How to Fuel for a Jiu-Jitsu Tournament

**A longer version of this article by Katie Elliott, MS/RD, was originally featured in Jiu-Jitsu Magazine.

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 Introduction

The difference between getting hardware and going home empty-handed comes down to slim margins and details. Nutrition is an often overlooked detail that can can be a weapon or a woe on tournament day. Whether nutrition will hinder or enhance performance depends on your knowledge, preparation, and finally execution.

 Fueling for Performance Matters!

What your body needs during the course of a tournament depends on what you are doing and when you are doing it. Weigh-ins, post-weigh-ins, warm-up/matches, recovery between matches and post-tournament recovery all have unique fueling requirements. Ensure that you make weight by setting a realistic goal for how much you can reasonably lose and limit fiber and sodium in the days leading up to a tournament. If you have a few hours before you roll, you can add some protein and fat. However, as you get closer to your matches, your meals/snacks should become smaller and simpler and should consist of easily digestible carbohydrates. After you finish your matches, you need to focus on rehydrating, rebuilding muscle tissue and replenishing glycogen stores. Aim to consume 15-25g high quality protein in addition to high quality carbohydrate such as whole grains (i.e. brown rice, quinoa, oats). If you are looking to keep notes on everyday protein consumption or your tournament fueling plan, there is a new app called Marune, made especially for the Jiu-Jitsu community. You can log any nutrition information in the notes section to have an ongoing record you can refer back to.

Hydration Matters Too!

Hydration is also key to performing at your best. For Jiu-Jitsu fighters, losing just 2-4% of body weight through sweating can impair exercise capacity. In addition, it can take the body another 24-48 hours to completely re-establish fluid levels after a dramatic loss in body water. Banking on extreme weight loss from dehydration is inadvisable for health reasons and will hinder performance. Plan your weigh-in strategy so that you do not have to lose an unreasonable amount of weight through dehydration. Pre-weigh in, drink water rather than sports drink. Sports beverages have sodium and can increase the number on the scale. Post-weigh in, you will want to switch to sports drink (in some cases a high-sodium pre-load solution). Sports drink is better absorbed due to its electrolyte content, will boost blood plasma volume making it easier for the heart to pump blood to working muscles and also provides easily accessible carbohydrate to fuel high-intensity matches. Drink throughout the tournament day and monitor your urine color, thirst and weight to ensure you are on top of hydration. Urine color should range from clear to transparent yellow (like lemonade). If your urine is darker, that can be a sign of dehydration. Conversely, if you are peeing frequently and your urine is clear each time, you may want to ease up on drinking. Overdoing it poses risks to performance such as having to urinate right before and during matches and diluting sodium levels (particularly if you are drinking a lot of water). Finally, post-tournament, drink 16-24oz fluid for every pound lost during exercise to promote recovery.

Putting it All Together

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Here are a few final words of wisdom: practice your nutrition and include some fueling test runs in your tournament preparation. For example, at your next training session have the snack you plan to eat 30-minutes pre-match. See if this snack sits well and reassess if it makes you feel nauseous or heavy. Keep track of your test runs in the training log notes section of Marune so that you can refer back when you are finalizing your fueling plan. Marune also has a tournament tracker, so don’t forget to log those wins and losses, download it here. And finally, always remember, nothing new on tournament day. Even if you spot a flashy new product that appears to be just what you need, don’t take it for a test drive on the big day. Overall, dedicated practice along with sound strategies will ensure that nutrition is a weapon in your tournament-day arsenal.

11 Tips to Sum It All Up

  1. The main macronutrients used to fuel exercise are…

    The body uses mainly fat and carbohydrate to fuel activity. Protein, on the other hand, isn’t a preferred macronutrient during exercise, but is responsible for rebuilding muscle fibers post-exercise. More exactly, protein contribution during dynamic exercise like Jiu-Jitsu is roughly 2-4%.

  2. Carbohydrate fueling is important on tournament day.

    The body stores abundant reserves of fat (~80,000 calories), but limited stores of carbohydrate (~1600-1800 calories in the form of glycogen). Thus carbohydrate fueling matters on tournament days, as intense exercise will easily tap carbohydrate stores. Protein, on the other hand, isn’t a preferred macronutrient during exercise, but is responsible for rebuilding muscle fibers post-exercise.

