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Technique Talk: Bo Sandoval examines the pillars of MMA performance

Bo Sandoval at the UFC Performance Institute.
UFC/Getty Images

Technical mastery mixed martial arts is no longer a matter of striking or jiu-jitsu expertise. Advances in exercise science as well as heightened scrutiny over dubious weight cutting practices have forced a reevaluation of the role of nutrition, modern best practices around training and recovery.

As sport sciences advance, so too does the knowledge and appreciation that comes with the pillars of performance: Strength, conditioning, recovery, nutrition and other considerations.

Inside mixed martial arts (MMA), the UFC Performance Institute is the embodiment of the growing interest and understanding around exercise and recovery science. To better understand both the advances of sport science as well as the general pillars and how all it affects fighters, MMA Fighting spoke to Bo Sandoval, the Director of Strength and Conditioning at the UFC Performance Institute. Here he examines the chief building blocks of performance in MMA, why understanding them is critical for elite performance, how improper appreciation of them has held back the sport, and more.

Full audio and partial transcript below.

Let’s take a step back and sort of tell the audience who you are. We mentioned your title, but what is your background in strength and conditioning?

I got into strength and conditioning, as far as my education, back in 2000, and did my undergraduate and graduate degrees both in Exercise Science, Exercise Physiology, and I worked in and out of the collegiate ranks for a while. Small Presbyterian school to start out with in Jackson, Mississippi, which I think was probably one of the better educational pieces in my career. Three hundred and thirty athletes all by myself at 24 years old, so, pretty much lived in the training facilities day and night, seven days a week.

And then eventually moved up and got a position with the United State Olympic Committee, working primarily in acrobat and combat sports. And during that time, my interactions with men’s freestyle and men’s Greco-Roman wrestling, as well as women’s freestyle, and men’s and women’s Judo, kind of played a role in my development as an S&C coach in combat sports. Also, with my interactions with USA Boxing at the time, as well.

That particularly, when it comes to gaining experience in not only just a combat sport, but weight-cutting sports, and things that are centered around a specific weight class and strategizing, training around, making weight for those weight classes, and the different structures of when they weigh in, how far out they weigh in. That gets into some different intricacies of training and preparation. And then of course just the different mentalities with combat sports.

I spent the next nine years at the University of Michigan, building out their Strength and Conditioning Department for their 32 Olympic sport programs that they had there. The program we were pretty proud of was not only developing the services, building out the services for the athletes that we were working with, but also growing a staff from a staff of four to a staff of 11 by the time that I left, and working across four different facilities. And a couple of those facilities being pretty world-class that we had developed during the time, so another great educational chunk in my career.

And then, had an opportunity to jump back in and help athletes in the combat sports world, which I was a little fascinated by, and jumped on with the UFC about a year ago as we opened the doors for the Performance Institute, back last May.

When you say you’re fascinated by it, is it because of the challenges and rigors of the job, or is there another component?

I think some of it’s the challenges. I’ve always had a high affinity with individualized sports. I had a great time for years working in track and field. It’s the culmination of training and preparation and the mental fortitude, that the end of the day, you gotta step on the line, your coaches can’t do it for you. You don’t have a whole offensive package or defensive package of defensive backs and linemen. Or, a point guard, a center, a couple forwards helping you through it, it’s just you. That’s it. You line up, and you compete against the other person and you either execute or you don’t. And so, this adds a whole other aspect to that, with now it being a full contact sport and someone’s in your personal space, you’re not just having to execute, but you’re having to respond to their execution and adapt and flow. Not to mention in a time frame that’s highly demanding, as well. Five minutes at a time, a minute rest in between, that adds to the stress level quite a bit.

That’s about as raw and about as primal of a sport as you can get to. We love it. It’s the funnest thing I’ve ever been around.

Let’s start this issue in the following way, which is to say, imagine the word fitness if I defined it as the ability or the capacity to do the work at a high level. What is MMA fitness, in your mind?

