Boxing Nutrition & The Weigh-In: A Complete Guide For Fighters

What follows below is a hybrid of three elite combat sport (two boxing & one MMA) strength & conditioning coaches protocols & thinking to making weight & more importantly making weight healthy & strong.

Whilst none of these guys wish to be named & opinions vary I believe that the advice presented below offers a superb starting point for the core of your nutritional planning as you head into camp then the weigh in. These guys have and continue to work with world class fighters & this plan is geared toward guys who are competing at or near the elite level in 8, 10 or 12 rounders. The general guidelines work for fighters at all levels but the protein requirements & water requirements for example are geared for world & elite level fighters not three rounders in the semi-pros.

  • Write down everything that you have eaten in the past week. If your life is worth living – its worth recording & invaluable insights can be derived from this (honest) information.
  • Do not be afraid of eating carbohydrates – you need fuel for the work you are undertaking.
  • Sodium and drugs are the most common reasons for holding water.
  • Considering the amount of sweating that is involved in training in boxing it is important to take supplemental minerals, vitamins & nutrients. Top of this list is perhaps Magnesium which is a component of more than 300 enzymes involved in energy metabolism. PotassiumZinc are others that are required in levels beyond the multi-vitamin I’ll be suggesting you use below.

The boxer has nutritional guidelines that are similar to that of a college wrestler or an MMA fighter. There is no doubt that the training & performance impositions of these three sports are very similar – interval shaped stamina fused with intermittent bursts of power.

The first warning that I will give to you is related to the use of diuretics. Several deaths and many close calls have resulted from bodybuilders and other athletes using diuretics, and if you mix them with high sodium drinks you stand an even greater risk of death. The diuretic removes water from the body, upsets the potassium-sodium balance, which short circuits your nervous system and can result in a heart attack or even death.

Diuretic side effects
Diuretic side effects

The goal is to have the nutritional capability to prepare yourself for the weigh in. In some cases it is optimal to remove some excess body fat and water to enhance your performance. Losing excess water and body fat will also allow you to make weight.

The Toughest Opponent You Will Face:
Yourself & What You Eat

It is the defining factor that separates champions and those who have a short lifespan in the sport. I don’t need to name names but an inability to control food & drink consumption has shortened many careers. It is extremely frustrating for a boxer to try to get the correct information on nutrition. Most of the products that you will read about in magazines will be related to exaggerated advertising claims. The difficulty and your confusion is directly related to the multitude of choices available.

Today’s nutrition has many advantages to offer the boxer. Quick digesting proteins, high absorption creatine, beta-alanine, branch chained amino acids (BCAAs), growth stimulants, recovery drinks, & so on have all have been formed out of the process of success and failures from various other sports.

This article will attempt to educate fighters about the basic fundamentals of nutrition and how to taper for a weigh-in.

Basic fundamentals of nutrition
Basic fundamentals of nutrition

It is important to write down everything that you have eaten in the past week. You will have to look up and calculate how much nutrition you are actually getting from the foods that you currently eat. It is may be necessary to calculate the nutrition from tables showing what the nutritional value is for any given food. Be sure to calculate your daily intake of carbohydrate, fats, proteins, sodium, water, and total calories.

Then you need to perform the body fat test. Underwater weighing and the Bod Pod (air displacement) are the most accurate testing methods. The importance of doing these tests is critical to allow you the knowledge of how much excess fat is on your body. Calipers or even machine testing is not preferable but better than not having testing done at all. You don’t want to lose muscle and many athletes diet improperly and become weaker from the loss of muscle.

Most fighters do not take in enough water or protein. Look at the amount of protein that you’re eating in grams per day. A boxer should be eating over 0.7-1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight. Fighters on anabolic steroids need as much as double that amount of protein. You should be drinking 4.5 litres of water per 100 g of protein you eat per day. These fundamental principles are well established & accepted. A hydrated body is an energized body.

