When it comes to performance for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, training often gets most of the attention. One area most athletes — especially novices — neglect is nutrition for BJJ.
Ideal nutrition for BJJ will provide athletes with a steady source of energy. A diet like the famous Gracie Diet also promotes longevity in sport and life. For proof, BJJ students and athletes can look at Rickson and Kron to see the results of the diet.
Now, there’s no need to go full-on pescatarian like Kron to reap the benefits of a sound diet. By sticking to the basics of nutrition and digestion, athletes can create their own ideal nutrition plan for both training and competitions.
Read on to learn more about what ideal nutrition for BJJ training and competition looks like.
The Truth about the “Ideal Diet” — It’s Individual
Like a GI, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the best method of eating for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. In truth, ideal nutrition is an individual matter that often requires some experimentation and trial-and-error. Arguably the best person who exemplifies this is Helio Gracie.
Helio Gracie was one of the pioneers of what many today call the Gracie Diet. However, he didn’t wake up one day and decide that a diet of watermelons and seafood was the best diet. His method of eating was the result of self-discovery — a process of discovering what triggered problems for him and what didn’t.
According to numerous sources, Helio Gracie had a sensitive digestive system. Whenever he partook of something that aggravated his digestive problems, he’d train poorly. He went back and forth with different diets until he was 27.
When he reached that age, he realized that meat was the cause of the digestive flare-ups, among other things. After some help from his older brother — Carlos Gracie Jr. — he began consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Over time, Helio’s diet became at least 50% plant-based.
Many credit Helio’s longevity and performance (he still fought and competed in his 40s!) to the diet. The Gracie Diet was the result of seeing what works and what doesn’t. Ultimately, this is the key to ideal nutrition in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and any other sport.
What Was So Special About the Gracie Diet?
Knowing what the Gracie Diet consists of can do two things. It gives athletes something to follow, and it’s an excellent foundation for any diet a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu athlete wants to create. After all, ideal nutrition is ultimately an individual matter.
The Gracie Diet consists of whole foods only. It sounds similar to a paleo diet. However, what distinguishes the Gracie Diet from the paleo Diet is the larger place fruits and vegetables occupy in the diet.
The Gracie Diet is approximately 50% to 60% fruits and vegetables. In the diet, there’s no red meat, and the only acceptable protein sources are nuts, grains, white meat like fish and chicken, and seafood.
Besides identifying foods that are healthy for consumption, the Gracie Diet also includes guidelines on combinations. For instance, acidic fruits like apples and citrus cannot be mixed with grains like rye. Also, acidic fruits like red apples can’t go with fatty fruits like avocados.
The Gracie Diet’s benefits are apparent in the grandmasters of the Gracie family. In addition to sharp skills on the mat, grandmasters like Carlos and Helio also enjoyed suppleness, low incidences of inflammation, and excellent digestion.
Should All BJJ Athletes Follow the Gracie Diet?
The answer to this is both yes and no. The diet is a whole foods diet, meaning that nobody can go wrong following it to improve BJJ performance. However, in reality, the diet may not be sustainable for everybody.
In addition to issues with sustainability is the possibility of missing out on certain macronutrients. Indeed, white meats like chicken and fish do contain protein. However, this doesn’t mean that everybody should cut out red meat altogether. After all, red meat is also a source of protein and calories — two things that are excellent for somebody looking to fill up his or her weight class.
In short, there are areas where athletes can fill the gaps. Here are some of our practical recommendations based on experience and the best parts of the Gracie Diet.
Choose Whole Foods
Jiu Jitsu is an energy-demanding sport. Athletes need to fuel themselves with food that will give a lasting energy boost without spikes and drops.
Sugary snacks like biscuits and energy bars may give quick surges of energy, but the energy drops quickly soon after. A better alternative would be unprocessed foods containing complex carbohydrates like grains, berries, and vegetables.
These whole foods don’t give quick surges of sugar but deliver stable energy while they’re in one’s system.
Simple Natural Carbs Before and After Training and Competition
One of the most noticeable characteristics of the Gracie Diet is that it’s easy on the digestive system. Part of the reason the Gracies wanted seamless digestion is that they trained multiple times nearly every day. This is why the Gracies rarely — if at all — ate red meat.
The last thing anyone who trains frequently wants is a bad stomach. Of course, not eating before training is an option — just not for everyone. Hence, for energy without sacrificing digestion, the best thing to consume before working out is a natural, simple carbohydrate source. For the Gracies, these are bananas, watermelon (Royce Gracie loved watermelon juice), and berries like acai and blueberries.
These are excellent sources of glucose to fuel training. These are also a must after training and competition to replenish lost muscle glycogen.
Eat for Better Gut Health — Cruciferous Vegetables and Fermented Foods
Digestion is important for the Gracies — as it should be for any athlete from any sport. There are two ways athletes can improve gut health — even without following the Gracie Diet to the letter.
The first is to make cruciferous vegetables a big part of the diet. Cruciferous vegetables provide the fiber that feeds gut bacteria, ensuring that the gut biome remains balanced. Cruciferous vegetables are:
The second way is to consume more fermented foods and beverages. Examples of fermented foods include sauerkraut and kimchi. Kombucha is a fermented beverage that promotes digestion and has many other health benefits like better immunity.
Consume Fats and Animal-based Protein Hours Before Training and Competition
Protein — red or white — can take a while to digest. It can take the stomach six hours to digest a steak. This is why it’s important to consume animal protein hours before training or competition.
Fat also takes a long time to digest. It isn’t a good source of quick energy before a BJJ class or competition.
Supplement With Protein and Caffeine Whenever Necessary
Supplementation can fill in the gaps in your nutrition, especially with protein. There are many protein powders available on the market, so finding one isn’t difficult these days.
There are also caffeine supplements available. However, the best caffeine supplement is a beverage people have been drinking for years — black coffee.
Eat for Better Performance on the Mats and in Life
The ideal diet can vary from one individual to the next. This can make experimentation lengthy and intimidating. Luckily, the grandmasters of Jiu-Jitsu have planted the seeds of thought when it comes to the best diet for BJJ and life.
Before Googling “Jiu-Jitsu near me,” take a look at your diet. Fixing it will yield great returns whether you’re in the academy or at a competition.
If you want some tips on how to eat and train for BJJ competition and training, shoot us a question. We’d be more than happy to answer.