Back to your original definition of executing skills at a very high level. When you add amplitude and fortitude to the defensive and offensive maneuvers, as well as on-demand. These guys don’t really get to decide when to execute all the time, that’s only on the offensive side. There’s a reactionary component, and so, focus and the reactionary ability to execute under extreme levels of fatigue, and to be able to do that repeatedly, in a continuous fashion, for five minutes. That is a very diverse definition, but 100 percent accurate in terms of just how demanding it can be on not only your physical capabilities, but your resiliency and your mental fortitude.

In football, the average play’s four to six seconds, so when you’ve got roughly 40 seconds to regather your thoughts, figure out what just went wrong on the last play, fix it for the next play, you got 10 teammates standing around you to give you feedback on it. This (MMA), as soon as you get hit, you’re evaluating as you’re slipping the next punch. Or, as you’re defending a takedown, and your back’s getting raked up against the cage.

The level of fitness has to be accommodating to where you can continue to process information and still continue to physically react to what’s going on around you. That’s the non-physiological side. It is a gambit of anaerobic fitness and anaerobic qualities when you look at the power outputs and the things that are required for strong finishes and entertaining finishes that we see in the sport. But then on the flip side, the resiliency of the glycolytic and aerobic energy systems to be able to repeat those efforts over and over again. But then also, those aren’t just fueling systems, those systems are what allow us to recover in between, whether they’re bouncing on the balls of their feet in between scrambles or they’re actually sitting on the stool in between rounds.

It is very much a decathlon of combat sports, with so many skills involved, the multitude of energy systems that they’re gonna tap into, which makes it a very complex system to prepare for. It’s complex for a couple different reasons. One, you need to be able to evaluate it all. And that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax. For a 100 meter sprinter, we’re evaluating a couple of things that will filter into them being a good 100 meter sprinter. And on the other end, for the marathoner, we’re evaluating a few things that will allow them to work efficiently in that space, or that energy system.

With these (MMA) guys, they kind of need a little bit of all of it. That’s where that, kind of, decathlon mentality comes in. So while, yes, you’ll have your one or two events that are your bread and butter, you know, you got a primary wrestler, a primary kickboxer, you still have to be fairly skilled, especially at this level, in those other aspects, or you’ll just simply drown in those areas. And so, these guys, they know their matchups. As soon as they’re squared up with someone, and that starts to formulate a game plan around how they’re gonna wear someone down, or how they’re gonna drag someone in the deep water. Trying to exploit a skill that they’re not as good at.

Fitness is pretty tough to come up with a simplistic definition in this game, but it is 100 percent one of those do-or-die traits. You’ll either be successful cause you have it, or you’re gonna struggle with success if you don’t have it.

What you’re talking about, in terms of the ability to process information, under stress and fatigue, that’s when decision-making becomes difficult. To what extent is decision-making a function of physical health and to what extent can decision-making be trained independently of one’s aerobic or anaerobic capacities?

It’s twofold. You gotta have fight IQ. You have to have awareness of the Octagon, the space that you’re in, the space that you don’t want to be in, that space that you want your opponent in. That’s all fight IQ stuff. But, then you have to have the capacity that when your brain says this is where I need to be, you have to actually get your body to put you there. That’s two different things.

Then, when it comes to the tactical side, then you have to have the skill set to actually be able to manipulate your opponent to get into that dominant top position or side control position, or the dominant position in the clench up against the cage. So, you have the processing side, I know where I’m supposed to be, but now I have to have the physical component of actually getting there. Then, if it’s a tie-up where you’re in the clench, now I’ve gotta not only use technique and decision-making to get there, but I’ve gotta be able to manipulate my opponent who, in their own right mind, doesn’t want to go there. They don’t want to be there. They’re putting up resistance.

