by James Collier BSc (Hons) RNutr – Nutrition Consultant
In contact sports, it’s not always desirable to be the biggest guy in the ring! You want to be strong, sure, but powerful and able to use that muscle power on your opponent, and not on lugging your own great bulk about!
Many of you will still want to have a bit of bulk though, but a good bit of muscle definition with this does add to a good agile shape, and will certainly make you look powerful. But it’s really down to you to find your happy medium where you carry enough bulk to be strong, but are not too stripped of fat that you’re weak and prone to injury.
This issue can be further confounded if you have to make a weight for your competitive weight category, where you have to get your body weight down on the scales; whilst at the same time have enough energy to fight hard. See the article Making a weight (then re-gaining it) for a fight
There is, however, a common myth in strength sports, that you need to bulk in order to grow muscle and be strong. Whilst this is true to a point, you certainly don’t need to gain too much fat. What you do need in order to grow muscle, is to be in calorie surplus, i.e. consume more calories than you need to maintain your weight (protein intake aside), and by doing this a little fat deposition is inevitable and nothing to worry about. Don’t expect to be a mega-lean 5-6% body fat, but 10-12% is really not a lot and is ample fat in order to grow muscle. Also note that holding too much fat puts you at greater risk of some diseases, including heart disease.
Losing fat / Gaining Muscle Regimens
Strictly speaking, from a scientific viewpoint, it isn’t possible to gain muscle whilst being in an energy deficit due to the fact that muscle growth is an energy-requiring process. As you can only lose fat if you are in an energy deficit, the trick to weight loss whilst gaining muscle is to fluctuate your body between energy surplus and deficit at different times of the day, or on different days of the week, through diet and exercise. However, if your goal is to lose body fat extremely strictly, then it is not possible to gain muscle at the same time as losing body fat, as there is far too insufficient energy reserves for muscle growth. Here the priority is maintaining muscle mass. But, for the main, with gentle dieting you can successfully lose fat and grow, reaching your objective, i.e. looking and feeling great and being powerful.
Meals must be small but regular, and in order to keep growing, it is essential to keep protein intake high. The key to effective fat loss lies in careful manipulation of your intake of carbohydrate foods, i.e. carbs should be low, but not omitted. Consume complex starchy carbohydrate foods regularly, but in small portions only. You will also have to be that little bit stricter in avoiding treats and junk food of course!
Example Meal Plan
Following a meal plan similar to the one below should give a steady loss of body fat, and if you are weight training hard, you will gain muscle too. It is also reasonable in portion sizes, so should help in keeping you feeling full up and satisfied.
|Wake||1 scoop whey protein powder in 100ml low electrolyte mineral water|
|8:00 Breakfast||Porridge: 50g oats + 250ml skimmed milk + 1 tsp sugar
1-2 slices granary bread + olive oil based spread
3 egg whites + 1 egg yolk scrambled
100ml orange juice + 1 tblsp flaxseed oil
|10:30||120g chicken breast
|12:30||Tuna (200g) + 2 tblsp low fat natural yoghurt
2 slices granary bread + olive oil based spread
|15:00||120g chicken breast
|17:00||Meal replacement powder (MRP) drink in water|
|18:30 (after training)||2 scoops whey protein in water|
|19:30||50g chicken breast
Either 1 medium jacket potato or 50g boiled basmati rice
or 75g boiled wholewheat pasta
50g low fat soft cheese
|23:30||100g cottage cheese|
The plan is merely a guide and must not be stuck to rigidly! You must eat a variety of different meats/fish, complex carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables every day, and drink plenty of water. Adapt the plans to suit your own needs according to your results in order to attain a steady loss of body fat. Varying portions from day to day, along with hard training will help you to gain some lean muscle too.
Exercise and Fat Loss
Both weight and CV training must remain intense. You will be able to continue to train hard as your calorie intake will not be mega low and you’ll be including regular carbohydrates. In order to achieve optimum results, as well as your weight and fighting training I’d also try to include 30-40 minutes cardiovascular exercise or high intensity interval training (HIIT) twice a week, in order to preferentially burn fat whilst maintaining muscle mass. This ideally should be done on a different day or a different time of day to weight training so as not to interfere with nutrients required for muscle growth. Intensity of CV exercise should be low, say about 55-60% maximum heart rate, the optimum level for mobilising fat reserves whilst maintaining muscle tissue. In practice, this is the level so when you cease exercising you feel slightly warm and just out of breath