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Nutrition for Boxing

July 20, 2006 Print This ArticleShare

Author: Trainer-X

1. Overview
2. Daily Nutritional Needs
3. The Training Diet
4. Muscle Mass Gaining Training Diet
5. Nutritional Guidelines
6. Making Weight
7. The Weigh-In
8. Pre-Competition Meal
9. Recovery Meal
10. Hydration and Electrolyte Balance
11. Alcohol
12. References


Boxing and mixed martial arts both professional and amateur, are sports that demands energy from the explosive energy systems. Rounds can last from 3, three-minute rounds for the amateur to 15 rounds for the professional. Some tournaments require competing daily, however, this is rare. Requires a high-level of strength endurance to continuously replicate powerful punches, quick jabs, speed, flexibility and agility.

In order to build up to an elite level of strength-endurance, your training and boxing workouts must be very intense. However, boxers have the challenge of meeting a high energy demand while staying relatively close to their competitive weight. Sometimes boxers will resort to crash dieting and dehydration leading up to a match for the weigh-in. Without proper re-hydration and refueling (between the weigh-in and match), crash dieting and dehydration can result in a decrease in performance. The less weight a boxer needs to lose, the less this will be an issue.

Therefore, nutrient-rich, low-fat foods are necessary for optimal performance. A boxer should try to create an environment within their body that allows energy to be quickly available to support intense training, and to perform at a higher level upon the next training session.

Daily Nutritional Needs

Boxers require a daily moderate- to high-carbohydrate (CHO) diet to maintain stamina, replenish lost glycogen stores, and fuel the ATP/CP system (i.e. the “power systems”) during practice, competition and weight training.

For athletes, the American and Canadian Dietetics Associations recommend 55 to 58 percent of calories be CHO, 12 to15 percent protein and 25 to 30 percent fat. 1 These are the same requirements for sedentary individuals. However, there has been a growing body of evidence that protein and fat requirements may need to be altered for active individuals, especially when 15% of the diet is protein.2, 9, 10 In order to avoid muscle loss, the protein and fat requirements have been slightly altered here for the recommended training diet as described below.

The Training Diet

In-Season and Pre-Season
During your season, your training diet should be comprised of 45 to 55 percent CHO, 30 to 40 percent protein and 15 percent fat. The goal of the training diet is to provide adequate energy for recovery and tissue repair quickly and efficiently – without adding body fat – thus maintaining a high strength:power:weight ratio.

Here is how to calculate your proper food ratios:
For simplicity, if you ate 2,000 calories a day, 55 percent of that is 1,100 calories from CHO, which is equal to 275 grams of carbohydrates (there are four calories of CHO per gram; thus, 1100/4 = 275 g of carbohydrates). For some it is easier to keep track of grams than calories.

Some research suggests that protein should be 1.6-1.8 g/kg bodyweight (bodyweight in kg = bodyweight in pounds / 2.2 kg) per day (9) or as high as 2g/kg bodyweight per day in athletes (10). The Recommended Daily Allowance of 0.8 g/kg bodyweight per day protein is based on what is healthy for the average sedentary individual, which is not necessarily enough for athletes.

The additional protein is crucial not only for muscle repair, but also as an additional energy source. During times of fatigue, intense training and overtraining, the body may start using its own muscle as an energy source. Because it is so difficult to build and maintain muscle, athletes should be careful not to lose it.

Keep fat intake to about 15-20 percent of your total calories, depending on which part of the Season you are in and what your body composition goals are. Fats should consist primarily of essential and monounsaturated fats. Essential fatty acids are a type of fat that the body cannot create from fish and walnuts. Monounsaturated fats, which are fats with one binding site, can come from olive or canola oils, seeds and/or avocadoes.

For someone consuming 2,000 calories a day, the fat intake should be about 400 calories. This is equal to about 44 to 67 grams (each fat gram contains nine calories).

You may be tempted to ingest as little fat as possible, however, this is also unhealthy. Keeping your fat intake to less than 15 percent may have a harmful effect by inhibiting absorption of those vitamins that dissolve in fat, and it has no effect on improving your body fat percentage.

Off Season
During the Off-Season, boxers should strive to either add muscle and/or improve their weaknesses. It is common to gain body fat during the off-season then want to drop it quickly once pre-season begins. Some resort to crash or fad diets, which typically result in a loss of strength and muscle mass rather than body fat. The best strategy is to have a year-round eating strategy that includes weight management that ensures the boxer does not get outside 10% of his competitive boxing weight.