As far as reactionary gameplay that we can do on a physical side, its just like low-level skill acquisition, as well. Before you learn how to throw that spinning mule kick, you’re gonna rehearse that in practice over and over again. In the air first, eventually on a bag, then eventually on a moving target, then eventually on a human target. And so, when it comes to reactionary drills, whether you’re using tennis balls or lights or whatever the case is, that’s the fundamental way to learn the move correctly and to respond to the external stimulus. Then that would need to eventually get carried into something where it gets a little bit more advanced where you are dealing with fatigue or you are dealing with someone trying to knock your head off. ‘Cause that light is not gonna throw a counter left hook at you. It’s just going to blink the next light.

That’s a rudimentary way to get into it, and there’s some good literature behind getting someone to rehearse reaction and rehearse quality movement during reactionary drills and process information during reactionary drills. They’re good exercises.

The other nice thing is, they’re good low impact exercises for times when maybe a fighter doesn’t need to be physically stressed, but we need to stimulate them a little bit. It can be an option, it just has to fit into the overall training plan. And it also has to fit into what’s being prioritized for that fighter’s preparation.

How do you approach programming? Flyweight fitness is different than heavyweight fitness. Athlete to athlete, cycle to cycle, micro to meso, everybody’s programming has to be individualized and tailored. What is your role in figuring out what programming should be, and what are the challenges there?

My role is extremely supplemental. The more disciplined they are in a sport, the more supplemental essence he is gonna become. So, back to my analogy of the decathlete, when there’s more events, there’s more skills to learn, a lot of the physical training — there’s only so much water you can fit in the bucket, and eventually it starts to overflow. So, with these guys it’s the same way. It’s gotta kind of make sense with all the skill acquisition. When you have someone that’s higher up the chain in terms of skill development, you can afford a little bit more time to spend on some other things.

And so, the other side of that, the caveat, is that as a strength and conditioning professional you have to understand too that they are going to gain some fitness from kickboxing. They are going to gain some strength from wrestling and repeated take downs and repeated pickups. That is resistance training. Our body doesn’t know the difference if you’re touching a barbell or if you’re picking up a person. It just knows there’s a resistance so I’m going to recruit motor units to handle that resistance. That’s my synopsis, first off, that we’re just super supplemental to the big picture of what’s going on.

Now, to be influential in that supplemental role? First, you have to start with assessment. We need to know — so when you talk about individualization, there is no individualization until you have individual assessments on what their attributes are. So, we have to be able to look at things like an energy system breakdown. What is there — a VO2 max tells us how big their engine is. But, then we look at the thresholds within the VO2 max, then in way of threshold one. Then we have threshold two tell us about where their body tarts to accumulate lactic acid, and how efficiently they can buffer it. And where they hit the point where they can no longer buffer lactic acid, and they kind of go over a cliff there and lose all anaerobic power. Understanding where those thresholds are, they’re very unique, person to person. Its like a fingerprint. Mines gonna look very different from the one standing next to me.

Same thing with strength and power profiling. When we look at rate of force development, reactive strength, and how quickly their body can respond eccentrically and concentrically to different external forces. That’s all, its like a fingerprint. So, the nice thing about the Performance Institute, is we have the ability to measure objectively a lot of these things in a super convenient fashion. Most of the time we build it right into training, as well. And so, when we have this individual profile of these physical attributes that an athlete has it just takes a lot of the guesswork out. Now I can get super specific with someone in terms of identifying weaknesses, starting to identify and formulate objectives, things where we can paint a clear direction. Look, if we go through and we have a plan directly focused around this one attribute, we can make improvements with this. And then that can allow you to become a better athlete and perhaps have a better engine to focus on your skill work when you are sparring or when you are striking or when you are hitting pads or wrestling or whatever the case may be.

