Between the impending feast that many of us are preparing for this week and the frightening pace that Frankie Edgar maintained in his deconstruction of Cub Swanson at UFC Fight Night 57, now seemed a good time to explore which carbohydrate foods provide the essential energy needed to sustain the rigors of MMA training.

After a brief explanation of carbohydrates, their various types, how the body processes them, and their significance to athletes in part one, we’ll list five foods that aspiring MMA competitors should consider incorporating into their diet plans in part two.

In a nutshell (pun intended), carbohydrates can be found in various foods including meats, grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. As a fuel source, carbs provide energy for working muscles and biological processes in the human body. These include powering our central nervous system, supporting fat metabolism, and replacing protein as energy in the body’s recovery from intense exercise. This allows proteins to resume their primary function as building blocks for the body’s muscles.

Once consumed, carbohydrates are digested and broken down into smaller elements of sugar including fructose and galactose, which enter the bloodstream through the intestines and are transported to the liver. Here, the sugars are all converted to glucose, which is recirculated via the bloodstream to various tissues and organs where it is used as energy to fuel our motion and concentration. In periods of inactivity, limited amounts of glucose – approximately 2000 calories – are also stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen.

In periods of excessive carbohydrate consumption – like Thanksgiving – the extreme production of glucose can outweigh the amount demanded for energy. When limited glycogen reserve space is full, the glucose starts to be stored as fat.

Throughout sustained activity, such as strength and conditioning, or sparring, glycogen stores are essential for helping the athlete maintain their performance; providing energy when the body needs it most.

The quality of their performance is subsequently dictated by the quality of the carbohydrate originally consumed, underlining the need for an optimized diet. For this reason, let us elaborate on the different types of carbohydrate.

One way carbohydrates are measured is through the glycemic index, the rate at which carbohydrates raise a person’s blood sugar and consequent insulin levels. Using this format, carbohydrates can be filtered into two categories, simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed into the blood stream to provide a rapid increase in blood glucose. They are considered high glycemic. The body responds with a fast release of insulin that to help carry these sugars into the cells for a quick burst of energy, which lasts for a short period of time. Simple carbohydrates include sucrose and lactose, which are found in common food items including fruit, juice, and milk.

Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest – because of their larger structure – creating a slow and steady rise in blood glucose and insulin levels that provides energy over a longer period of time. They are considered high glycemic, and a key component of any athlete’s diet. Also known as starch and fiber, complex carbohydrates are found in whole grains, bread, and pasta.

Starch is the most important complex carbohydrate among athletes, with the resulting glycogen providing optimal blood sugar levels for a consistent energy supply. Corn and peas are two other food sources of starch.

Fiber, the alternative complex carbohydrate, can be labeled as soluble or insoluble. Much like starch, soluble fiber – present in various fruits and vegetables including apples, carrots, and pears – can be broken down to create energy. Insoluble fiber cannot be digested and does not provide fuel for energy as a result. Instead, insoluble fiber promotes gut responsiveness and the sensation of feeling ‘full’, and is found in wholegrain bread, cereal, and rice.

With an impact on both general health and athletic performance, carbohydrate monitoring is essential to any long-term fitness program, especially in fight camps where competitors must consciously watch their weight.

Stay connected for part two, when we will observe the five specially chosen foods for clean carbohydrate energy.

About The Author

Aidan O'Connor
Staff Writer

A native of Maidstone, England, Aidan has been covering MMA in a news or feature capacity since 2010. In addition to writing for The MMA Corner, Aidan also runs the MMAmusing Twitter account and enjoys the sport as an avid enthusiast. A graduate in English and American Studies, he currently works in marketing and public relations.