Diet Strategy

Energy on the Mat: Fueling Better Performance

(adapted from Module II: Diet Strategy, by Tom Deters DC)

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, especially the version used in tournaments or in a cage, is one of the most intensely anaerobic sports there is. The metabolic stresses and stimuli created by an intense session on the mat is unique and, as a result, unusual biochemical situations and opportunities present themselves following a training session.

Post-workout meals are the most important meals of the day in your quest to avoid a state of muscle breakdown and are essential to maximizing strength, energy recuperation and tomorrow’s performance.

Those of us training hard in BJJ can learn a lot about enhancing our energy levels, strength and performance from bodybuilders – guys who probably know about gaining muscle and minimizing fat than any other. In studies conducted on post-workout feedings at vari­ous universities, it was noticed that bodybuilders who ate a moderate quantity of carbohydrates within 30 to 40 minutes after their training sessions tend to replenish their glycogen stores at more than two times the rate of those who waited longer before they ate carbohydrates.A number of studies have also shown that glycogen is reloaded at a greater rate in athletes who consumed carbs after exercise versus athletes who ingested a placebo meal without any energy value. (Tarnopolsky 1997).This is definitely information we want to take advantage of! We want to be full of glycogen when we walk into the gym and we want to replace lost stores as soon as possi­ble so that the “backup” energy source, protein stolen from muscle tissue, is not called into action.

Directly after training, when glycogen levels are low, the body has the ability to store glycogen much more rapidly. This is theresult of biochemical and enzymatic reac­tions that are stimulated by the depletion of glycogen (Ivy, 1998).

Complete glycogen replenishment may take as much as two days, depending how depleted you are and what your diet consists of. That’s no good when you need that stored energy to fuel tomorrow’s workout and to repair and build muscles! We might have to roll tomorrow, not in two days. If you get a good, healthy feeding of carbohydrates 30 minutes after a workout (as well as follow the rest of our guide­lines), you will help your body replenish its glycogen stores almost completely in 24 hours. This will speed your recuperation, stabilize your blood sugar levels and make sure that you have sufficient energy for the next intense training session so you don’t end up tappin’ just because you ran out of gas.

Here’s an interesting note. Complex carbohy­drates offer an energy source that maintains stable blood sugar levels without the roller-coaster ride of the rapidly absorbed simple sugars. Rapid fluctuations in blood sug­ar levels can cause increases in the hormone insulin, which inhibits fat metabolism, and can create undesir­able swings in energy levels, mood and physical perform­ance. That’s why complex-type carbohydrates are the car­bohydrates of choice for athletes who train anaerobically – like we do in BJJ. What’s interesting is that during the metabolic window of op­portunity that exists just after training, the body seems to use complex carbs and simple carbs much the same way. That means that simple sugars are less likely to cause the negative effects (insulin response) if eaten just after a workout and may replenish carbohydrates nearly as well as complex carbohydrates.

Now that’s certainly not a license to eat junk food or candy bars after training. The point is that if you have a choice between slugging down some orange juice (which may normally cause a rapid blood sugar and insu­lin response) and eating nothing (because you forgot to bring your best sports drink to the gym, for example), drink the orange juice!

It is essential that you cap­italize on this window of opportunity after a training ses­sion to replenish glycogen and avoid having to break down proteins and hard earned muscle – muscle tissue you just might need to crank that next Kimura to completion!


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