This article was written by 3rd-Degree Roger Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt and fitness expert Nicolas Gregoriades.
Over the past several years I have made a reasonably in-depth examination of nutrition for jiu-jitsu and its effect on my training., using my body and my jiu-jitsu as a case study. Several years ago, after a couple of conversations with the black-belt Marc Walder, I began to take my nutrition even more seriously. Below I will attempt to outline what I have experienced and discovered. I am not claiming it is absolute truth, only a truth that resonates with me. You do not have to believe anything I say. Research it for yourself, and more importantly, test it subjectively.
According to many nutritional experts, sugar is one of the main causes of inflammation in the human body. It doesn't take much intelligence to realize that inflammation is a jiu-jitsoka’s enemy. Hard training itself leads to inflammation which requires plenty of rest, so adding a dietary cause of inflammation is unwise. Note that sugar takes many, many forms. Check your food labels for the following, all of which are just forms of sugar: Glucose, Glucose Syrup, Fructose, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Invert Sugar, Dextrose, Maltodextrin and Sucrose.
Limit Meat Consumption
Although I am almost completely vegetarian, I do believe that a moderate amount of meat has its place in a fighters' diet. Most westerners however plan their diets around meat, chicken and fish. Meat is quite taxing on the stomach, requiring a lot of energy to digest. This is energy that could be used for training and recovery. Also, most meat available today is a far cry from the food that our ancestors were eating. It is derived from animals that have been mistreated and injected with various drugs, all of which indirectly enter the system of whoever consumes it and can cause negative effects. If you eat meat, try to limit the amounts, and ensure it is of high quality, preferably from free-range, grass-fed animals.
Limit Dairy Consumption
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need dairy products for calcium. This is a fallacy perpetuated by the dairy industry. Many studies have shown that the calcium in dairy products actually leeches calcium from the bones, causing them to become brittle. Evidence of this is the relatively low incidence of osteoporosis in nations with minimal dairy consumption. As a jiu-jitsu practitioner, the strength of your skeletal structure is paramount, so eating something that may weaken it is counter-productive. Dairy products are also extremely acid-forming in the body. An overly acidic body is prone to rapid muscular fatigue, which I am sure you will agree is not something you want during your jiu-jitsu career. If you do consume dairy products, again, ensure that they are minimally processed and preferably unpasteurised.
Gluten is a protein found in modern strains of wheat, and more and more research is showing that it is detrimental to the human body. I have found that when I eliminate it from my diet, I lose fat and have more energy, and if I reintroduce it I instantly get stomach bloating and sometimes even skin rashes. Everyone’s tolerance to it is different, but it in my mind it is unequivocally detrimental to jiu jitsu fighters.
Avoid Large Meals
Rickson Gracie once said that the biggest workout your body does on a daily basis is digestion. It logical to assume that the larger the portion of food you consume, the greater the tax on your system. This is why we usually become sleepy after a big meal. The less food you have in your system, the more of your resources can be devoted to training.
Avoid Processed Food Products and Preservatives
The body is an organism which functions most efficiently on nutrients derived from food consumed in its natural state. Candy, soda, crackers, meal replacement bars, breakfast cereals and the like are not food, they are food products. They are very often devoid of nutritional value and do little to satisfy hunger or the requirements of the body. This is why you can eat 15 cookies in a row and still be hungry. It is wise to try and eat food that has undergone little or no processing. An apple is far superior to apple fruit roll-up. Freshly squeezed orange juice is better than the pasteurized, bottled version, and a whole orange is better yet. Avoid anything with chemical names on the label. These substances are toxic to the body and will hold you back as a fighter.
Maximise Fruit and Vegetables Intake
Raw or lightly cooked fruit and vegetables are quickly and easily digested, provide large amount of energy, and contain high quantities of bio-available nutrients. The more raw, plant matter in your diet, the better you will feel, and the faster you will recover. My research has led me to believe that leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale, as well as those of the cruciferous variety like broccoli and cauliflower, are the most beneficial to overall health.
Eat Nuts and Seeds (in moderation)
Raw, unsalted nuts provide an excellent source of protein. The most nutritious are Brazil nuts, almonds and walnuts. The least nutritious are peanuts and cashews. Be careful not to overdo it though, as excessive intake of nuts can make you feel sluggish. Also, all nuts and seed should be soaked/sprouted before consumption, as this removes the anti-nutrient coating.
Fresh Squeeze/Blend Your Juices
If you are going to drink anything besides water, try to make it freshly squeezed juice. The stuff you buy in a supermarket is not freshly squeezed juice. 99% of all boxed and bottled juice has been pasteurized at least once. This means it has been heated to a very high temperature, which destroys almost all of the vitamin and mineral content and renders it close to sugar-water in nutritional value. Also, once the juice is squeezed it oxidizes very quickly, so it's best to consume it immediately. Invest in a juicer or preferably a blender - a glass of fresh juice before a training session will provide energy and a glass afterwards will replenish it. Blending is preferable where possible as it does not remove the finer of the plant, which helps minimise the impact of the liquid on blood sugar levels. A good site to check out if you want to know more about juicing is Fit-Juice.
Most of us eat too much and too often. Our systems are overburdened by all the food and chemicals we subject them to. Fasting gives the body a chance to divert its resources from digestion to healing. If you have the will power to make it through a 24 hour fast, you will be amazed at how good you will feel. If this is too much for you, see if you can skip a couple of meals ever few days by following an intermittent fasting protocol. The trade-off for a little hunger will be increased energy and clarity of mind, two things invaluable to a jiu-jitsoka.
It is not easy to eat a clean, wholesome diet in the modern world. Tasty, yet unhealthy food products are marketed to us at every turn. But the benefits of a moderate amount of effort and discipline with regards to food far outweigh the sacrifices. I sincerely hope this information helps you on your path. Please let me know about your experiences with nutrition and training. At a later stage, I will publish an article about the role of supplements in jiu-jitsu.