The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake for men is roughly about 3 liters of total beverages a day. But elite professional fighters are not average men – their hydration requirements are far, far higher.
Protein/Water per Day:

  • 250-pound boxer-off season = 300 g of protein + 9.46 litres of water per day
  • 140-pound boxer-off season = 160 g of protein + 5.7 litres of water per day
    A maximum of 7.57 litres of water per day is usually sufficient to flush out the proteins in any size athlete. The amount of water that you take in is necessary to maintain a high metabolic flush of the protein as you are consuming. A lack of water in your diet will result in excess gas and improper digestion of the protein you are consuming.

This high intake of water will make it possible to drop water weight later in the program as you draw near to the competition. Drinking large amounts of water also stimulates your body to produce additional growth hormone – or at the least, prevents the decrease in exercise induced growth hormone response that has been shown to occur with fluid-free exercise.

This bit is critical though – you need to spread your water consumption throughout the day. If you get to 7pm and have not drunk much water DO NOT load up with more than 1.5 litres at any one time – this can be very dangerous. A 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that close to one sixth of marathon runners develop some degree of hyponatremia, or dilution of the blood caused by drinking too much water. Severe cases of hyponatremia can lead to water intoxication, an illness whose symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, frequent urination and mental disorientation.

The kidneys control the amount of water, salts and other solutes leaving the body by sieving blood through their millions of twisted tubules. When a person drinks too much water in a short period of time, the kidneys cannot flush it out fast enough and the blood becomes waterlogged. Drawn to regions where the concentration of salt and other dissolved substances is higher, excess water leaves the blood and ultimately enters the cells, which swell like balloons to accommodate it.

Kidneys control the amount of water
Kidneys control the amount of water

Most cells have room to stretch because they are embedded in flexible tissues such as fat and muscle, but this is not the case for neurons.

Every hour, a healthy kidney at rest can excrete 800 to 1,000 milliliters of water and therefore a person can drink water at a rate of 800 to 1,000 milliliters per hour without experiencing a net gain in water.

All proteins are not the same and some are digested and absorbed much better than others. Egg protein and whey protein are absorbed best by your body. Fish, chicken and lean beef are the next best proteins. It is important to eat an equal portion of protein with each meal that is approximately the size of your fist.

whey protein
Whey protein brand options (zoom in)

Realize that some food allergies can go undetected and you will not absorb the protein from certain foods. It is important to eat as much real food as possible and to minimalize the amount of supplementation IF possible. The exception to this rule is whey protein. Most isolated whey proteins will digest within 30 minutes of ingestion. They are quick and easy and have HUGE utility for all athletes.
Never eat raw egg whites. Raw egg whites have a huge amount of a substance called “avidin,” which loves biotin. Once the avidin-biotin forms a bond, the body can’t break it apart. So you will develop a Biotin Deficiency Syndrome.

Cooking your eggs (or egg whites) will denature the protein avidin and will allow you to absorb 98 percent of the protein. Always cook eggs.

Additionally note eating raw eggs can lead to Salmonella food-borne illness. According to USDA research, 2.3 million eggs are contaminated with Salmonella bacteria every year. And Salmonella bacteria in eggs cause 4 out of 5 Salmonella enteritidis food-borne illnesses. Salmonella is enough to ruin any camp.

Here is a list of some of the possible problems associated with low protein consumption:

  • Problems with sleep
  • Problems with concentrating
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplainable injuries or multiple injuries with little trauma
  • Problems with skin, nail, and/or hair
  • Unexpected broken bones
  • Problems with emotional stability
  • Problems gaining strength
  • Consistent problems with muscle strains/ligamentous sprains

The biggest problem with getting enough protein is usually associated with the preparation of the food and its storage. There is no question that eating while at work can be problematic and timing is necessary since a boxer needs to be eating every 2-to-3 hours.

