The foods and nutrients that are going to help you take your performance to the next level.
Disclaimer: The advice and information included in this article are general in nature and should be used as a guide only. Ensure that you do appropriate research and seek medical assistance from a qualified practitioner before drastically modifying your diet.
What’s the best diet for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athletes?
Although there is no one-size-fits-all ‘best’ diet for athletes of any sport, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) does provide some unique challenges which can be addressed in part by the foods an athlete eats.
Research has shown that there is no ‘ideal’ diet for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu athletes, and nutrient and food timing requirements often vary from athlete to athlete. While many sports have specific percentages and splits of macronutrients that allow athletes to perform at their best (and BJJ is no different), an additional complicating factor that is unique to combat sports is the need to ‘make weight’ at the beginning of a tournament or competition.
The high intensity, faced-paced nature of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu matches as well as bouts that can last up to 10 minutes at the higher belt levels, mean that scheduling consumption of each of the macronutrients is vital to success in competition.
An effective macronutrient split in an athlete’s diet is vital to ensuring that said athlete has the physical strength, stamina, and power to compete with their opponent on the mat.
A macronutrient split to consider for a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athlete is approximately 60% of calories from carbohydrates, 15% from protein, and less than 30% from fat.
Table of contents
- A breakdown of macronutrients
- Best foods to eat as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athlete
- Example Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athlete nutrition plan
- How and what to eat before a BJJ training session
- Should beginners and elite athletes consume different diets?
- Eating a plant-based diet while training BJJ
- How to plan your diet for a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition
- What is the Gracie diet?
- Is the Gracie Diet a good plan to follow?
- About the author and fact checker
A breakdown of macronutrients
As the body’s preferred source of energy, carbohydrates can be broken down quickly into glucose to feed the muscles. Carbohydrates are responsible for the powerful bursts of energy needed to attack or defend against an opponent and can be stored in the muscles in the form of glycogen until they are needed in the bloodstream to provide energy.
A food’s Glycaemic Index (GI) refers to the rate at which it affects blood sugar levels, with low GI foods ensuring a slow and prolonged release of glucose into the bloodstream, and high GI foods causing a quick burst of energy that only lasts for a short period of time. Both low and high GI carbohydrates have a role to play in the diet of a BJJ athlete.
Per gram, fat has a higher yield of energy when compared to carbohydrates and protein, but the trade-off is that it is more difficult for the body to break down. This higher yield and slower breakdown make it a good source of energy during long periods of exercise, such as for BJJ athletes who may compete in many bouts per day in a tournament or competition.
It’s no secret that physical strength is an important component for a combat sport athlete, and protein is an important dietary addition as it is the predominant macronutrient used for muscle recovery during and after training and competition. Over time, there is a relationship between muscle growth and recovery, and protein intake.
Hydration is an element that is often sacrificed when trying to make a certain weight class, which can be detrimental in competition – dehydration negatively impacts performance. Experts advise minimizing dehydration before, during, and after competition, instead suggesting strategic timing of carbohydrate and fat intake leading up to weigh-ins and intense exercise.
Best foods to eat as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athlete
- Oats (or other wholegrain cereals): The low Glycaemic Index profile of oats ensures sustained energy release over a longer period of time, and their fiber content regulates digestion, minimizes bloating, and gives a feeling of fullness – factors that can be helpful in making weight.
- Avocado: Full of monounsaturated (‘healthy’) fats, avocados are extremely nutrient-dense, making them an excellent post-workout food when combined with a source of carbohydrates and protein.
- Fruit: fresh (or frozen) fruit is an excellent nutritious snack. Carbohydrates come from natural sugars, and the low calorie content ensures easy digestion making fruit suitable for an energy boost. Fruits such as bananas, dates, apples and pears are great options for sustained energy release without being difficult for the body to digest.
- Lean meats: Rich in protein whilst also being low in saturated fats, lean meats such as chicken and turkey (with the skin removed), beef and lamb are good options for muscle recovery.
- Eggs: An excellent source of both protein and fats, eggs are a good way to increase calories for a filling meal and can be cooked in a variety of ways.
- Salmon: An excellent source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and protein, salmon is a great way to consume healthy fats that benefit the body.
