Nutrition for Martial Artists

by Sang H. Kim


Contrary to popular belief, there is no magic supplement or diet that creates outstanding athletes. Athletes’ needs are very similar to those of nonathletes when it comes to nutrition. Athletes, like nonathletes, need daily supplies of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water. The major difference is that athletes, depending on their level of activity, require more of everything. Their bodies work harder during exercise, causing them to burn more calories and use up energy supplies faster.


What does it do?

Protein builds tissues, especially muscle tissue. Tissue growth is an ongoing process and requires a steady supply of protein. Storing up large amounts of protein in an effort to improve muscle development quickly is ineffective because protein in excess of fifteen to twenty percent of the diet is excreted as waste and protein has little immediate effect on muscle tissue. Eat a diet that provides a regular supply of protein for best results.

How much do you need?

Protein should make up ten to fifteen percent of your daily calories. Choose high protein foods carefully, because high protein often equals high fat.

Where does it come from?

There are two types of protein: animal protein and vegetable protein. Animal protein is found in foods like eggs, lean meat, milk and cheese. Vegetable protein is found in foods like wheat, rye, and green vegetables.


What do they do?

Fats provide energy to muscles during prolonged periods of exercise. Initially, the body relies on carbohydrates. As exercise intensifies or continues, especially beyond one hour, fats become increasingly important sources of energy. You should not, however, eat fatty foods just before exercising. Fats require three to five hours of digestion, which reduces the physical output capacity of the body and creates a general feeling of lethargy.

How much do you need?

Fats, preferably unsaturated, should make up twenty-five percent or less of total daily calories.

Where does it come from?

Foods that are high in fat include fish, butter, cream, bacon, sausage and fried foods.


What do they do?

The primary function of carbohydrates is to provide a continuous supply of energy to cells. They are readily available, as in the form of glucose, and are the first form of energy expended during activity.

How much do you need?

Carbohydrates should make up fifty to sixty percent of daily calories.

Where do they come from?

There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates have only one or two sugar molecules and are found in fresh fruit, soda, candy and cookies. With the exception of fresh fruit, it is best to avoid these sugary foods before exercise because high sugar foods lead to feelings of fatigue and heaviness. Complex carbohydrates have many sugar molecules and are found in vegetables, brown rice, whole grain breads, cereals, beans and dry nuts.

Vitamins and Minerals

What do they do?

Vitamins are used by cells in small amounts to perform metabolic functions. Minerals are chemicals necessary to promote activities like nerve tissue function and muscle contraction. There is little evidence to support claims that large doses of vitamins or minerals increase performance significantly.

How much do you need?

Vitamin and mineral requirements vary from person to person. You can obtain recommended levels for specific elements from your doctor.

Where do they come from?

A properly balanced diet provides all of the vitamins and minerals necessary for the average person. Supplements are not necessary unless a deficiency is evident. Supplements should only be taken under the supervised care of a medical professional because large doses of certain elements can be toxic or even fatal.


What does it do?

Water is used to transport nutrients and waste products in the body. It is also necessary for metabolism and temperature regulation. An inadequate supply of water, called dehydration, slows body function and severely impairs performance.

How much do you need?

The human body is fifty-five to sixty percent water and some of that water is lost through sweat during exercise. Drink plenty of fluids during and after exercise, at least eight glasses a day. Do not wait until you feel thirsty to begin replenishing fluids.

Where does it come from?

Water, in its natural state, is the best replacement for lost fluids. Sports drinks, while good post-activity refreshers, are not recommended during exercise. Sports drinks are high in glucose, a carbohydrate, and even small amounts of carbohydrates slow the transfer of fluids from the stomach to the intestine. Slow transfer means slow absorption into the body and less water available for the bodily functions critical to peak performance like waste removal and temperature control.


Adequate diet

An adequate diet comes from eating a variety of foods from the four food groups. The average daily caloric requirement for adults is twenty-seven hundred calories for men and twenty-one hundred calories for women. Athletes will require more calories depending on the intensity and frequency with which they exercise. When planning your training diet be sure to include the following every day:

Milk/milk products 2-3 servings

Meat/High protein 2-3 servings

Vegetables/Fruit 7-10 servings

Cereal/Grains 6-10 servings

Pre-exercise meal

Before an important event or strenuous practice, eat a light low-fat, low-sugar, low-protein, high carbohydrate meal and allow two to three hours for digestion.

Diet and endurance

The type of fuel necessary for muscular contraction depends on the intensity and duration of the activity in which you participate. During continuous, moderate activity, the energy for muscular contraction is provided mainly by the body’s fat and carbohydrate stores. If activity continues and glycogen stores in the liver are depleted, a greater percentage of energy is derived from the breakdown of fat.

Although low levels of glycogen lead to fatigue, the fatigue occurs only in the muscles that are active. Inactive muscles retain their glycogen supply. Drinking a solution of glucose in water, the common base of sports drinks, can prolong exercise for a short time, but energy production becomes severely limited.

Repeated periods of strenuous training can bring on fatigue due to the gradual depletion of the body’s carbohydrate stories, making exercise more and more difficult. After prolonged or strenuous exercise, allow at least forty-eight hours and ensure sufficient carbohydrate intake to restore glycogen in the muscles to pre-exercise levels.

Normal glycogen levels can be maintained by eating carbohydrates equal to fifty to sixty percent of daily calories. “Carbohydrate loading,” eating carbohydrates in larger amounts, is highly effective for athletes in endurance sports like marathoning. For the average athlete, including martial artists, it adds little to overall performance.

For the best in nutritional products visit

Leave a Reply

Top of Page  Privacy Policy  Terms of Use  Martial Arts Opinions  LIKE Our FaceBook Fan Page