What to Eat
This is probably the most common subject of dieting. What should I eat as a boxer ?
The nutrients you need in large quantities are:
- water (essential, vital to living)
- carbs (for energy)
- protein (muscle growth & recovery)
- fats (vital to organs, secondary energy source)
Then comes nutrients you need in small quantities:
- vitamins & minerals (boost immune system, support cell growth, organ functions, healthy skin, strong bones)
- fiber (move food through digestive system, keeps your digestive system running smoothly–helps you eat less)
Basically, you need everything. Eating a wide variety of foods is key to proper functioning, growth, repair, and maintenance of your body. Deficiencies, excesses, and imbalances in diet will lead to reduced physical performance, illness, and many other negative impacts on health.
Now let’s review the different types of nutrients:
Water is the most vital substance in your body; you need water to live. Over 50% of your body weight is made up of water. From an athletic standpoint, you need water to replace fluids lost through sweating.
- transports oxygen & nutrients
- removes waste & toxins
- regulates body temperature
- facilitates digestion
- endless more important bodily functions.
- It’s no surprise that you will die sooner from dehydration than from starvation.
You must drink water all the time. There is no substitute for water, not even Powerade. I recommend serious boxers to drink 2-3 gallons of water per day, spread out into 1 cup every hour, starting with one right when you wake up and ending with one right before you go to bed. Anytime that I drank any less, I got tired faster or felt weak during intense training.
Keeping drinking water until your urine is clear or light yellow.
Hydrate long before your workouts. If you have a workout later in the day, it’s best to hydrate that morning. Drinking too much water during the workout may give you cramps or make you feel like throwing up when the training gets too intense.
Water also helps you lose weight. How? Your liver is the organ responsible for metabolizing fat. When your kidneys don’t get enough water to function, the liver is called in to help. So drinking enough water reserves the liver to break down as much fat as possible. This is why you must drink water EVEN WHILE YOU ARE SHEDDING WATER WEIGHT to make weight!
Carbohydrates provide your body with its most preferred form of energy. Without carbs, you won’t have energy and certainly won’t last long as a boxer. Consuming too many carbs, on the other hand, will increase your body fat.
Most things you eat that aren’t meat are carbs; grain, pasta, cereal, vegetables, fruits, anything with sugar, are all carbs. Starchy foods like breads and pasta will provide a high number of carbs whereas hard foods like vegetables and fruits provide a lower number of carbs. The focus is not on “high carb” or “low carb” but rather to focus on eating “good carbs” while avoiding “bad carbs.
So how do you tell good carbs from bad carbs?
The key difference between good carbs and bad carbs
is how they affect your blood sugar levels.
The Glycemic Index
The glycemic index is a chart ranking all carbohydrate foods according to their effect on our blood sugar levels. Simple carbs (bad carbs) are considered high glycemic carbs because they cause large fluctuations in blood glucose. Complex carbs (good carbs) are considered low glycemic carbs because they produce only small fluctuations in our blood glucose and insulin levels.
Good carbs = complex Carbs (Low GI),
Bad carbs = simple Carbs (High GI)
GOOD Carbs vs BAD Carbs
High GI carbs (bad carbs), are simple carbs like candy, that break down too quickly flooding your blood with too much sugar. The sugar high forces your body to regulate the blood sugar level by releasing high amounts of insulin into your blood. The insulin triggers the “food coma” effect, causing an energy crash and making you feel tired. (If you do go to sleep, your body will store the unused sugar as fat. This is why it’s bad to sleep after a big meal.) Unless you’re looking to quickly re-fuel your body for a short time, high GI carbs should always be avoided.
Regularly consuming too much carbs (sugar) at once increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes over the long run. If you do eat too much in one meal, walk around and exercise to use up that sugar before it affects your blood glucose or gets converted into fat.
Low GI carbs (good carbs), are complex carbs that take longer to breakdown thereby providing constant energy throughout the day. They keep you energized and reduce hunger without spiking your blood sugar levels.
Eating Low GI carbs (complex carbs):
- reduces hunger and keeps you fuller for longer
- helps you eat less to lose or maintain weight
- improve blood cholesterol levels
- prolong physical endurance
- reduce risk of diabetes and heart disease
Switching to a Low GI Diet
Follow the glycemic index chart and do your best to eat carb foods that rank low on the glycemic index. You don’t have to recount carbs or recalculate anything, just switch off high GI foods like Cornflakes for low GI equivalents like Mini Wheats. Try to get more of your carbs from fruits and vegetables. You don’t have to stop eating carbs, you just have to be more specific.
Protein is needed to build and repair muscles, cells, and tissues. From a boxer’s standpoint, protein deficiency can lead to fatigue and loss of muscle mass. The body can’t store protein so you need a little of it everyday (especially on workout days). Too much protein (over 30% of your caloric intake) will lead to dehydration and toxic build-up.
Proteins can be found in animal or plants (such as soy, nuts, seeds). Current dietary guidelines recommend a balanced protein diet of lean meats, seafood, and nuts.
Choosing Lean Meats
The right meats for protein are lean meats (meaning little or no fat). By industry definition, “lean meat” has less than 10 grams of total fat, less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol for every 3.5 ounces of meat. There is even “extra lean” meat which contains less than 5 grams total fat, less than 2 grams saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams cholesterol.
You can purchase lean meat or prepare lean meat by trimming off the visible fat. The way you prepare the meat also affects its fat content. Baking, broiling, roasting, and grilling are excellent low-fat cooking techniques that preserve the health benefits of lean meat. Frying and buttering is pretty bad, although tasty! Don’t forget that lean meat is dry meat so try to add some broth or prepare it in a way that retains moisture and flavor.
White Meat vs Red Meat
Eating white meat or red meat doesn’t matter,
as long as it’s “lean meat”.
Contrary to common belief, red meat can be just as healthy as white meat! If you’re just referring to the quality and quantity of the protein in the meat, white and red are equal. Once you take into account the health risks, people will prefer white meat over red meat. Red meat has been linked to many disease with the heart, cancer, etc, because of its high saturated fat content. This can be negated by eating LEAN red meat. Red meat is more beneficial than white meat in many ways because it has more vitamins and minerals your body needs. Sure, you consume more saturated fat with red meat but this is less an issue if you’re exercising.
Note: I’m aware that pork is white-color. From what I’ve researched, pork is being classified as “red meat” because it shares more in common with other red meat than white meat.
Every kind of meat (chicken, turkey, beef, pork) whether white or red has fat. What makes it lean is the part of the animal you eat and how you prepare it. Even chicken (white meat) can be high in fat. Whichever meat you decide, keep your portions moderate.
Many seafoods, such as white fish and shell fish will qualify as lean meat and also provide good essential fats. Some fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids which help protect your body against diseases. Be careful that you don’t eat fish that have too much mercury, which is known for interfering with the brain and nervous system, along with other serious health problems.
Yes, you NEED fats.
GOOD Fats vs BAD Fats
Not all fats are bad! Good fats serve your body’s essential needs; providing energy, building cells, facilitating vitamin absorption, among other important functions. And then there are bad fats that only clog your arteries, make you fat, and increase your risk to heart disease, cancer, etc. It’s not about how much fat you eat, but the type of fat you eat.
Let’s differentiate between the good fats and the bad fats:
- Good fats – (Poly-unsaturated & Mono-unsaturated) – found in olive oil, canola oil, cashews, almonds, etc nuts & seeds, fish & fish oil supplements
- Bad fats – (saturated fats) – found in animal fat
- VERY BAD fats – (trans fats) – usually found in processed foods, junk foods, fast foods
Don’t avoid all fats
Eating “fat-free” doesn’t guarantee you’re eating healthy. Many fat-free foods are high in sugar, bad carbs, or have too many calories. Fats help you feel full, so avoiding fat could make you over-eat and gain weight anyway. The key is eating more good fats and less bad fats. You can avoid animal fats by trimming any fat you see around the meat. Eat good fats from nuts like cashews and almonds (avoid peanuts). Cook with olive oil or canola oil (instead of coconut oil or butter).
You don’t have to run out and “eat” fats. You might have already consumed enough fats from your carb and protein diet. NOTE: unless it states clearly “POLY-unsaturated” or “Mono-unsaturated”, the fats listed on nutrition labels are usually the bad fats, not the good ones.
Vitamins and Minerals
Micronutrients (vitamins & minerals) are different from macronutrients (carbs, proteins, fat) because they are only necessary in tiny amounts. Nevertheless, micronutrients are still essential for good health. Vitamins and minerals are necessary for proper functioning in all parts of your body from bone growth to brain function to producing red blood cells.
Getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet is pretty easy. A balanced diet including nuts, whole grains, colorful fruits and vegetable will offer plenty of vitamins and minerals. The more colorful your diet, the better. You only need a little, but any deficiency would lead to serious health problems.
Fiber is a carbohydrate found in whole grains, nuts, wheat bran, vegetables, oats, citrus fruits, apples, barley, beans, etc. Humans can’t digest the fiber so it passes through the small intestine helping to keep the body healthy. Fiber is great for weight control because it slows down the movement of food through your intestines. This slows down your food absorption, keeping you full and allowing you to last longer with less food.
A supplement is a pill you take to remedy a deficiency in your diet. In this day and age, supplements are sold under the illusion that they give you some magical performance boost you could. As long as you are eating correctly, you will need little or no supplements at all. Eating whole and natural foods is the best way to go!
Improve your diet…not your supplements.
There are supplements I do recommend, like fish oil, omega 3, flaxseed oil, and other stuff that’s hard to find in regular food. A well balanced diet will cover just about everything else.
I don’t personally recommend vitamin pills, it’s usually an overload of too much at once and doesn’t make up for a well-balanced diet. I actually noticed more of a difference eating the necessary foods than just taking a pill. Research has shown that it is better to consume vitamins through food than through pills.
Protein bars, energy snacks, and sports drinks providing quick carbs or sodium (lost through sweat) can be beneficial for long workouts but aren’t necessary. An energy drink is definitely NOT OK!
What about performance booster supplements like creatine? Does the supplement claim to help you grow more muscle or perform at a higher level? Find out what the active ingredient is. Does your body already naturally create this chemical? If not, then why should you be adding something foreign to your body?
Creatine causes your body to retain water weight which makes you bigger and helps your performance because their is more water to transport nutrients throughout your body. From a boxer’s standpoint, creatine is already bad because it makes you bigger.
What if a supplement (like whey protein) claims to help you repair muscle? What if it claims to give you natural nutrients to increase your natural recovery processes? Again, I urge you to find out what this “natural ingredient” is. Are you already absorbing this “magical” ingredient through your diet? And if not, why is it that your normal diet not made up for this deficiency?
Whey protein is not needed at all if you’re eating the right foods in your normal diet. It is better to get your protein from foods because you also pick up the benefits of other vitamins and minerals that come in natural food. Either way, you’re not a bodybuilder so you don’t need THAT much protein.
Cookies? Chocolate cake? Alcohol? Soda? They’re bad because they’re loaded with sugar, bad fats, bad carbs, or toxic preservatives. If the food feels heavy in your stomach, takes long to digest, gives you a sugar high, or makes you drunk, it’s not good for you. Is it ever ok to cheat? Sure, it is. But how often and how much is up to you. Some fighters can eat chocolate everyday and still be on weight. Other fighters have to avoid it completely. It all comes down to how much your weight and performance means to you.
Ok, so you can’t stand a clean diet. You can’t live without ice cream, chocolate, Pringles, whatever. If you must know, I think one cheat meal for every 15 good meals is OK. (I don’t actually live by that, of course. I only cheat like once every 50 meals.) I know other diets allow you to have a cheat day every week but this is fighting. Your body is always busy performing or busy healing. An entire cheat day is probably too much if you want to be serious about boxing.
My first trainer use to have a rule: if he could tell you drank alcohol over the weekend, he wouldn’t train you for a week. If you’re serious about getting better, you’ll have to stay away from distractions and things that get in the way of peak performance. This is fighting, not arts & crafts. The punishment for showing up at less than your best, is physical damage. It’s up to you to prioritize what matters more to you, alcohol or training…and to stick to one. Can you drink once every week? I’m sure some people get away with it. Being talented is not permission to slack off. Pros and competing fighters NEVER drink alcohol during training. Unless you’re more talented than they are, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Some studies to show you the effects of alcohol on athletic performance:
Personally, I think it’s disrespectful to your trainer to drink when they tell you not to. My trainer gave me 100% in and out of the ring, and I feel it’s unfair to give him any less. You have every right to do whatever you want with your body, but do it on your own time and not on someone who really believes in you and trains you hoping you might one day turn pro and give him a 10% cut. (I didn’t booze whilst I competed)
Processed Food (the other kind of bad food)
Any food that is prepared, stored, or transformed into other forms for consumption or storage is considered processed food. Any food that has to be “made” in a factory is probably processed. Gummy bears, cheese, canned soup, instant noodles are all examples of processed food. Processed foods are made of raw foods that have undergone a manufacturing process to make it last longer or taste better. Most junk food, fast food, frozen foods also fall under the category of “processed food”. Anything with a nutrition label and doesn’t grow in the form in which you eat it, is probably a “processed food”.
Processed VS Whole Foods
Here’s are some examples:
- Apples – are whole natural foods, healthy and tastes good.
- Canned apple sauce – is processed food, possibly loaded with unhealthy preservatives to last longer and sugars to make it taste better.
- Home-made apple sauce – is natural and just as healthy as the apple itself (assuming you don’t add stuff to it).
- Canned apple sauce CLAIMING to be “natural” – tough call, now you have to read the nutrition label and see what’s in it. Is it full of sugars (flavor), sodium (preservative), or unnecessary carbs?
Processed food has long been connected to America’s growing health problems. Americans today have busier lifestyles and don’t have as much time to prepare natural foods. It’s more convenient to eat packaged food or fast food. Unfortunately, processed food can have harmful ingredients added to improve shelf life (sodium) or enhance flavor (sugar, MSG). There are also horror stories of other toxins being added to the food without your knowledge.
A dog raised on natural wild food lives longer, healthier, happier, has more energy and a more beautiful coat than a dog raised on man-made “dog food”. I would recommend the same natural foods approach for humans.
Not all processed foods are bad
Some processed foods have only undergone freezing, refrigeration, canning, or dehydration–which only results in decreased nutritional value and doesn’t harm your body. The processed foods you should avoid are the ones made with trans-fats, saturated fats, or large amounts of sodium and sugar. (EX: packaged chips, cookies, cakes, white flour breads and pasta, canned food or ramen with large amounts of sodium or fat).
Vegetarians and B12 Deficiency
Vegetarians need to watch for vitamin B12 deficiency. Strict vegetarian diets that avoid animal foods will lack vitamin B12 unless they eat certain fortified cereals or take pills. Vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy nerves and red blood cells. Deficiencies in vitamin B12 lead to weakness, depression, and other problems with your body. Fortunately, you can take pills for vitamin B12; and all your other essential nutrients can be found in plants.
Diet plans and Recipes
I’m not going to make diet plans because it takes too much time everyone’s diet will vary depending on their culture, religious beliefs, lifestyle, allergic reactions, etc. It doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you get the needed nutrients! I’ve never followed a diet plan and got along just fine without it. You can make up a diet plan yourself using the foods that you eat daily. You might have to add some things, remove some others, and make some substitutions along the way. From what I’ve seen, most people need to eat more fruits and vegetables while consuming less processed food, sugars, and fats.
Before you ask me “Is it ok if I eat ____ to get my carbs?”, do some research. See if there are other foods out there that offer cleaner carbs, or higher quality carbs, or come with other nutritional benefits. Look for alternatives that taste better, or take less time to prepare. Make sure your body gets enough healthy carbs and you’ll be fine.