- Nuts and seeds: Nutrient dense, these foods contain unsaturated fats, fibre, protein, and micronutrients such as Vitamin E and magnesium. They are calorie-dense which is something to be mindful of in the case of athletes already meeting or exceeding their energy requirement. Examples can include chia seeds, walnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds.
- Supplements: although it is important to strive to meet as many energy and dietary needs through a whole food diet, supplements can come in handy. Supplements an athlete may consider include a high quality protein powder for muscle building and recovery, and caffeine before training or competition to temporarily increase strength, power and overall energy. Creatine is known to have a positive impact on the growth of lean muscles, leading to an increase in strength and power – however can also lead to water retention, raising overall body mass which must be considered by athletes attempting to reach a certain weight class in competition.
- Energy gels: specifically immediately before, or during shorts rests in competition, energy gels are classed as high-glycaemic index carbohydrates, meaning the energy release is quick and short-lasting, and useful for that extra boost for another bout on the mat.
Example Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athlete nutrition plan
Below is an example of a nutrition plan that may be recommended for a male athlete who is planning to train at an evening class.
|Breakfast||Omelette with mushrooms, bell peppers and cheddar cheese||Oats with greek yogurt and fruit||Bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese||Oats with greek yogurt and fruit||Omelette with mushrooms, bell peppers and cheddar cheese||French toast with berries and greek yogurt||Bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese|
|Snack||Almonds or other tree nuts||Sushi hand roll||Greek yogurt and fruit||Almonds or other tree nuts||Greek yogurt and fruit||Sushi hand roll||Greek yogurt and fruit|
|Lunch||Whole Grain pasta with beef bolognese sauce||Baked potato with cheese, onion and bell peppers||White rice, grilled chicken and roasted starchy vegetables||Sweet potato stuffed with black beans, rice and guacamole||Whole Grain pasta with beef bolognese sauce||Chicken and avocado tortilla wrap||White rice, grilled chicken and roasted starchy vegetables|
|Snack||Greek yogurt and fruit||Chocolate bar||Energy bar||Smoothie with oats and fruit||Yogurt and fruit||Small bag of potato crisps||Energy bar|
|Dinner||Steak with mashed potatoes and vegetables||Falafel wraps with hummus and vegetables||Vegetarian lasagna with zucchini, eggplant, onions and bell peppers||Oven baked salmon with fresh salad||Burrito bowl with choice of protein||Falafel wraps with hummus and vegetables||Shrimp stir-fry with vegetables and served with rice|
When planning a diet, there are a number of factors that need to be considered …the first being the caloric needs of an athlete. A 16 year old female beginning her BJJ training is going to have a very different energy requirement to a 28-year-old male, elite BJJ athlete.
Aside from this, the nutritional needs of an athlete are also important to keep in mind. For example, females in the general population and in elite sports tend to consume inadequate iron intakes – and have higher requirements than males so iron needs to be prioritized for a female athlete more than it does for a male.
Food preference is a really important factor to consider when planning a diet. Adherence to a specific diet or way of eating is increased when satisfaction is high, so asking a person to consume foods that they don’t enjoy is going to result in low compliance to said meal plan.
How and what to eat before a BJJ training session
The types of training an athlete engages in will influence their ideal diet leading up to the training session. In general, it is best to avoid eating large, heavy meals less than 3 hours before exercise – smaller portions of lighter, high glycaemic index foods can be eaten closer to training time.
It is important to allow the body to properly digest everything that is eaten prior to engaging in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu training, to get the best out of an athlete’s performance. This is because when engaging in intense exercise such as BJJ, blood flow is diverted away from the stomach and digestive system to the working muscles, causing undigested food in the stomach to feel uncomfortable at best and nauseating for some athletes.
Presuming a training session is at 6 pm in the evening, a main meal with a decent portion of low glycaemic index carbohydrates could be eaten around 2 pm.
Smaller snacks such as yogurt and fruit, boiled eggs, or energy bars can be eaten no later than 5 pm if the athlete is hungry or still needs to consume calories to meet their energy requirements.
