View Full Version : Fuel The Fighter: Physiology and Nutrition for MMA

01-15-2008, 08:40 PM
Let me start by saying i know really nothing about steriods other than they are bad, lol. So this may be a good set of articles or it may not. There is also to other articles before this about protein and cutting weight.

Alternatives to Steroids

As UFC 80 approaches in mid January 2008, the MMA world can’t help but think about the absence of Sean Sherk. After being stripped of his lightweight championship title in December by the California Athletic Commission for the use of steroids, BJ Penn and Joe Stevenson will battle on January 19th for the now vacant title. The use of steroids in competitive athletics has been a topic of much consideration over the past few decades. While the adverse effects of steroids are well documented, and testing for illegal performance enhancers is often expected, competitors are still tempted to resort to these risky behaviors to optimize their athletic abilities.

In order to understand why a successful professional fighter like Sherk would practice steroid use, it’s necessary to understand the intense physical pressures that are the hallmark of MMA training. Mixed martial artists have to prepare their entire bodies for severe impact. Due to the “mix” of the martial arts involved in the sport, this preparation goes far beyond what is necessary for the individual martial arts. For example, a Muay Thai fighter doesn’t need to condition his neck, back and shoulders in the same way that is necessary for a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu artist, and vice versa. Due to the fact that these ultimate athletes need to be prepared for just about anything, the intensity of their training is extreme, probably more so than other endurance sports because of MMA’s versatility. Long distance runners never have to worry about the road countering a slow jab with a quick right hook.

While athletes have long used steroids to increase muscle mass and strength, fighters who use these enhancers often do so to improve their recovery time between training sessions. Evidence from animal studies suggests that steroid use can improve the speed of recovery for injured muscles. [1] Nandrolone, the specific steroid that Sherk was reported to have used, also has the ability to not only delay exercise induced heart rate and lactate levels, but it also enables these parameters to return to baseline at a faster than normal rate. [2] Therefore a steroid user could afford to let his body train longer and harder for an upcoming fight. It seems that with steroid users, the pressure to perform and win can overcome worries about risks like hypertension, atherosclerosis, blood clotting, jaundice, tendon damage, psychiatric and behavioral effects, and reduced fertility. [3] Since these are very serious health risks, much research has gone into studying nutritional regimens that optimize a quick recovery time.

Muscles have the convenient ability to store sugars in the form of glycogen. These sugars remain in storage until they are needed to provide energy to the muscle. After intense exercise, it is necessary to replenish this supply of stored sugar as quickly as possible if a second training session is fast approaching. In order to recover the glycogen stores, a carbohydrate intake of 1.5 grams per kg of body weight is recommended during the first 30 minutes after exercise, and then every 2 hours for up to 6 hours after the workout. An athlete that trains without full glycogen storage will have early muscle fatigue. Keep in mind that protein intake is also necessary to help repair muscle tissue. The types of carbohydrates consumed also contribute to recovery. Foods that have what is known as a “high glycemic index” are best to restore sugar reserves. These are the types of foods like white potatoes and watermelon that have a tendency to digest quickly and peak blood sugar levels. (High fiber foods are therefore not ideal to have immediately post exercise since they digest slowly and thus have a “low glycemic index.” Unless an athlete has special dietary needs, a healthy diet with varied foods will supply all of the necessary vitamins and minerals needed for recovery. [4]

Often professional athletes do not consume enough fluid during an exercise session to replace the water lost through sweating. Post workout hydration is therefore essential. While electrolytes like sodium and potassium are not often lost in excess in training sessions under 3-4 hours, including low levels of sodium in the rehydration process by means of a meal or beverage is a helpful technique since it promotes the desire to drink more. [4]

Discussions about recovery time are not complete without going into the field of nutritional supplements, often called “ergogenic supplements” after the Greek word “ergon” meaning work. It is difficult to make any solid conclusions about the validity of most of these supplements because the research thus far in the subject has yielded conflicting results. The influence of the placebo effect may very well account for some of the research discrepancies. The following is a list of common supplements that are cited because of their presumed efficacy. Recent research does not totally support nor totally deny the effectiveness of these micronutrients. [5]

Arginine: This amino acid releases a compound called somatotropin when taken as large oral doses. Somatotropin is also known as insulin-like growth factor which promotes protein production. Arginine is beneficial for resistance training.

Ornithine: Oral doses of this compound also release somatotropin, but such high doses may result in diarrhea. Ornithine is therefore also useful in resistance training

Branched-Chain Amino Acids: (Isoleucine, leucine, and valine). These types of amino acids found in animal products are in some cases reported to inhibit fatigue. They achieve this means most likely by blocking the amino acid tryptophan from entering the brain. The Thanksgiving turkey rumors are indeed true, foods like turkey that contain tryptophan cause fatigue, so blocking tryptophan entry into the brain is ideal for athletes. They also help endurance events by providing energy directly to muscles.