Many boxers make the mistake of trying to cram in protein during only 3 meals, which results in poor absorption of all nutrients. Most boxers will have difficulty absorbing more than 30g of protein from any single meal – so for a 140lber it follows that at least 5 meals are required.

Drag around your five meals for the day in a cooler bag and know where every microwave is. Every boxer has to learn to eat for function, not flavor! Sacrifice brings success.

Athletes should not be afraid of eating carbohydrates. Energy is required to digest the proteins and to provide the function necessary to perform adequately inside of the ring.
It takes carbohydrates to burn fat – however, too many carbohydrates will be converted back into fat and stored in your body. We have spent a great deal of time discussing the amount of protein that your body will require. During the off-season your body will usually require an equal amount of carbohydrates.
To lose weight, follow a few simple rules:

  • Eat multiple meals every day. Try to eat every two hours.
  • Eat your carbohydrates closer to your workout and choose oatmeal as your post-workout slow acting carbohydrate.
  • Eat your carbohydrates as raw as possible, this allows for the trace minerals and other nutrients that are naturally found in many carbohydrate rich foods to provide for maximum absorption.
  • Avoid processed carbohydrates, such as foods that come in bags.
  • Take most of your carbs in immediately following a workout. This allows for your muscles to recover faster.
  • Avoid drinking your carbs (beer, sugar soda), and if you do drink them, make it a good quality post-workout drink.
  • Taking multivitamins/minerals will allow for proper absorption and usage of carbohydrates and proteins. These products should be taken with your meal.
  • Stop eating two to three hours prior to bed. This will force you body to use fat as a fuel when you sleep.
  • It is best to sleep between 6-9 hours per night. Consistently. Aim for a set time to rest & a set time to rise.
  • Avoid stress and get right emotionally to avoid internal turmoil. Stress raises cortisol levels and that keeps you from losing fat.
  • Most of the carbohydrates in fruits and vegetables are offset by the amount of fiber ingested. Processed carbohydrates have been stripped of their natural minerals and specifically their natural fiber. Processed or fake carbs will spike your insulin and leave you on your back feeling worn out after only a few minutes.

Reducing your carbohydrates for competition should be a gradual process. If you weigh 140 pounds, then you should be taking in approximately 140 g of carbohydrates a day, with an additional 20 g of fat.
At 10 weeks out (longer if you are over 30) you will begin by reducing your carbohydrate intake. Each week, you should reduce your carbohydrate intake by 10%. Eat most of your carbohydrates immediately following your exercise.

Following this diet will test your mental abilities. The brain works on glucose specifically and restriction of carbs in your diet does mess with your head. Bingeing is a common event for those trying to take on this diet. Eating large amounts of junk food will result in insulin spikes and prevent your body from losing fat.

The idea of using thermals (chemical stimulants to burn fat) usually results in several side effects that are very dangerous. Ephedra will make you feel jumpy, but it will not burn more calories & would run the risk of failing your doping control tests. The use of diuretics is extremely dangerous and is specifically tested for by UKAntiDoping.

Wearing heavy clothing and forcing yourself to sweat will increase your body’s ability to burn fat to a degree similar to using artificial fat burners. There are no side effects of wearing heavier clothing and you won’t fail a drug test as a result.

Thermal Training Suit
Thermal Training Suit

Thermal Training Suit
The Thermal Training Suit is designed to increase body temperature, promote perspiration, burn calories and raise the body’s metabolism.
Some companies manufacture fat metabolizers that provide the enzymes and co-enzymes necessary for fats to breakdown. The truth is that they only work if you have enough oxygen and are warm enough. They do not make you lose weight just sitting around.

Fats

Fats are the other nutrient that are given a terrible rep. Cholesterol has been given a very bad name in the popular press. Cholesterol is the building block of testosterone.
Cholesterol makes the cells of your body more available to take in nutrients and get rid of toxins. During your off-season, fat should be approximately 15 to 20% of your diet. Some people tolerate and burn fat more efficiently than others. Experimentation of different fat intakes are required by the each individual athlete.