Depending on the physical attribute, it can be a much more longterm process. Some of these guys fight four time a years, some of these guys fight six times a year. And a lot of those physical attributes, we have to find gaps of time in between training camps to really make a dent in true performance enhancement. Whereas, when they’re in camp, there’s some refinement that we can do. We can refine, if they’ve got a good base level of fitness, we can refine that fitness and start to culture and tailor it to a three five-minute round fight that’s coming up, eight or nine weeks away.

If their base level of fitness is subpar, and we’re going in to this camp, we’re already kind of behind the eight ball. We’re already limited because the rigors of camp are gonna diminish the amount of improvement that we can make. We’ve already got pretty solid base levels in certain areas we can refine. And, in some cases in a very marginal manner, enhance some of their qualities during that time frame. So, as much time as we spend around trying to, in a quality fashion, improve how they’re managing energy and recovery time during fight camp so that they can show up at the fight rested and ready to go and rejuvenated and with high energy, we also spend a lot of time educating on just how influential the off-camp period can be, and how much more of a physical influence we can have during that off-camp period.

As far as programming, number one, it starts with assessment. We need to know exactly who the human being is that’s sitting in front of us and what their physical attributes are. Then, from that assessment, we start to have to formulate — well, not formulate — we have to gather the lay out of what training looks like for them. We’ve had over 270 fighters in our league through this facility since we’ve been open, and I cannot tell you two camps that looked exactly alike.

Even two fighters that are coming from the same training facility whose camps don’t look alike because they all have different strengths, they all have different weaknesses. Some spend x amount of time on grappling and x amount of time on striking. They guy next to him is flip-flopped. So, it’s very different. We have some that spar once a week, we have some that spar three times a week, we have some that don’t spar once they hit five weeks out from a fight, they don’t spar the rest of the time. We have others that spar all the way up until two weeks out from the fight.

Just such a diverse group, it can be really difficult to argue how you could truly individualize and formulate a progressive plan without having some varied individual assessment along first. And then, that assessment leads into a planning process, which you’ve gotta have an understanding of what does the day to day training look like. Before I can prescribe work, first thing we need to make sure are they fueled for the work. When we make adaptations, we don’t actually make adaptations in the weight room, all we do is supply a stimulus. So we’ll supply a stimulus in the weight room. We’ll supply a stimulus when we’re conditioning. They supply a stimulus when they’re in the Octagon, when they’re training. But, there’s no adaptation there. The adaptation doesn’t occur until you recover and fuel.

When you’re fueling, we talk about he’s got his pre-workouts and stuff like that. Pre-workout fueling actually starts like the day before. It starts weeks before. So, these guys have to understand how to kind of almost be a normal human being first before you can be a high performance athlete. So, when it comes to fueling and recovery, that’s what allows me to actually create some performance enhancement. And I would echo the same thing to an MMA coach, is, if you really want that guy to get better at this skill that you’re drilling hundreds of times a day, over and over and over again, if he’s not fueled for it and he’s not rested to do it, none of it’s going to stick. He might be able to labor through it, but there’s no retention of that trait. There’s no adaptation.

That’s where we have to really kind of help bridged the gap between stimulus and adaptation. And so, for me, as soon as I see a plan, the first thing we try to identify are where are the opportunities for recovery? Where’s the opportunities for fueling and rest? If those are met and if those are there, then it’s easy to plug and play. Okay this is a good opportunity to do some anaerobic training. This is a good opportunity to do some aerobic training. This is a good opportunity to work on rate of force development, peak power outputs.

And in some cases, we see a plan that’s kind of a hodge-podge. We do our best to really integrate with the team and work around, okay, how can we make this a little more efficient? To where there’s better opportunities for recovery and regeneration. And so that’s, in terms of program design, it really boils down to how we’re managing energy first. And then, if we’re doing a good job of managing energy, now we can get into the intricacies of peak power and peak speed and peak endurance and all these other things that we want to culminate through camp.