  3. Think about sports nutrition for performance and sports nutrition for health in two different [and equally important] buckets

    Athletes need to strike a balance between sports nutrition and nutrition for health. Both are key to being a successful athlete, but will occur at different times in a training/competition day. During a tournament, a lot of what you consume will be easily digestible carbohydrate and sports nutrition products. These are not nutrient-dense foods, but do provide the body with the type of carbohydrate it needs to fuel intense activity. You also need health-focused foods. When you have a lot of time before you train and when you have finished training, that is the time to focus on nutrient density. That means filling your plate with fiber-rich vegetables and fruit, lean meat and fish, nuts and seeds, healthy fats like avocado, whole grains like quinoa, etc. These nutrient dense foods will help you to stay healthy, recover better and provide the micronutrients your body needs for key functions like oxygen delivery and immune function.

  4. Create a smart, reasonable weight-loss strategy for successful weigh-ins.

    If done unwisely, making weight can be stressful and can hinder performance. If you are looking to take the worry out of weigh-ins, be conservative in what you can lose on tournament day, and ensure that any true weight loss (i.e., fat not water) occurs in advance of key tournaments. If you attempt to lose weight too close to your tournaments, you will limit your lead up performance gains. This is because the body gets less training benefit when you are maintaining a calorie deficit.

  5. What to eat in the days leading up to a weigh-in.

    2-3 days prior to a weigh in, you’ll want to reduce fiber and sodium in your diet. While fibrous foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains are nutrient-dense and great for long-term weight loss, they sit in the gut longer, becoming a source of dead weight. Sodium causes water retention, which also increases the number on the scale. While sports drinks are additive to performance when an athlete is sweating, they also contain quite a bit of sodium. Best to avoid electrolyte drinks until after weigh-in.

  6. What to eat when you weigh in 5-30 minutes before your match

    In this case, you need to have a small breakfast 3-4 hours prior to the initial match as it’s best to have some energy in the tank as opposed to being depleted after fasting. If you need to lose the last bit of weight, it’s best to exercise prior to the weigh-in (you need to warm up anyways), rather than have no energy for the long day. Plan to consume something that is low-weight, low-fiber and high in condensed energy (mostly from carbohydrate). A good sample breakfast is 2 slices white bread with 2 tablespoons peanut butter and 2 tablespoons honey (take small sips of water throughout the morning only if you are thirsty).

  7. What to eat when you weigh in the night before competition or 3-4 hours before your match.

    In this scenario, fasting prior to making weight is more common as there is time to refuel and replenish. Just ensure you know the schedule for your weigh-in and match and plan your nutrition strategy accordingly.

  8. What to eat post-weigh In

    Post weigh-in, your goal should be rehydrating and topping off carbohydrate stores. The amount of time you have between weigh-ins and matches will dictate what you consume. The closer you are to a match, the smaller and simpler your intake should be (think easily digested carbohydrate such as sports drink, gels and chews). If you have a few hours between weigh-ins and matches, you can eat a more complex meal with carbohydrate, protein and some fat (think a turkey sandwich).

  9. When drinking and eating is out of the question, consider a carbohydrate mouth rinse.

    A carbohydrate mouth rinse consists of swishing sports drink in your mouth for 10 seconds and then spitting it out. Experts speculate that a mouth rinse activates carbohydrate receptors in the oral cavity, which sends signals to the central nervous system to positively improve motor output. This can improve performance by as much as 2 to 3%. 

  10. What to avoid.

    Avoid fruit juices and high-sugar beverages such as sodas to minimize the risk of diarrhea or abdominal cramping. Avoid alcohol and highly caffeinated beverages as these can have diuretic affects.

  11. Last, but not least, Marune

    Marune is the first iOS and Android training log and social media app designed for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Keep in-depth notes, share your progress both on the mat and at competition, add photographs, and keep a log of your training hours and techniques for both gi and no-gi.  You can even keep track of any gyms you’ve visited.  See what you’re friends are up to and give them encouragement in the form of “oss” to their posts, all for free. Download the app here.

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Katie ElliottComment