-in-law Weidman told him it would work. He was shocked how easy it went.
“I’ve seen a big difference in using them with the weight cut,” Thompson said. “It just comes off so easy and I’m eating three meals a day. Three meals a day! I’m eating breakfast the day of weigh-ins. And it’s still coming off. I’m talking French toast, Ezekiel bread, eggs, zucchini spaghetti. Zucchini noodles with spaghetti sauce on top of it. Oh, I’m telling you it’s phenomenal.
“Literally, I was starving myself to get down to 170 [before]. I would hardly eat anything the week of the fight, very little water. It was just not right and I could feel it. It was a big difference after using Perfecting Athletes in how I felt in the cage.”
“This is the best I ever felt during a weight cut, with Perfecting Athletes,” Alves said. “I worked with other people before and I didn’t know how good they were until we finished this camp and the weight cut was easy. It was smooth. I felt great, I felt strong. It didn’t feel like a weight cut at all.”
Thompson said the strategy has had a domino effect on his health. Because he isn’t starving for days, he doesn’t have intense cravings for bad food after the fight is over, so he remains in better shape in the offseason. Previously, “Wonderboy” said, he would blow up to more than 200 pounds days after weighing in at 170, because he’d feel the intense urge to fill his body with pizza and other junk food.
“I don’t get that anymore,” Thompson said. “My body definitely feels so much better, so much healthier in doing that process. These ladies are phenomenal, man. They know their stuff.”
The preparation and attention to detail stretches past the scale, too. The time after weigh-ins, when a fighter is rehydrating, is every bit as important as the weight cut, Ingels said. And every fighter is different.
“Let’s be honest,” Ingels said. “If you are hydrating and rehydrating properly, you are less likely to get knocked out when you get a punch. People who get a kick or a punch to the face and get dropped right away, usually their brain has not been completely rehydrated properly. The faster you have a knockout, the less likely it is they were rehydrated the right way.”
This is something Ingels is very serious about. Thompson said she almost got into a skirmish with a security guard at T-Mobile Arena before the UFC 209 ceremonial weigh-ins in March. Fighters are only allowed a certain amount of people with them and the official was trying to keep Ingels out.
“She literally about fought one of the guards that said she couldn't come in,” Thompson said. “She said, ‘This is my client, Stephen Thompson. I’ve gotta be there for his nutrition. After he weighs in, I’ve gotta give him his fluids, give him his stuff.’
“She literally fought for me to get into this place. I thought she was gonna beat the crap out of this person. That’s how it is 100 percent of the time. She cares about you. That’s why I fell in love with them, because they’re not just all about business. You know they really care about your well being.”
So much so that they have taken Jedrzejczyk into their home. Indara said the Polish fighter vetted Perfecting Athletes for nearly two years and everything had to really click for both sides to make this kind of commitment to each other.
Perfecting Athletes worked with Jedrzejczyk for a full training camp for the first time for Jedrzejczyk’s second fight with Claudia Gadelha in July 2016. Jedrzejczyk moved in with them prior to her fight with Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 205 last November.
“She is one of the most amazing human beings ever,” Ingels said of Jedrzejczyk. “Aside from the fact that she’s an incredible athlete, obviously, she is also just an incredible human being. She’s funny, she’s caring, compassionate, very kind.”
Indara and Ingels — and Coconut and Jasmine, of course — have become Jedrzejczyk’s home away from home. They all watch movies and television together. They don’t really talk about fighting, Indara said. They laugh and joke a lot.
But when it comes down to business and Jedrzejczyk heads to the gym to train, the wheels are put in motion to give her whatever she needs to be successful in her next fight.
“It’s more like a family,” Indara said. “And when it’s time to work, it’s time to work. Everybody on the team works at the same time.”