Boxers hoping to acquire lean muscle mass should also pay close attention to caloric intake. Their diet should consist of 60 percent CHO, 20 percent protein and 20 percent fat.

Muscle Mass Gaining Training Diet

The recommendations of this Training Diet may be controversial because methods of muscle-building depend upon body type, sex, age and current training status. You may have to vary the portions of the recommendations that suit you the best. In order for this diet to be effective, one must be involved in a weight-training program.

According to the research, each of the following should be practiced before, during and after training:

• Try consuming 20g whey protein 30-40g carbohydrates 30 to 40 minutes prior to exercise.

• Sip a CHO-containing drink (i.e. Cytomax) or a CHO-protein drink (i.e. Accelerade or Rapid Recovery) during weight training.

• Immediately after, consume a CHO-protein shake with at least 20g whey-casein combo and 60g CHO or drink 20 oz. of skim milk or fat free chocolate milk.

• Eat a whole food meal with the above ratios one hour later.

• Eat an additional 300-500 calories more than your weight-maintenance level.

• Increase protein to 1.5-2g/kg bodyweight.

Nutritional Guidelines

The following are daily guidelines of eating. If you follow these, you will be eating in a healthy manner that will fortify you for living and as a boxer. Following this section are more detailed sections describing how your eating should vary from Pre-Season, In-Season and the Off-Season. These strategies should fortify you and ensure optimal performance. Our recommendations are speculative, but based on scientific evidence.

• Eat nutrient dense foods. Keep junk food and processed food at a minimum. These contain calories that the body does not use optimally because of their low vitamin and mineral, and fiber content. Fresh is best.

• Eat approximately every 3-4 hours to maintain insulin levels and aid in physical and neural recovery.

• Eat complex carbohydrates (starches) at a ratio of 5–7 g/kg bodyweight (2.5-3.5 g/lb bodyweight).1 For example, a 70 kg (154 lb) male needs 350 – 420 g of carbohydrates per day.

Starchy foods such as pasta, wheat bread, whole grain cereals, brown rice, potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, and vegetables provide a major energy source to fuel your activities. These foods are also a source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients – the health protective substances in plant foods.

• Choose protein sources at a ratio of 1.2–1.6 g/kg bodyweight (0.54-0.86 g/lb bodyweight) from turkey, chicken, eggs, fish (although cold water fish have higher fat content, these are much needed healthy fats), lean cuts of beef, tofu, low fat cottage cheese. 1

• Choose healthy fat sources such as nuts, avocadoes and cold-water fish. Eat 40-80g of fat per day. If you do not get enough of these, take an essential fatty acid supplement or fish oil supplement (1-2 tablespoons/day).

• Drink water or a sports drink to maintain hydration while training. Try to avoid water-like substances such as Kool-Aid, sodas, juice or lemonade. Although these may contain water and some carbohydrates, they also contain a greater amount of the wrong type of carbohydrate source (table sugar and/or fructose), which can ultimately lead to gastrointestinal (GI) distress (i.e. diarrhea) and decreased performance.

• Eat a diet that consists of a wide variety of foods by keeping in mind the basic food groups – this is the best insurance for getting needed nutrients.

• Consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day among the foods that you eat. High fiber foods include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and cereals. Read labels and be aware of fiber content in everything you eat.

• Avoid high-fructose corn syrup and excessive table sugar, even when trying to gain weight. These include candy, juices, desserts, baked goods, etc.

• Use meal replacement shakes, fruit smoothies or bars whenever necessary. Always keep bars available such as in a book bag, purse, glove compartment, locker, or wherever poor nutrition might be the alternative. Try an assortment of brands to see which you like.

• Take a multi-vitamin or mineral supplement from a reputable brand.

• Before going to bed, eat a light snack such as peanut butter on whole-wheat bread and a glass of skim milk.

Making Weight

Like many athletes who compete in weight categories, boxers focus on maintaining a low body fat percentage and achieving weight loss before competition to qualify for a lower weight category. There is evidence that severe food restriction is detrimental to performance and overall health.

