Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nutrition for BJJ'ers 101: Joint Health Supplements: Glucosamine and Chondroitin.

It should be noted that I am neither a doctor nor a nutritional expert. For professional advice one must go to the above. I am, however, a BJJ and combat sports practitioner with an interest in nutrition and anything else related that can help boost performance and recovery from injury and/or training so as to keep me on the mat well into my old age. I also try to take a conservative and skeptical view and do not believe in wasting one’s money on unnecessary products. I highly encourage and hope that others in the BJJ or combat sports community with similar training regimes may also contribute their knowledge and experience via comments or additional blog-posts.

Anyone who's done even a week of BJJ certainly knows the hell we can put our joints through in training. When the object of the game is 'submission', and the majority of these come through the near hyper-extension of the major joints of the body, joint health takes on a whole new meaning.

Some drug stores and nutritional centers contain near sections entirely devoted to joint-care products. Within these one can find bottles with everything ranging from the overly simplistic "Joint Health Formula", whatever that means, to the more specific, but often cryptic, scientific names that can make your head spin just trying to pronounce them. The two most commonly used, clinically tested, and promising substances are Glucosamine and Chondroiton, which are usually combined together with additional sulfur-type substance, such as MSM.

Glucosamine and chondroiton occur naturally in the body, that means your body can make them on their own. They play a major role in cartilage health, and are widely available in just about every shop selling vitamins and or other homeopathic health supplements.

Although they both occur naturally in the body, there are no dietary food sources for them, so the only way to theoretically increase their levels in your system is through taking supplements. The supplements are mostly made from the hard shells of shellfish, although those made from plant sources are also available but not nearly as common.

Glucosamine, and to a lesser extent Chondroiton, got attention as an alternative treatment for osteoarthritis. This is the type of arthritis that results from long term wear and tear on joints, usually the 'weight bearing' joints of the knee and hip. Tons of clinical trials were done but success wasn't 100%. So, in other words, taking the supplements helped take away the pain of arthritis in some, but not in others. The best results happened to people with the most severe symptoms, i.e. really, really bad joints, and those that were taking the supplements Glucosamine and Chondoiton together, as opposed to taking any of these in isolation. But, remember, it helped some but not all.

Now, unless you're like Kimbo Slice (those who watched the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show will know that he was diagnosed with arthritis in his knee), most BJJ'ers will not be suffering from arthritis. BUT, most of us have experienced some kind of major or minor joint injury that may or may not still be bothering us. These are the kind of people that may benefit from these supplements. Also, if you train BJJ or any other type of 'submission' oriented grappling, the extra wear you put on your joints will most likely put you at a higher risk for arthritis in the future. It should also be noted that as a preventative measure for delaying the onset of this painful condition, these supplements have also shown promise. But, as I cautioned before, this is not 100% certain yet.

After a brief scan through relative BJJ and MMA related online forums discussing the above supplements, many posters claimed to have noticed a significant relief in nagging joint injuries after taking these supplements. Injuries listed were constant popping of knees, cartilage damage, and just general joint soreness. But, once again, some posters said that they felt no difference.

Now, if you are interested in giving these a try, I will now move on to recommendations for dosage.

Firstly, purchase a combined Glucosamine/Chondroitin supplement. Although most contain an additional amount of sulfur added to the pills, your body gets sulfur from protein rich foods. So, if you are getting your recommended daily amount of protein, which is roughly 1 gram per pound of body weight or 2.2 grams per kilogram, then you should be getting plenty of sulfur naturally. It should also be added that the cartilage in your body is basically made of sulfur and Glucosamine and Chondroiton are tools in turning sulfur into cartilage.

The pills usually come in around 500mg doses. Most credible recommendations are for taking around 1500mg a day for at least 30-90 days. So that means one pill three times daily. Because there are basically no side effects related with these supplements, you can also take three pills together in the morning for one big dose, but stretching out the dosage over a full day is always preferable because it will be digested more efficiently. After this initial loading period, you can lower the dosage to around 1000mg a day or two pills. If you have any stomach or other digestive problems after taking the pills (which is very rare as far as I could find), take them with food.

Now, notice how I wrote that you must take the stuff for at least 30-90 days at first. This is not a wonder drug, or a steroid with immediate effects. It is a natural supplement that takes A LOT of time to build up to effective levels in your system. The absolute earliest I ever read about someone feeling better was after two weeks, but most people will not notice any difference until at least after a month. So, as I've written before, YOU MUST BE PATIENT! Natural supplements will not generally work overnight. So, once again, with all things BJJ related, the only key to true success and improvement is patience and perseverance. No one, and I do mean NO ONE, becomes good at BJJ overnight. And in turn, no one truly benefits from natural supplements either.

Lastly, unfortunately, glucosamine and chondroiton are not the cheapest supplements in the world. The cheapest I have been able to find a bottle of 180 or so 500mg pills in Hong Kong is for around HK$240. So, if you're on a tight budget and don't have any really painful joint injuries, you just might want to save your money. Also, taking these supplements has not helped everyone, so they are definitely not sure to work for all. Also, don't waste money on a product just because it contains sulfur. As I said before, we can get this naturally from food, and shouldn't need to take it in supplement form if we are eating a healthy balanced fighter-type diet like we all should be doing!

Good luck, stay healthy, and C U ON THE MATS!


  1. well thanks for the lovely post, i just wanted to know whether Glucosamine / Chondroitin Supplement won;t have any side effect. To be honest with you i m following LVN program

  2. Hi Satishsoli. Everything I've read said that during the clinical trials there were no real side effects found in the test subjects, i.e. the people taking it. I read a summary of one study in which they were giving overly high doses (beyond the recommended 1500mg a day but I'm not exactly how much) and no side effects were found. I know that some products warn against people taking the glucosamine derived from shellfish if you have a relevant allergy, BUT the source of shellfish allergies is from the meat, and glucosamine is derived from the shells. So this is probably just the lawyers playing it safe. Some people have reported some mild digestive discomfort but as far as I've read, this is very, very uncommon. But, once again, when in doubt, if possible, consult a certified health professional. Thanks again for your question and good luck in your program!

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  5. Thanks for the great article Kowloon. I've been thinking about injury prevention for fighters lately. It's so underrated. In my opinion, fighters can improve a lot faster if they focus on improving in some of these neglected traits:

    *Quick recovery
    *Tough skin
    *Resilience/Injury resistance – joint and ligament strength
    *Anti-anxiety/stress coping
    *The ability to either stick to a gameplan, or adapt that plan mid-fight
    *Pain endurance
    *Insulin sensitivity
    *Cold and Flu prevention

    I wrote about this a bit more here -

    I want to follow up with tips and tricks post and will definitely investigate the glucosamine/chondroitin connection further.


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