These smaller, lighter foods are easier for the body to digest in a shorter amount of time, and can prove useful in giving that extra top-up of glycogen stores prior to expending energy.
Should beginners and elite athletes consume different diets?
The energy and nutrient requirements for a beginner Brazilian Jiu-jitsu competitor are going to differ slightly from that of an elite athlete. For a white-belt athlete bouts last a maximum of 5 minutes, which is substantially different from the 10-minute rounds endured by a black belt.
The macronutrient split specified above is suitable for practicing BJJ athletes of any level, however, beginners can benefit from a proportionally higher protein intake than is needed by elite athletes, as their bodies and muscles are adapting to new training and stressors.
Elite athletes are likely to have a higher overall caloric intake than beginners to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but of course, this varies athlete-to-athlete depending on body composition and other biological factors. At all levels, it is important to ensure that an athlete is adequately fuelling their body to meet their energy requirements.
Eating a plant-based diet while training BJJ
Studies have shown time and time again that it is possible for an athlete to meet their energy and nutrient requirements while following a plant-based diet.
Plant-based diets are known to be lower in calories, fat and protein and higher in carbohydrates, micronutrients and fiber, and many elite combat athletes achieve success in their sport with a carefully managed plant-based food intake.
One well-documented example is Nate Diaz – an American Mixed Martial Artist and athlete who for 18 years has consumed a predominantly plant-based diet which he credits for his success as an Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor.
In the context of highly successful elite athletes, it is important to acknowledge the significant role of personal chefs and dieticians in strategically planning and managing an athlete’s plant-based diet.
Adoption of a plant-based or predominantly plant-based diet should be preceded by appropriate research and access to nutritional information.
It is recommended that an athlete consults a dietician or sports nutritionist and keeps a close eye on their dietary intake to make sure that the nutrients often lacking in a plant-based diet – such as protein, fats and specific micronutrients such as Iron, Vitamin B12 and Zinc – are adequately consumed, either through a wide variety of foods or via supplementation.
How to plan your diet for a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition
Taking into consideration that many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitions are often in the format of lengthy tournaments, a diet plan needs to not only cater to pre and post-workout nutrition, but also for foods that provide sustenance in between bouts.
Athletes generally have higher energy requirements when compared to those who maintain a relatively sedentary lifestyle, but again, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy to determine ideal caloric intake.
Usual caloric intake equations, such as the Harris-Benedict Equation can establish an approximate goal for caloric intake, although they tend to be inaccurate for athletes who participate in over 1 hour of exercise per day.
Although energy requirements will vary from person to person (even between those who have the same body type and exercise for the same amount of time per day), the guide below gives an indication of ideal daily caloric intake for those who participate in over an hour of exercise per day.
- Females: 17-20cal/lb bodyweight
- Males: 19-23 cal/lb bodyweight
As already discussed, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source, and therefore it is ideal for an athlete to top up their muscle glycogen stores ahead of competing.
While intake to the extent of carbohydrate-loading is generally unnecessary and reserved for endurance activities, it is important for an athlete to ensure that their muscles have adequate glycogen stores to break down during exercise.
It is advised to increase carbohydrate consumption leading up to training and competitions, although by how much will depend on the intensity of activity. Generally speaking, between 4 grams and 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight should be consumed by a practicing combat-sport athlete.
Low Glycaemic Index, complex carbohydrates are one of the most effective nutrients to include in a pre-workout diet plan as they ensure a slow and sustained energy release over time, allowing for increased training durability. Low GI complex carbohydrates can be found in foods such as pasta (particularly wholegrain varieties), and grains like brown rice and in multigrain breads.
Fats also have a role to play in a balanced pre-competition diet. It is ideal to focus on unsaturated fats as opposed to processed saturated and trans fats, as they are most easily digested by the body, and therefore most readily available to provide energy in comparison.
Consuming fats that are easily digestible also ensures that all available energy can contribute to success on the mat instead of digesting your last meal. Examples of foods that contain unsaturated fats are nuts, seafood and avocado.
High Glycaemic Index carbohydrates have a role to play in providing energy in between sessions on the mat. They allow for a quick recovery of energy and the build-up of glycogen stores in preparation for the next bout. Gels, sports drinks, and other snacks of similar texture are popular choices during exercise, as they are easy to digest and don’t feel ‘heavy’ in the stomach.