That happens at different levels. Some of these fighters have their sh*t together and it’s easy to kind of get in and dive into that plan and get really progressive at an advanced level. And some of them are not there yet. Some of them are still doing — their number one priority is still super high skill acquisition, because maybe they... we have some fighters that have drawn some attention to themselves. Maybe they’ve gone 5-0 in a smaller league and then they get a shot at the UFC and they’re coming in with eight pro fights or something, while we have others that come to this league that have 30 pro fights. So, their skill acquisition and their gym IQ, their fight IQ, is going to be very different. And that kind of dictates how much energy we have left to actually spend on strength and conditioning or on physical therapy or rehab for that matter.

So, it is a very intricate process, but that’s why, for us, it is dire that we don’t have just a strength coach, we don’t have just a MMA coach. We have a performance team built around these guys. So that we can plug all of the — their gaps look different. Every fighters gaps look different. So, some may have more of a nutrition gap, when we plug someone in, an expert in that field, to help fill that gap. Some of them have great strength and conditioning coaches that they’ve contracted out and they’ve hired. They don’t have as much of a gap there. So, I’ll help facilitate, or I’ll help coordinate things. But I may not have as much of a presence. So, depending on where those gaps lie, that kind of helps decide which part of our team kind of takes a lead in integrating the PI into that fighter’s prep-time.

How would you define recovery science to the layperson? How advanced is the field of recovery science relative to the other sciences about athletic performance?

It’s still fairly new. In the last, I’d say 15 years, there’s been a lot of study and a lot of case study around appropriate methodology, but then also appropriate time frames and situations for different methods of recovery. The two most fundamental things first off are nutrition and sleep. First, hands down. So, we don’t even get into advanced methods of recovery if someone doesn’t check those two boxes. You don’t eat breakfast everyday? There’s no point, we don’t even need to get into the discussion of a cryo chamber or an infrared laser light bed. We don’t even need to get into that conversation if you don’t eat food and if you don’t go to bed. So, unfortunately we do, we have some of these fighters that have a hard time sleeping. You know, whether it’s anxiety related or they just never developed good habits growing up or whatever. But those two things fundamentally first, that’s recovery, number one.

Then you have someone that fundamentally does those things well, and they’re truly in kind of a high performance plan between practices and training and everything else around, now we can strategize how we’re create balance between their sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems to actually develop a regiment of recovery opportunities.

One of our heads of sports science refers to it as windows of trainability. If you’re recovered and if you’ve truly regenerated, you now have a certain window of trainability. And if you haven’t, then there’s a smaller window. How much stuff you can fit in there is very different. And so, monitoring, there’s different tech pieces and things to be able to monitor, that sort of thing. But, even still, we’re fortunate. We have at our disposal the ability to measure one of these things. But, you still have to have educational intervention. Okay, here’s how you employ this information, and here’s how we’re going to make adjustments. Sometimes it’s athlete driven. When you can make adjustments to what you’re doing outside of training time, outside of whatever, and then we have to have coaching conversations. Okay, the way you have this regimen set up there’s no window of opportunity for recovery. All the things you have in it are fantastic. They’re great, they’re just in the wrong places. Some of them are at the wrong time, some of them are the wrong this the wrong that.

The reality of it is a lot these systems that we have and a lot of these training regiments these MMA classes and the pro classes and things like that, they’re set up around a business. So they’re set up around where can I get the most pros on the mat at the right time and try to accommodate everyone as best as possible. And so those aren’t super individual tactics when everyone has to show up at practice at three o’clock or two o’clock or whatever. Whereas, that may not be the best window for that particular person. So, we find other ways to manipulate schedules, move things around, so that there’s adequate windows for rest, adequate windows for food, adequate windows for things like getting in a cryo chamber or using NormaTec pants or doing massage flushes or whatever the case is.