Antioxidants: Foods containing vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium, all help to minimize muscle damage. Endurance exercise causes an increased amount of oxygen to move into the muscle, which can cause fatigue and damage the tissue by forming what is known as “free radicals.” (These are electrons that are damaging because they do not behave normally.) Antioxidants like those mentioned above have the ability to neutralize these free radicals.

Ginsengs: These are the most widely used and studied herb. The following are some reported benefits. The benefits are more consistently reported following use of the herb for 8 weeks.

Increased run time to exhaustion (three out of seven studies)
Increased muscle strength (one out of two studies)
Improved recovery from exercise (three out of four studies)
Improved oxygen metabolism during exercise (seven out of nine studies)
Reduced exercise-induced lactate (five out of nine studies)
Improved auditory and visual reaction times (six out of seven studies)
Caffeine: This compound has benefits when used for endurance events. The largest impact in athletic performance from caffeine use is observed in competitors who do not consume caffeine on a regular basis. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and thus increases blood flow to the kidneys. It also stimulates the release of fatty acids from stored fat tissue that can be used for energy. There are some sport regulatory bodies that have set an upper limit for the permissible level of caffeine intake.

Bicarbonate: This is a natural buffering compound found in the body. Short anaerobic exercises can cause a buildup of lactic acid in the blood which causes the pH (measurement of acidity) of the blood to drop. This drop in pH is one factor that leads to fatigue. Taking bicarbonate as a supplement before a workout theoretically helps to delay the drop of pH.

Carnitine: This compound in the body helps to take fat into cells to use as energy. Research theorizes that supplying the body with more carnitine will help to speed up this process and allow the body to use fat as energy instead of the precious sugar reserves that can deplete so easily. Professional literature is divided in findings about the efficacy of this supplement for athletes, but clinical research has shown that it is safe to use to treat cardiovascular disease.

Creatine: Muscle creatine helps to provide the initial energy burst during the first few minutes of exercise. The theory behind supplementation of this compound is that adding creatine as a nutritional supplement will help to increase the amount of creatine in the muscle, thereby supplying additional stores of initial energy bursts. Be aware that risks are involved though. Creatine users can add up to four pounds of water weight, and dehydration is a possibility when taking this supplement in humid environments. There have even been deaths reported from creatine use.

Previous Articles: Navigating The Protein Scene | The Tale of the Scale

Questions/Comments? [email protected] | Blog


1. Vignaud, A., Caruelle, J. P., & Ferry, A. (2005). Effects of nandrolone and salbutamol on the functional recovery of the skeletal muscle after injury. [Article]. Science & Sports, 20(1), 41-44.

2. Hartgens, F., & Kuipers, H. (2004). Effects of androgenic-anabolic steroids in athletes. [Review]. Sports Medicine, 34(8), 513-554.

3. Mottram, D. R., & George, A. J. (2000). Anabolic steroids. [Article]. Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 14(1), 55-69.

4. Nutrition and athletic performance. (2000). [Review]. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32(12), 2130-2145.

5. Gropper, S.S., Smith, J.L., Groff, J.L., ( 2005). Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism (4th ed.)

Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth

MMAFighting.com - Fuel The Fighter: Alternatives to Steroids (http://www.mmafighting.com/articles/cole/2008/alternatives_to_steroids.html)

01-15-2008, 09:07 PM
yeah good read, i dont know much about steriods either but after reading this know a bit more, can understand how they help u and why u may use them, but professionals should know better and know they will get found out eventually

01-15-2008, 09:22 PM
Nice read. Definitely helps to understand not only why they use, but how they all work. But if it is a banned substance, the fighter should know better. I wouldn't mind seeing fighters get tested multiple times in prepping for a fight so that fighters don't juice and then come down. IE, test when they sign for the fight, test at the halfway point and then test again at the fight. And if any of the tests fail, dock some of their pay before they even fight if it is a prefight test.

01-16-2008, 06:19 AM
That was a very interesting read. I can understand why athletes would use steroids, but that high of a caliber of an athlete, such as Sean Sherk should be a little more logical. He's the title holder, he makes a ton of money, and people look up to him. Getting caught with steroids in your system just kills tons of respect he previously had.

01-18-2008, 10:05 PM
i recently saw a pic of Sherk in Ultimate Grappling and he looks alot less muscular. It's sad that he needed roids to be as ripped as he was.

01-20-2008, 12:15 AM
I don't think steroids should be illegal. The reason they are so controversial is because the public gives it more attention than it should. There are many steroids on the market that if used properly, and with a doctor's supervision, do not have the dangerous side effects. The public always needs something to criticize and gawk at.

Legalize steroids. Legalize all drugs. It is no big deal. It is dangerous and controversial because we are bored and have nothing better to do with our time. Let's just enjoy the sport and thank the athletes that put their bodies on the line. The public is so quick to turn on its sports figures just for a minor indiscretion such as steroid use. It's ridiculous, and we make a huge deal out of something so trivial.