Recently I shared a post on our facebook page of Joe Rogan’s podcast with Dr Andy Galpin discussing the keto diet, and I commented,
“As a combat athlete, your primary fuel source will always be carbs – nothing else releases energy fast enough!”
Now there are a ton of opinions on this! And I thought in my first dedicated podcast, I’d explain why, with my current level of understanding, I believe this…
THE REST OF THE VIDEO TRANSCRIPT…
As with all things, including athletic training, there are trends that come and go. And the trend usually starts for a good reason, but then can become hijacked, used inappropriately and often becomes misunderstood.
Keto and modified keto diets are low in carbs, high in fat and alter the balance of fuels available for energy production in your body, moving away from using mainly glucose (which is carbs) to mainly fat.
Now I’m not saying that keto diets aren’t useful and have no place in a fighter’s nutritional tool set. In fact, all fighters that’ve made weight for a day before weigh in, have certainly gone Keto. But if you overuse it you’ll change the way your body processes energy… and hamper your explosive performance.
Muay Thai is an Intermittent, aerobic, alactic sport. With some lactic tolerance. And the key here is the alactic part of Muay Thai – the explosive actions while we’re striking or defending against strikes, or the strength movements in the clinch.
We explode, then we recharge as we circle our opponent looking for the next opportunity to explode at them. And these alactic explosive attacking or defending movements need FAST energy. If you have to wait for the wrong energy supply, then your performance will suffer.
Energy supply is a chemical process, and the time it takes to convert stored energy into ATP for muscle contraction, depends on how many steps are needed to do this first. And carbs are just much closer to being ATP than most fats or even proteins.
To use one of my daft analogies, imagine you’re really hungry and you want food NOW!
a) pick a meal that’s frozen and that needs thawing out first before you cook it, then needs cooking before you can eat it? Or,
b) pick a meal that needs some preparation and cooking before you can eat it. Or,
c) choose some food you can just pick up either already prepared or you can eat raw and eat it straight away?
As fuel sources, for me, fat is like you frozen food store, for long term storage and slower supply. Protein is more like a meal that needs some prep and cooking first before you can eat it, and carbs are like preprepared or food you can eat right now.
When your body wants fast, explosive energy to either attack or defend in Muay Thai, it will just get it much quicker from carbs, there’s less lag.
Carbohydrate is also stored locally in each muscle as glycogen, to fuel that specific muscle. Glycogen can’t move from one muscle to another. Once a muscle’s glycogen store is empty (because you’ve used it up), active muscles use glucose from your blood for energy. And that lowers blood glucose levels meaning there’s less to supply your brain which makes you feel tired, affects your mood and messes with your concentration. All of that is not great for a fighter who’s performance demands high intensity repeated efforts for about 15-mins!
But if you’re doing endurance events over 90 mins or ultra-endurance over days, then going keto can train your body to use fat for fuel better, and your rate of work means you’ll need less glycogen in the mix too.
And it does seem your brain can use MCT oil or medium chain triglycerides – for fuel too. That’s just a funky name for fatty acids found in coconut and palm oils. But to be of use to the brain, these fatty acids need to be the type with 10 carbon chains, called C10.
There’s a great guy I’ve work with called Ian Couch, who’s taking this to the extreme in a booking.com sponsored, televised trek across Namibia in southwest Africa. The team of three will be hiking, jogging and running unaided, over a marathon each day, for 15 days straight. And speaking to Ian, he’s fed his body a keto diet in preparation for this, and his provisions he’s taking with him are very much keto too.
And this prep plan came about as a result of Ian’s organisation of teams rowing the Atlantic, where he noticed the teams using a keto diet finished in much better physical shape than those on a higher carb diet! That’s fascinating stuff!
But, all of that being said, for fighting athletes looking to burn super bright for about 15mins, a longer term keto diet will negatively affect your performance, not only in the fight, but in training too.
Because if you’re not able to build sufficient overload in your repeated power movements in training, you’re not progressing your body and making your body adapt efficiently.
Keto diets have a place for fighters in managing body composition and cutting weight for a fight in that last week, but only for short periods of time. For me, over using it is a floored approach. You just become a slower rate fat burning animal.
So that’s all we’ve time for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed our first dedicated podcast. If you’ve got any questions, suggestions, or just want to check out our library of free articles and videos, head over to heatrick.com, where I’d love to help you reach your Muay Thai goals. Catch you soon.
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Founder of Heatrick Strength and Conditioning
Don Heatrick is a family man from the UK, former mechanical design engineer, European Muay Thai silver medallist, former pro Thai boxer (ranked 4th in UK while aged 40-years), a Muay Thai coach, podcast host, and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.
Don helps ambitious fighters and coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai.
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Hi Don. Great pod. As I understand it the immediate explosive energy source is in fact from the ATP – PC energy source derived mainly from creatine, not carbs. You are right in saying that fighters need more fuel mainly from the glycoltic energy system so plenty of potatoes!!! How about if a fighter trained the ATP – PC energy system a lot more alongside the aerobic energy system. Short bursts of energy under 10 seconds intermittent with 30 seconds or longer circling around. As an ex boxer all carbs did for me was build a wheat belly. Great sources of creatine are from : herring, steak etc
Hi Cliff, glad you enjoyed the podcast.
Yes, the ATP-PC system does supply energy for explosive activities up to about 10-12 secs typically – until the store of ATP in the muscle is depleted. It the replenishment of this ATP store, using the oxidative system, that runs faster using carbs (glucose) rather than fatty acids.
Because fatty acids take more time to breakdown than glucose, more oxygen is needed for complete combustion. If efforts are intense and the cardiovascular system cannot supply oxygen quickly enough, carbohydrate must produce ATP.
The quality/types of the carbs you eat will make a massive difference to how your body feels. It’s certainly worth experimenting to see how your body runs best.
Training repeated sprints is a great way to train your body to efficiently explode and recover… not only from a neuromuscular perspective, but also from an energy system supply, storage, and replenishment perspective too. :)
Creatine monohydrate is a very useful supplement for fighters… just need to be careful leading up to weigh-ins due to the potential to carry a little extra water weight.