Diets low in carbohydrates have increased in popularity because of effectiveness in achieving low body fat levels, but athletes should beware. Energy restriction has been shown to impair immunity, decrease performance and increase fatigue, tension, anger, and confusion in other fighting sports such as martial artists.1,2,3,4,5,6

This energy restriction before a competition is commonly followed up with binge eating. This cycling can lead to swings in weight and body fat levels, as well as failure to achieve nutritional needs in the long term.

Fighters in higher weight classes are typically heavier and stronger. It is advantageous for competitors to compete at the upper level of weight categories. This is common knowledge for boxers.

In general, athletes should remain within two to three kilograms (2.2 pounds) of the upper limit weight class for a weight category. In this way, “making weight” will be more practical and manageable without having to rely on extreme measures for weight loss.

The Weigh-In

The Australian Institute of Sport has an interesting tactic for making weight that involves eating “low residue foods”:

In the two to three days prior to competition, athletes should avoid excessive salt intake to avoid fluid retention. Adopting a low residue diet for the last 24 hours before competing will help to reduce weight further because it empties the gut of undigested food and fiber.

Low Residue Foods
• Low-fiber cereal (corn flakes, rice bubbles)
• White bread
• Jam, honey
• Juice, low-fat milk, sports drink
• Tinned fruit
• Jelly
• Clear soup (e.g. chicken broth)
• White pasta
• White rice
• Tomato based pasta sauce
• Liquid meal (Meal Replacement Shake)

Depending on size and diet, the average person carries about 0.5 to 1kg of such material in the stomach during the day. Fasting will allow this food to be processed and eliminated, and cause a 'technical' weight loss. However, it will also prevent the athlete from fueling up before the event. A low-residue diet composed of nutritious foods with minimal fiber or waste product will provide nutritional goals while being “light” to eat.

Some boxers may use extensive dehydration to lower body weight prior to competition. Excessive dehydration can adversely affect performance and increase the risk of heat stress. The effect of dehydration on a boxer’s performance will depend on the fitness level of the athlete and how frequently he/she has experienced dehydration while training.

It is smarter for competitors to manipulate food intake, then passively dehydrate the day before competition. Passive dehydration involves limiting fluid intake while undertaking normal daily activities. Use of saunas and sweat suits should not be necessary if you have planned well.

Pre-Competition Meal

The primary purpose of the pre-competition meal (i.e. sparing or the actual match) is to delay fatigue. Just how much you will feel fatigue depends on your conditioning and the length of the match primarily, however, it can be delayed with the proper pre-match meal. Some times the difference between winning and losing a match is in how well you can finish when your opponent is tired and vulnerable – the difference between victory or defeat.

There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for the pre-match meal. Different people react differently to the same foods. Try to find food that won’t cause “nervous diarrhea” and will help to maintain focus and endurance. A few guidelines:

• Eat low-glycemic foods, such as whole grain cereals, certain fruits, sandwiches made with whole wheat bread, etc., approximately two to three hours before a competition. The closer to your match, the smaller the meal. This will help sustain blood-sugar levels. • Keep protein and fat intakes low because they slow digestion.

• Avoid bulky foods, like raw fruits and vegetables, dry beans, peas and popcorn, which can stimulate bowel movements.

• Avoid gas-forming foods such as vegetables from the cabbage family and cooked dry beans.

• Drink 400 to 600 mL (14 to 22 oz) of fluid two to three hours before exercise depending on tolerance.1

• Do not try new foods just before a match. Eat foods familiar with your digestive system.

• Some athletes prefer to use their favorite foods, which may give them a psychological edge.

Recovery Meal

Depending on the intensity of training and/or length of the match, consume 0.75 to 1.5 g/kg bodyweight of CHO-rich, low fiber foods and beverages within 45 minutes or as soon as possible after a game and again every two hours for four to six hours to replace glycogen stores.1 This may be difficult when traveling, but failing to do so will encourage under-recovery and potential muscle wasting.

There is a growing body of evidence that after physical activity or exercise lasting longer than an hour, the body best restores lost glycogen when carbohydrates and protein are consumed together in a ratio of 4:1 (6) or 3:1 (7,8), rather than simply consuming carbohydrates alone. Furthermore, the combination of CHO and protein has the added benefit of stimulating amino acid transport, protein synthesis and muscle tissue repair, all of which will further speed recovery and re-energize you for your next competition.