Cholesterol is the building block of testosterone
Cholesterol is the building block of testosterone

Trans-fats are easy to spot since they are solid at room temperature. These hard fats are the types of fats that should be avoided. As you age, your body has more difficulty with absorbing trans-fats and utilizing them for energy. They should be avoided specifically by older fighters.

Utilizing omega-3 fats is very important for someone over the age of 30 or anyone who has difficulty with metabolizing fats. Ocean or cold water fish, flax seed oil, walnuts, guacamole, natural eggs all are great sources of good fats.

Omega-3 is important for normal brain function. Most athletes should supplement their diet by taking 1000 mg of fish oil per day per 100 pounds of body weight.

Omega 3 benefits
Omega 3 benefits

Fats are also important since they can store many vitamins and minerals. When you start to drop your body fat for a particular fight, the stored minerals and vitamins are usually lost. It is important to replenish them by utilizing daily supplementation.
When preparing for a fight the fat should be reduced as follows. This is an example of someone who weighs 200 pounds and has been eating 40g of fat per day in the off-season.

40 grams of fat times 9 calories per gram = 40 X 9 = 360 Calories

Rule Fat Reduction Less Calories

  • 10 weeks out reduce fat intake by 50% to 20 g
  • 6 weeks out reduce fat intake by an additional 50% to 10 g
  • 4 weeks out reduce fat intake by 50% to 5 g
  • 2 weeks out reduce fat intake by an additional 20% to 1 g
  • This would start the fighter at 20g per day, then 10g per day, then 5g per day and finally 4g per day.

It is important for you to understand what is happening with your body weight as it is measured with body fat measurement. Since some fighters lose weight at different rates, keep track of your body-weight and percent fat.

It is important to increase your fat content quickly after you have fought. This is necessary since you have forced your body to go into a catabolic state (break down), which will eventually wear down your joints, ligaments, and destroy precious muscle tissue.

Controlling water is a simple and effective way of dropping weight. The high protein intake that a boxer requires is approximately 3.78 litres of water for every 100 g of protein per day. This is maxed out at approximately 10 litres per day. The water is tapered off quickly to force the body to remove water.

The following is a simple mechanism for removing excess body water prior to a fight. This is the safest way to remove excess water.

Simple Steps For Water Example Of Water Intake

  • Drink 3.78 litres/100 grams of protein per day
  • 1 day before weigh-in/drink 75% less water or 945ml per 100 grams of protein.
  • 12-18 hours prior the weigh in is the moment at which you will consume the last of that water.
  • Only sip water before weigh ins. If you are holding too much water the day of weigh-ins, then drink no water until you have weighed in.

If your kidneys are conditioned to process 7 litres of water per day, and you stop your water intake, then your kidneys will continue to expel water and take it from your body to keep the process going. You will drop water and you will lose a significant amount of weight. Then it is important to drink the water back after weigh-ins and eat something light.

Remember that sodium and drugs are the most common reasons for holding water. It is also important to drink regular water only if you are taking diuretics. It can be deadly if you are taking diuretics or any product that is high in sodium. Lucozade or similar drinks are best if you are naturally dropping water since they restore your body’s electrolytes.

Electrolytes
An electrolyte is any substance containing free ions that behaves as an electrically conductive medium. Because they generally consist of ions in solution, electrolytes are also known as ionic solutions.

Many critics of a high protein diet will often agree that the ill effects of a high protein diet are removed when sufficient amounts all water are consumed.

Many fighters have done more harm than good by wearing sweat suits in an attempt to lose water. A sweat suit increases your body’s heat and sure forces you to sweat, but the body’s hydrostatic systems will quickly replace the water while you sleep. A sweat suit is effective for dropping that final two or 3 pounds of water only on the actual day of weigh-ins. The problem is that it leaves you dehydrated and tired prior to your fight.