That really turns back to the planning process and to the periodizing of training. Which still, there are some camps that do it really well. They do put a lot of thought into planning and structuring training so that they can get really high intensity work, quality work in, but also, windows of opportunity to recover from it. And then there’s some that don’t. There’s some that it’s like a race. Its an eight-week race where they’re just trying to cram as much stuff as they can in in eight weeks and then rest ‘em up the last week, which really isn’t rest, they’re cutting weight. In their eyes, that’s how they think about it. Okay, that eighth week, fight week, we’ll back off and we won’t be sparring that week, we’re not going to wrestle as hard, we’ll drill a little bit, we’ll hit some mitts, we’ll do open workouts for the fans, and that’s it. But, that’s really not recovery time if a guy is cutting weight.

For those that are fortunate enough they don’t have to cut that much, sure they’re gonna get some rest. But that’s where technique around teaching and tapering kind of have to be employed during that last three-ish — 14 to 21 days out from a fight. Roughly three weeks, but it varies so much weight class to weight class. It varies depending on male/female a little bit. It varies depending on age, not only their own age but their training age. How long they’ve been in the sport. We have some that just jumped over from playing football in the NFL, or college football. We have some that were — we have a female who was an all conference heptathlete in college who, they’re all so different. You kind of have to find that recipe as you go through the process, the best recipe for each one.

These coaches are going through the same process trying to figure out exactly what works for these athletes just like we do. They do it in a much more feel-based nature, whereas we have some of the ability to get more objective diagnostics around them. And we’re working to try to fill more of a bridge between these fight teams so that they can use this as a resource. Not to necessarily go around dictating how fighters train in every camp, but so that qualified professionals in those camps can use our resources so that they can better prep their athletes for the events that we host.

You mentioned that weight cuts were not rest, which I think intuitively makes sense, but I’d like you to dig into that if you can because it is a component of recovery science. Why would you call it not rest? Is it because it’s putting strain on the body?

Back to just fundamental recovery, you’re gonna recover, you have to eat and you have to sleep. Number one, they’re not eating or they’re eating at a reduced amount. And, by that that point, when they’re cutting weight, the deficit is pretty high. So, their caloric deficit, whatever they started with and progressed down through camp, it’s gonna be at it’s highest during fight week. So they’re not getting much, so from a cellular level, recovering damaged tissue, whether it’s muscle tissue or whatever, that’s not happening at a very fast rate.

Then, on top of that, particularly the actual weight cut night, the night before weigh ins, it’s not hard to find the information, all the nutrition gurus that are out there doing meal prep stuff and all the fight week stuff around supply meals and things, they’re not shy about it. They tell you, ‘I stayed the night with them, I stayed with them all night. We cut weight all night long.’ You’re not sleeping. So now the food part’s out, the sleep part’s out. There’s no recovery. You’re doing less work, yes. But there’s no recovery from the work you’ve done weeks before, even the week prior.

Fatigue accumulates throughout camp. Even if they’re doing a good job recovering day by day, so that they regenerate for another hard training day. Towards the end of the week, it still accumulates into the next week, and into the next week. And so, in order to keep up with that pace, you’ve gotta be fueled, you’ve gotta be rested consistently over time. It can’t be inconsistent throughout the week. And then, if you’re gonna handle that cut, one, that cut’s gotta be marginal enough to where you can do as little cutting as possible. You can do as little caloric deficit as possible. And you cut into your sleep as little as possible.

If you’re in one of those scenarios where you’re behind the eight ball and you’ve gotta do it the hard way, and you’ve gotta cut 12 percent, and you’ve gotta stay up through the night, the night before weigh ins, then by no means — can you make weight and still fight? Yes, absolutely, which is the number one. You gotta get there first before you have a chance to compete. But to say that they’re well rested when you do it? Absolutely not.

How knowledgeable is the average fighter about notions of rest, even basics?

For one, they’re really knowledgeable about knowing. Most of the time they’ll tell you, ‘Yeah, I don’t think I get enough sleep.’ What I don’t think they’re knowledgeable about is just how influential that is, in a negative way, over what they’re trying to do, to be a professional athlete. I don’t think they understand the magnitude of how much that negatively affects them when they aren’t either supplying the right amount of nutrition or getting the right amount of rest. Because they know that they’ve gotten to this point, which, this is the premier league. This is the elite league. And what they’ve done up to this point has worked. But I don’t know that they’re always in a mindset thinking about longevity. Like, I want to fight professionally for the next 10 years, or whatever. I think they’re worried about making it to the next fight, and then the next contract, and then the next fight of that contract. And then, if you start to get within striking reach, maybe they start to get concerned about being a contender for a belt and things like that.

I think they understand the deficit. They know that there’s a deficit. I just don’t think they always get just the magnitude of how negatively influential that deficit can be over their performance, because they’ve powered through it before or they’ve mentally pushed themselves through it before.

Don’t get me wrong, we’d be the last ones — we don’t want to negatively influence any of that mental fortitude. We want them to maintain that kind of mental fortitude, but at the same time, we want them to treat their bodies like a high-performance engine. You’re not going to buy a Ferrari and stick regular unleaded fuel in it. You’re going to go try to find some rocket fuel to pump that thing in so you can run it like it was built to be run. And so, sometimes I just don’t think they have a clear understanding of just how much nutrition or sleep deprivation can play in terms of their performance, because they have performed very well on both a subpar diet and subpar sleeping patterns.

A lot of the guys, for long periods of time, are operating under caloric deficits just to maintain the weight class. So, if I had to ask you what is proper nutrition for a fighter, what would you say?

I’m not an expert in nutrition. Make sure everyone knows that. But, I do have colleagues that are very much so experts in that field. And there are systems that they employ that they go to when it comes to a systematic progression of the reduction of caloric intake day by day. But they’re finding what these appropriate deficits are through assessment first. What is their resting metabolic rate? What’s their metabolic rate at moderate levels of intensity? What’s their metabolic rate at a maximum level of intensity? And once they have that spectrum, then they can start to build fueling plans around training sessions, around S&C sessions, around MMA sessions, based on what the intensity level is of the work that they’re doing.

Once you know what that supply demand is, what that caloric demand is to do that amount of work, then you start to identify, okay, what’s the reduction that we can go through now to cause weight loss, versus diving into kind of a template, cookie cutter program that tells you, ‘Alright, you normally take in 2,500 calories? Now you’re going to take in 1,400.’ That deficit may be too big to start with for some people. Whereas, these guys have a much more progressive approach to creating that deficit over time.

Most of the time, even when the deficit is appropriate, some of these guys are still having trouble. It’s really a misfire on the correct macronutrients that they’re cutting from. So, to create that deficit, you gotta pull from one of your three macronutrients. You either gotta do it through protein, fats, or carbohydrates. And most of the time it’s the wrong one at the wrong time. So, a lot of our sports dietetic team here, they’re spending time just trying to reconfigure which macros they’re cutting from, so that they can still be fueled for practice, but you’re still going through your caloric deficit.

That’s very unique for everybody. Everybody metabolizes macronutrients differently. And were finding that, in some of our testing that we do here, they metabolize fats and the metabolize carbohydrates at different levels of intensity and that’s something that we can actually measure here and identify. And then, once you see that, you know if someones primarily a fat burner, or if they’re primarily a carbohydrate burner. And, once we know that now, if we’re going to employ a diet around that, that gives us some specific parameters to build that diet around. Even from a strength and conditioning professional, if I know that they’re primarily a fat burner or primarily a carbohydrate burner, that helps me when identifying specific levels of intensity if we’re doing low impact cardio for cutting weight.

If you’re trying to cut weight and you train at an intensity that’s too high, you’re going to tap into the wrong substrate, and then you spend however many hours on the treadmill at the wrong intensity and you’re not losing any weight and they can’t figure it out. And vice versa, if you train at too low of an intensity and you’re not into the right substrate, you’re basically just spending time on a treadmill, and that energy could be spent learning how to shoot a double leg, or how pressure somebody on top. More skill acquisition.