Products such as Endurox R4 by Endurox, Countdown by Pacific Health Labs and Recoverite by Hammer Gel will provide both nutrients; these are optimal. When in a bind another option is drinking 20 oz. of low-fat chocolate milk post-exercise.

It is better to consume the Recovery Meal as a liquid in order to facilitate recovery faster, and follow with a variety of whole-foods between two and four hours later.

Return to the normal Training Diet at the next meal.

DO NOT FORGET the post-game meal! It does make the difference between getting results and recovering quickly or losing out on some training gains and not recovering. Those 45 minutes post-exercise/training are very critical.

Hydration and Electrolyte Balance

There has been an increase in public knowledge of danger of “cutting” weight via dehydration. Some deaths of several sports athletes unfortunately appeared to be needed in order to show the world the dangers of heavy fluid and electrolyte losses, but still many athletes, especially boxers, are routinely wearing sweat gear during their workouts in order to increase their fluid losses.

Boxers should be routinely drinking CHO-electrolyte drinks (such as Cytomax, Accelerade, G2HO, or Rapid Recovery) during their workouts as well as water in order to minimize water and electrolyte losses. Every muscle contraction needs water and electrolytes (this includes your heart beat). This will not only help them create peak performance during their workout, but also afterwards by aiding in their recovery.

Boxers should routinely weigh themselves before and after training to gauge how much weight they have lost during a session. Any weight loss recorded on the scales is simply a reflection of fluid they have failed to replace. In order to rehydrate before the next training session, athletes need to drink one and a half times the amount they have lost.


The temptation of binge drinking may come more after a ride for a celebration of victory or a gathering to ease the pain of defeat. A sensible amount will not hinder performance or health. In general, this means one drink for women and two for men.

But alcohol intake can interfere with the game and post-exercise recovery. 3,4,5

Get a post-exercise meal and fluids in first before drinking any alcohol. This way, less alcohol will have a tendency to be absorbed into the bloodstream and pass into the small intestine with the rest of the food.

Avoid any alcohol 24 hours post-exercise if you have any soft tissue injuries or bruises. Alcohol and injuries are a bad combination, and it may actually increase swelling, bleeding and delay recovery.3,4,5


1. Nutrition and athletic performance – Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine. J Am Diet Assoc.;100:1543-1556, 2000.

2. Kraemer, W.J., J.S. Volek, K.L. Clark, S.E. Gordon, T. Incledon, S.M. Puhl, N.T. Triplett-McBride, J.M. McBride, M. Putukian, W.J. Sebastianelli. Physiological adaptations to a weight-loss dietary regimen and exercise programs in women. Journal of Applied Physiology, 83, 270-279, 1997.

3. El-Sayed, M.S. Effects of alcohol ingestion post-exercise on platelet aggregation. Thromb Res. Jan 15;105(2):147-51. 2002.

4. Peters, T.J., S. Nikolovski, G. K. Raja, T. N. Palmer, P. A. Fournier. Ethanol acutely impairs glycogen repletion in skeletal muscle following high intensity short duration exercise in the rat. Addict Biol.;1(3):289-95. 1996.

5. Burke, L. M., G.R. Collier, E. M. Broad, P.G. Davis, D.T. Martin, A. J. Sanigorski, M. Hargreaves. Effect of alcohol intake on muscle glycogen storage after prolonged exercise. J Appl Physiol. Sep;95(3):983-90. 2003.

6. Williams, M. B., P.B. Raven, D. L. Fogt, J. L. Ivy. Effects of recovery beverages on glycogen restoration and endurance exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res. Feb;17(1):12-9. 2003.

7. Zawadzki KM, Yaspelkis BB 3rd, Ivy JL. Carbohydrate-protein complex increases the rate of muscle glycogen storage after exercise. J Appl Physiol. May;72(5):1854-9. 1992.

8. Ivy, J. L., H. W. Goforth, Jr., B. M. Damon, T. R. McCauley, E. C. Parsons, T. B. Price. Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. J Appl Physiol. Oct;93(4):1337-44. 2002.

9. Lemon, P.W. Beyond the zone: protein needs of active individuals. J Am Coll Nutr. Oct;19(5 Suppl):513S-521S, 2000.

10. Tipton, K. D., R. R. Wolfe. Protein and amino acids for athletes. J Sports Sci. Jan;22(1):65-79. 2004.

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