A more effective way of losing body water/body weight is associated with drinking lots of water prior to the actual day of competition and then quickly cutting the intake as previously stated.

Some natural diuretics exist and they include: coffee, vinegar, dieters tea, asparagus, dandelion root & vitamin B6.

A quick word on dehydration and what to do if you feel light headed, dizzy, numbness, weakness, fatigue or you just pass out. Drinking electrolytes will restore your body’s fluid levels just as fast as an IV will. It takes about 20 minutes either way.
So do yourself a favor and keep some Lucozade in your gym bag. Especially if you are taking any diuretics and make sure that someone in your corner knows that you are on water pills if you take them.

Sodium or salt is often overused by most boxers. The mere fact that salt makes you hold onto water is reason enough to avoid it in your fighter’s diet. This becomes especially important as the athlete begins training. Start reading labels and learn the nutritional facts of the foods that you are eating.

Sodium in chicken can vary from 80 grams per serving, to 1,000 grams. Chicken producers will actually inject high sodium chicken broth into the poultry meat.

Other sodium foods to avoid are high sodium diet sodas and salted tuna. Sometimes it is necessary to wash fish with water to remove the excess salt. Even with no salt tuna, cut open the lid, leave the lid on the top and slowly fill the can with water. Press down on the lid as you hold it over the sink to drain the natural salt water from the tuna.

Now that we have covered some of the basic fundamental of dieting and nutrition, let’s look at an example of the basic training diet for a 200-pound fighter who is hoping to diet down to the light heavyweight. Portions will vary based on the athlete’s weight and goals. Less bread, rice and white potatoes will result in a lower total calorie intake and that is the golden rule.

Body Weight = Calories in verses Calories out (What you eat versus what you do)

Basic Example Diet For A 200 Pound boxer:
6:00 AM:
8 oz of water with a creatine base (3 grams per 100 pounds of bodyweight)
30 minutes of cardio
6:30 AM:

8 oz of oatmeal
30 grams of protein supplement
A banana
8:00 AM:

8-10 precooked egg whites
1 fruit
10:00 AM:

Can of tuna
8 ounces of vegetables or brown rice
12:00 PM:

Salad
6-8 ounces of chicken
8 ounces skim milk
Aged balsamic vinegar
2:00 PM:

8 oz of chicken or tuna
Whole wheat bread
1 piece of fruit before practice
3:00 PM:

Workout
4:00 PM:

6-8 ounces of red meat (lean)
6-8 ounces of vegetables
Red skin potato
6:00-7:00 PM:

6-8 ounces of fish or chicken
6-8 ounces of vegetables
9:00 PM:

Protein powder
8 ounces skim milk
11:00 PM:

Bed
Do not leave your meals out of your schedule and hope to find a healthy meal choice at the local fast food chain. When the time comes the meal is there, just eat it and move on, don’t make a fuss about the whole thing.

Avoid excessive breads, foods loaded with sugar, anything with high fructose corn syrup, high sodium foods, and sweets. The fastest absorbed calorie is associated with alcohol, so avoid any alcohol. All recreational drugs will lower your natural testosterone levels – especially marijuana.

Trial and error result in answers that we can learn from and provide a great learning experience. It is important for you as the boxer to understand proper nutrition.

Diets must adapt to your specific athletic needs, and they must adapt to changes in the season, as well as your age. Failure to follow these guidelines will result in the ref raising the other guys arm at the end of the fight. Remember your opponent has the same access to information and they might just be motivated enough to follow it.

Basic nutrients and their calories per gram:

  • Protein contains 4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram
  • Fat contains 9 calories per gram

Other Resources

Strange but True: Drinking Too Much Water Can Kill

Water: How much should you drink every day?

Effect of hydration on exercise-induced growth hormone response

Risk Assessments of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs and Salmonella spp. in Egg Products

6 Signs of Biotin Deficiency

Tagged with: