For a considerable amount of time, nutrition has not played a prominent role in the life of many martial artists, police, and military personnel as a means of improving performance. Top athletes are always looking for an edge. Although the martial arts are more of a way of life and a life style than a sport per se, the needs of the martial artist are the same as that of the elite athlete.
Mental aspects not withstanding (i.e. mental awareness, strategy, cunning, etc.), the need for speed, agility, strength, flexibility, and the ability to recuperate from tough workouts (and unforgiving sparing partners) is paramount to the success of athletes and martial artists alike. Police and military personnel can also have unique requirements that require them to perform at peak physical and or psychological levels become a nutritionist.
Over the past decade our knowledge of sports nutrition has evolved into a science that has swept the athletic world and has been partially responsible for the ever increasing numbers of athletes who are pushing the envelope of human ability and performance. Although a handful of the worlds top martial artists, police, and elite military units have taken advantage of the ‘cutting edge’ nutrition being used by top athletes, the majority of these communities has not taken advantage of the new science of sports nutrition.
The advantage of improving one’s performance through nutrition and correct supplementation is obvious for the athlete, but what about the martial artist? Obviously technique, form, and knowledge of one’s chosen martial art is essential to the mastery of that art, but what if the person, regardless of skill level, becomes a little faster, stronger, and able to resist and repair from injuries and training better?
Will they not be an improved version of their former self? Of course they will! Proper nutrition can make the martial artist, as it has for so many of today’s top athletes, an improved and potentially more accomplished practitioner of their art, plain and simple. If a policeman is able to stay alert, has more endurance or strength, etc., will he/she not have an added advantage to the job? Of course.. The benefits to the soldier are obvious. Bottom line? To not take advantage of the science of nutrition and supplementation, is to short change the martial artists, police, and military personnel.
As a trainer for many athletes from various sports, police, and, military personnel, and the author of numerous articles on sports nutrition and training, I have come to a few general guidelines that should be of considerable help and interest to the martial artist, police, etc. who want to improve both health and performance. Though nutrition is a complex topic, I have devised a basic guide to the major and minor nutrients that should be helpful to the martial artist, police, and athlete alike who are trying to make food and nutrient choices. Of course this guide is in no way total or complete, and many individual differences may apply, but as a basic guide to examining these nutrients, it could give you the edge you have been looking for.
Proteins are made up of amino acids which are the structural units of the protein molecule. There are approximately 20 amino acids. Eight of them are considered ‘essential’ because the human body cannot make them on its own – which is the definition of an essential nutrient. Link a few amino acids together and you get a peptide. Link a bunch of peptides together and you get a protein. The shape of the individual amino acids (and resulting proteins) is unique and highly specific, so I won’t go into great detail about it here.
Suffice it to say, proteins are an essential part of virtually every function in our body from the muscles, to certain hormones, to our immune system(s) and a whole lot more. In particular, the amino acids known as the ‘branched chain’ amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) and the amino acid L-glutamine are of particular interest to active people as they are anti-catabolic (muscle sparing) and immune enhancing, to name only a few functions and benefits of these particular amino acids.
Though the RDA for protein is generally sufficient for couch potatoes (with some debate) the majority of athletes and/or highly active people will benefit from higher intakes of high quality proteins. Proteins with the highest biological value (BV) are the proteins that should constitute the majority of the active person’s diet, as they are superior for maintaining positive nitrogen balance, reducing recuperation time from workouts, improving immune function, etc.
Whey protein concentrate (WPC) and isolates (WPI) have the highest BV of any protein, is almost 50% branched chain amino acids, and is high in L-glutamine, which is why I recommend several servings a day of WPC/WPI to all the athletes/martial artists/police I work with.
There are several brands of WPC/WPI on the market. Other high quality proteins such as skinless chicken, fish, eggs, soy, and lean red meats, have relatively high BV values and are good proteins. Another point that is important to know, the higher quality the protein, the less the person has to eat and this allows the person to keep total calories lower by sticking to these high BV proteins.
For a person who is active in the martial arts, has a busy job, and probably does some weight lifting and/or aerobics, an intake of.7?.8 grams of protein per pound of lean body weight is what I have generally recommended. For high level bodybuilders and competitive distance athletes, the protein intake will be higher, approximately 1g of protein per lb /bodyweight being the most common.
In certain situations, amino acid supplementation is useful, but most people will have no problem getting what they need by eating plenty of high quality protein foods. Low grade, high fat, preservative loaded, protein foods such as luncheon meats, hot dogs, etc., should be avoided for obvious reasons.
Carbohydrates are made primarily of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms that cycle into a ring. They can be ‘simple’ or ‘complex’ depending on the number of rings that are hooked together and the way the carbohydrate effects blood sugar (1). Though the rings can be slightly different in shape, their common theme is the ring structure. Similar to amino acids that make up proteins, when you link the simple units (the sugars) together you get carbohydrates with different properties.
As most people know, carbohydrates are a primary source of energy for the body. The best type of carbohydrates to eat are those that are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Though foods such as pasta, breads, and white rice are considered ‘complex’ they are highly processed foods, totally inadequate in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and should not make up a high percentage of a persons carbohydrate intake. Though these foods are often fortified with certain vitamins, in my opinion this does not truly replace what is lost during processing, not to mention the many nutrients that are not replaced.
Americans are notoriously low eaters of fiber, and heavily processed foods mentioned above do nothing to correct this deficit. High fiber carbohydrate foods such as brown rice, beans, lentils, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and many others, are the preferred carbohydrate foods for health, performance, steady blood sugar levels, and reduced bodyfat levels.
Though the high carbohydrate/low fat diet is all the rage these days, it has not been in my experience the optimal diet for the many athletes, martial artists, and?normal? people I have worked with (see fats below). Data continues to support the fact that high carb low fat diets are not optimal for either health for weight loss. Eating too much of anything, including carbohydrates, will make one fat (too bad the makers of non-fat foods fail to tell you this) and cause a host of other ills I don’t have the space here to cover.
There are many researchers, books, and studies using both animals and humans that seriously questions the high carbohydrate/low fat diet as the optimal diet for health and performance. Two grams per pound of lean bodyweight of carbohydrates is more than sufficient to fuel the energy needs of most athletes if other aspects of their diet is adequate (i.e. correct use and amounts of certain fats and proteins). And, as mentioned previously, the source of those carbohydrates is of paramount importance.
The very word sends a shiver down the back of the leanest person. There is not a more misunderstood nutrient in all of nutrition than fats. Many people know there are big differences in how various carbohydrates effect the body and some people even know that different proteins have different properties, but ‘a fat is a fat, no’? is what the majority of people would say if you asked them about this much maligned nutrient.
Fats have just as many biochemical differences in the human body as do carbohydrates and proteins, and thus have just as many different effects on the body that range from very good to very bad. It really depends on the type and amount of fat(s) we eat(2). Americans tend to get their dietary fats from saturated fats, rancid fats, and highly processed fats ( which contain by products such as trans fatty acids), thus giving fats a bad name.
As mentioned earlier, an essential nutrient is anything the human body cannot manufacture on its own and must be obtained from the diet, or the person will become sick and/or perish if the nutritional deficit is not corrected. We know there are a multitude of vitamins and minerals, eight amino acids, and two types of fats that are considered essential nutrients for life itself to continue.
You should be aware that there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate, but that’s a whole other story. The two fats that are known to be essential to health are Linoleic acid (LA) which is an Omega-6 fatty acid and Alpha-linolenic acid (LNA) which is an Omega-3 fatty acid. Both of these fats can be found in various foods that have not been heavily processed.
These two fats are highly sensitive and reactive to heat, light, and oxygen (i.e. they go bad quickly), and are totally ruined or lost during the processing of our foods. The reason poly -unsaturated vegetable oils that line the shelves of most super markets can sit there for years on end is because they have been heated, deodorized, and generally processed to the point that they are the nutritional equivalent of white bread and table sugar. I recommend people avoid those oils.
Because of all the fat bashing by the popular media and health professionals who should know better, most people have come away thinking that all fat is bad and serves no other purpose than to make our hips and stomach wider while ruining our health. Nothing could be further from the truth. The membrane that surrounds every single cell in your body, the sheath around nerves, various hormones, prostaglandins, and countless other parts of the body (especially the brain) depend on the dietary intake of the right fats.
The importance of the essential fatty acids for health and performance cannot be understated. It is true that certain fats, such as, saturated fats, rancid fats, and trans fatty acids (found in margarine, Crisco, and other products), can cause numerous health problems from heart disease to cancer and insulin resistance, to name only a few ills of a diet high in the wrong types of fat.
However, the essential fatty acids (especially the Omega-3 fatty acids) are anti-lipolytic (stop fat storage), anti-catabolic (stop the break down of muscle tissue), increase metabolic rate and beta oxidation (burn calories/increase fat burning), improve insulin sensitivity, reduce the chances of heart diseases, and a whole lot more (3).
Though early research told us that we need a bit more LA (the Omega-6 fatty acid) than LNA (the Omega-3 fatty acid) in our diet, we find in practice that a diet containing higher amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids (LNA) gets the best results in health, bodyfat levels, and performance.
The richest source of the Omega-3 fatty acid LNA is Flax oil, which also contains a small amount of the Omega-6 oil LA (4). Flax oil can be found in the refrigerated section of any good health food store and is derived from the careful processing of flax seeds (5). As a nutritional consultant to various athletes, I have used flax oil with many of the country’s top bodybuilders (a group of athletes notoriously fearful of eating fat) to reduce their bodyfat levels and improve their performance and health. Two/three tablespoons a day over a salad, taken straight, or in a protein drink does the trick (6).
Another major source of Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in deep water cold fish such as sardines, mackerel, and salmon (7), and I recommend that people eat two to three servings of these fish per week. Good sources of LA are unprocessed vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, sesame, and many other oils found in health food stores.
Fats to avoid are highly processed vegetable oils and other processed vegetable products (such as margarine), rancid fats, and to a lesser degree, saturated fats. The key to health and performance is a proper balance of essential fatty acids (LNA and LA), mono unsaturated oils (found in olive oil, avocados, etc.), and small amounts of saturated fats found in lean meats and other sources combined with the right carbohydrates and proteins.