For those that like a direct answer… YES.  ;)

Why as a Thai boxer should you be concerned with the carbohydrates you consume? Here’s another direct answer:

  1.  fat loss or gain
  2. energy crashes during training and fights
  3. fuelling for training sessions over an hour long
  4. refuelling for multiple training sessions in one day
  5. weight cutting for fights

Protein gets all the “airtime” (because there’s more money in it!), and although it is important to an extent, sorting out your carbohydrate consumption will dramatic improve your performance and body composition.

FAT LOSS OR GAIN

Carbohydrate is the body’s primary energy source, but any surplus calories will be stored as fat. All carbohydrate foods have a glycemic index (or GI value) which indicates how fast the sugars enter your bloodstream. High GI foods cause you blood-sugar levels to sky-rocket, forcing the release of insulin to bring it back down again. Insulin also causes surplus calories you’ve eaten to be stored as fat, or at least hold onto your stored body fat reserves rather than burning them for fuel. Not good news if you’re trying to lose fat.

Blood sugar, Food GI and Fat storage

ENERGY LEVELS

Also, when insulin is dumped into your bloodstream, it causes a rapid fall in blood-sugar, down past your resting level – this energy crash causes cravings for more high GI foods (to rapidly bring blood-sugar back up again). If you give in to the high GI cravings, this blood-sugar “see-sawing” continues, not only topping up fat reserves but also peaking and crashing your energy levels. Eating low and medium GI food stabilises your blood sugar and energy levels, and your body will freely burn body-fat in the absence of extreme insulin release.

CARB TIMING

The timing of your meals will also drastically effect your blood-sugar and energy levels throughout the day. Eat every 3-4 hours to keep things stable — going too long between meals causes blood-sugar to drop, only to spike when you eventually eat. So eat three main meals – breakfast, lunch and tea – and have a small snack between them too. Just distribute your daily calories evenly though out the day rather than starving all day and then pigging out in the evening. Eat little and often.

You should familiarise yourself with the GI values of different foods and understand that consuming some protein with every meal or snack will help slow the absorption of even high GI foods. High GI foods do have a place in an athletes diet, but ideally only after a good training session, to re-stock your glycogen (muscle carbohydrate) stores. The majority of the time, carbohydrates should be low to medium GI and account for about 55% of you daily calories typically, although this will vary from individual to individual and depend on how active you are each day.

You can learn more about this in my two (video) podcasts,  Keto For Fighters? and Carbs For Fighters.

FIGHT DAY CONSIDERATIONS

It’s especially important to consider the carbs in pre-fight meals, to avoid an energy crash in the ring. Despite what you may have heard, necking a RedBull before a fight really isn’t the best strategy. Don’t eat anything within an hour of your fight to ensure it’s properly digested. The meal should also be a tried and tested one that doesn’t upset your stomach – fight day is no time to experiment (try meals out before training and monitor how you feel). A meal with low to medium GI carbohydrate and a little protein is by far the best option. Too much protein will slow digestion and it can sit heavy in your stomach. My personal favourite pre-fight meal is whole-wheat pasta with tuna, sweetcorn an a little salad cream. It fuels you up nicely, is easily stored in a plastic container, and above all is within my limited cooking capability!

In my next post I explain how to fuel for long training sessions, optimise refuelling for multiple training sessions in one day, and then follow up with a look at the role of carbohydrates when cutting weight for a fight.



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  • Don Heatrick BSc. (Hons) Level 4 Strength & Conditioning Coach, Muay Thai Coach

    DON HEATRICK

    Don Heatrick, owner of Heatrick Strength & Conditioning, is a renowned Level 4 Strength and Conditioning coach, Muay Thai coach and former pro Thai boxer from the UK.

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