These are things that can be measured and these are things that can be drilled down. So that nutrition aspect — the nutrition experts — it’s a matter of a decision to get super individualized with someone, which would start with assessment first, and then interventions around what they’re currently doing, through recalls or whatever. And then, into a plan of action that’s gotta be consistent over time.

These guys are at the mercy of whatever shape these fighters come into when they get announced for that next fight. So, if we’re eight weeks out, and a guy is 18 percent over his weigh-in weight, that’s gonna be a tough one. But, if we’re eight weeks out and someone comes in and they’re nine percent over their weigh-in weight, alright. That’s manageable. We can do something with that. Or if someone is — if we’re at a camp and there’s no fight in the foreseeable future, then we’ve got six weeks to do some metabolic rehab and get them to understand how to eat like normal human being again. We can kind of go through that educational process, then they may actually be in a good position when its time to start fight camp, and now we’re eight weeks out. And we can use that pre-camp timeframe to get them in a realistic percentage of body mass over their weigh-in weight, so that we can actually have a successful camp.

When people start wanting to talk fight camp formulation and how we’re going to manage the fight camp, you kind of have to know — you gotta identify quickly — are we addressing performance enhancement during camp? Or are we just trying to make weight? Because you really can’t do both at the same time. Because when you’re at that much of a deficit week by week, performance enhancement becomes very difficult. Because we, again, if I’m going to supply a stimulus to increase strength and power, then you’ve gotta be able to fuel the recovery for that stimulus. Well, if we’re at a deficit because someone is 16 percent over their weigh-in weight, then we pretty much need to make the decision. Okay, this is not going to be a performance enhancing camp. This is going to be, we need to make weight so that you can step inside the cage and make a living.

What is the best real world operational model for success for a fighter out there? How costly is it to train appropriately, given all these considerations?

To be totally honest, we’re working on studying and evaluating to identify what that model looks like at the highest level. We’re in a facility. We have access to world-class coaches that bring athletes through that use our facility. World-class athletes. We have world-class technology centered around those athletes. World-class practitioners in different disciplines of sport performance that integrate and work with those athletes and coaches. So, we’re using that platform to kind of generate what that model looks like at the highest level. And, just like any other sporting event, that model starts to trickle down and has to be manipulated based on means and resources, as you go down to the different levels of play.

To fighters out there doing it on their own that don’t have as many resources, number one, is prioritize recovery. There’s always going to be someone that wants to teach you the skills. You’re gonna be able to find practitioners that can teach you the wrestling skills, the kickboxing skills. So, in the beginning, the simplest thing is, allow yourself enough time to recover from that work and allow yourself enough time to eat around that work.

Then, as these guys work themselves through their careers, they start to add resources. So they start to add someone to help manage food and nutritional intake. They start to add someone that can manage strength and conditioning, supplemental strength work, supplemental endurance work. But, if they’ve already got the fundamentals around skills training and rest and recovery, to add those additional resources, it has to fit. When you don’t have those fundamentals or skill acquisition and rest and recovery, and then you try to add all these other things in, that model is gonna have a hard time surviving. You’re shoving 15 pounds of poo into a ten-pound bag. It just doesn’t fit.

You have to know how to manage all those things before you get to that point. So, what that model looks like? I can tell you it looks very different level-to-level based on resources. At the highest level, we’re still working on trying to streamline that process. And again, its not like we’re streamlining one type of fight camp. We’re trying to find recipes for several hundred different styles of camps. And that, in our eyes, it is a tough task, but it’s also — we feel like we’re a little bit ahead of the curb. It’s a 25-year-old sport, and we’re wrapping our head around high performance now. It took professional baseball and football 75 years to figure out high performance. So, we feel like we’re doing alright.

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