As has already been established, protein is vital when it comes to recovery. Best consumed after exercise, muscle synthesis, and recovery are stimulated by adequate consumption of the essential amino acids.
Evidence has linked the consumption of fats with increased protein muscle synthesis, decreased muscle soreness, and reduced inflammation – all factors that enhance recovery post-exercise. For these reasons, it is seen as an ideal macronutrient to consume after intense exercise. The focus should be on unsaturated fats however saturated fats do have a place in a balanced diet and can be consumed in moderation. This might look like drinking a glass of cow’s milk after intense activity and before going to sleep, or consuming fattier cuts of meat such as lamb chops as a component of a post-workout meal.
Scheduling your eating
Leading up to competition, it is important to time nutrient consumption to ensure that performance is optimal during competition. A substantial pre-exercise meal ideally should not be consumed less than 3 hours before exercise to allow time for proper digestion.
Smaller portions of lighter foods such as yogurts, fruits, or cereals can be eaten within 2 hours of exercise and can be followed up with some light high GI foods less than an hour before training or competition, for a final top-up of glycogen stores.
In terms of post-exercise nutrition, evidence has alluded to a ‘golden hour’ of recovery which requires refueling to begin within 30-60 minutes after stopping exercise, for optimal glycogen replenishment.
Despite this, it is worth noting that food consumed after this window is still beneficial to recovery. Snacks and appetizers are suggested during this period as opposed to large meals, for easier digestion while blood is still flowing to muscles for recovery.
What is the Gracie diet?
Pioneered by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu artist Carlos Gracie, the Gracie diet puts the focus on food combining, rather than just which foods you choose. Put simply, it’s not what you eat – it’s what you eat it with.
The Gracie diet incorporates a wide range of foods sorted into different categories – protein and vegetables, sweet fruits, starches, acidic fruits, milk, and raw bananas – and uses rules about combining the categories to create day-to-day meals based on the chemical reactions that each meal generates in the digestive system.
The goal of the diet is to keep blood acidity levels neutral, with the intention of benefiting the process of digestion and preventing illness and disease. It excludes the typical sugar-filled and processed foods that we think of as ‘junk food’, instead relying on natural sugars in fruits to satisfy sweet tooth cravings.
The Gracie diet advocates for approximately 5 hour intervals between meals, allowing complete digestion of one meal before consumption of the next – preventing the combination of foods that are incompatible with one another in the stomach.
Is the Gracie Diet a good plan to follow?
When considering the Gracie diet, it is important to keep in mind that Carlos Gracie was not a doctor and all of his conclusions came from his own research, using information gathered from health professionals and nutritionists. A lot of the success of the Gracie diet is purely anecdotal and the diet has very little scientific evidence to back it’s claims of prolonging good health.
The diet can be overly complicated, and studies have linked overly rigid food rules with the development of unhealthy eating patterns and eating disorder symptoms, so it is important to ensure that sticking to such a diet doesn’t cause unhealthy food relationships.
This being said, so long as an athlete is meeting their energy needs by consuming enough calories, and sticking to an ideal macronutrient split, following a food combining diet such as the Gracie diet is unlikely to do lasting harm in terms of physical health.
To wrap up…
There is no ‘perfect’ diet for athletes of any sport – and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is no exception. Nutritional requirements vary between athletes based on factors such as activity levels and biological factors such as body composition.
Athletes at any level need to ensure that they are consuming enough energy to perform at their best, and adequate hydration plus scheduling food intake around training and competition can ensure that every athlete is ready to succeed each and every time they step on the mat.
About the author
Rachel Lecnik is an Australian Nutritionist residing in British Columbia, Canada. During her Bachelor’s degree, Rachel spent time creating content for health promotion companies and as a writer, she focuses on providing nutrition education backed by evidence-based science and aims to share knowledge that is inclusive of people of any culture, age, and size.
Fact-checked by Brenda Peralta
Brenda Peralta is a registered dietitian with more than five years of experience. She’s a health coach, sport nutritionist, ISAK 1 certificate, and diabetes educator.