Monday, December 14, 2009

Nutrition for BJJ'ers 101 - part 1

Researching What Really Works

Today, one cannot go to a gym and train without trying, or at the very least, hearing about nutritional supplements. Some people swear by them and see them as vital to peak performance, such as ex- UFC champ Sean Sherk, and some dismiss them as unnecessary replacements for what we should already be getting naturally from good food, Bas Rutten being one that comes to mind.

As with most things, the truth often lies somewhere in between. Nonetheless, regardless of stance, curiosity about the above most certainly exists in most if not all of us BJJ practitioners. I mean, who wouldn't want to be able to train harder by just taking an additional pill or powder. But with ridiculously long (and impossible to remember) scientific names like Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid for one, learning about supplements seems to be like space travel: once you've begun, there's no end in sight. So, this now begs the question, where do we begin? The answer: good research.

First and foremost, we must think about cost. One doesn't need to spend long in a nutritional supplement shop, such as the ubiquitous GNC, to quickly realize that one would have to take on an additional job or two just to start consuming all the latest pills and powders. In short, supplements are not cheap, so one must plan accordingly to get the most for one's money.

Secondly, do all these pills and such actually do what the manufacturer's labels claim they do? Er, well, no. Of course not. In short, most are arguably a complete waste of money. But, at the same time, others, such as whey protein, creatine, glutamine, glucosamine, etc., have a lot of real objective, scientific research to back them up. So we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss, i.e. throw out the baby with the bathwater. But, for those of us on a budget, ahem--like me, we need to take the time to do a little research, gathering information from (hopefully) neutral sources, so our limited funds are going to something that will really help us.

When researching, I try to avoid body building websites and other potentially supplement-industry-connected articles. A lot of what seem to be objective write-ups and advice columns on supplements, tend to actually be plugs for specific company products. A good example are those 'free' magazines given out at nutrition shops after a purchase. Yes, these are merely advertisements in disguise I'm afraid and only tell you about the "miracles" of a certain new substance. Remember what grandma used to say about if something sounds too good to be true, well, you get my point.

For reliable web sources, I've found sites such as the University of Maryland's free Alternative Medicine guide to be the most informative and trustworthy. They objectively look at the research and tell you, in a very straightforward manner, if the supplement manufacturer's claims are either 1. false and/or misleading 2. in need of further research (which means they're not sure yet) 3. is backed by sufficient evidence.

If it is a 1, then don't waste your money. That stuff will do you as much good as sacrificing a duck and praying to the moon whilst wearing a buffalo skull on your head. (No offense to any that practice the later.) If it's a 2, then there's a possibility the claims are real, but there's just not enough evidence to be certain -- thus you can try it but you may be wasting money. Lastly, if it's a 3, then it's worth giving the supplement a try. Now, one must be further cautioned that everyone's body is different genetically and in terms of the stresses and activities we've put it through in our lives. This means that people react differently to different things in their body: some good, some bad.

After you've decided what new products you want to try, next comes the hard part: taking them consistently. Natural supplements do not work overnight. Wish they did. But they don't. It can take your body months at times to build up enough stores of, let's say omega-3's, to really start reaping the benefits. Now, if you have a major deficiency of something, positive changes tend to come much quicker, but now we're back to the 'everybody's-body-is-different' rule again. So, in short, patience and persistence, as with all things in life, is the key to results with quality supplements as well.

As mentioned above, for a great website to start looking into the good, the bad, and the just-plain-lies of nutritional supplements, I suggest starting here:

This is a quality information site by one of the leading medical research hospitals in the U.S. Even though it is a medical center website, it is written in easy to read and straightforward language, and has information on all of the current supplements on the market. Make sure to click the "supplement" option under the "Complementary and Alternative Medicine Index", and away you go.

For purchasing supplements in the HK area, large chain stores such as Watsons, Mannings and GNC seem to have ridiculously high prices. Smaller, independently owned shops, such as tend to have much lower, and in many cases, very reasonable prices. Also, as we are in the mother-land of copy-goods, one must exercise caution in buying their protein powder from just anyone, wink, wink.

So eat right and train harder. C U ON THE MAT!



  1. I remember in the UFC all access dedicated to Sean Sherk, he was showing that he was taking something like 40 different supplements everyday!
    Some time later he was suspended for one year because of positive test to Nandrolone (a steroid)...

  2. Yeah, the Sean Sherk thing has been a big controversy. I've read that certain combinations of over-the-counter and thus "legal" supplements can cause some people to have unnaturally high levels of steroids in their blood, thus giving them a positive reading in a drug test. The fact of the matter is, is that one two people actually know what these guys are taking: them and their supplier.

  3. I am currently preparing a short article on whey protein supplements. Lots and lots of information out their so may take some time to simplify it all. And that's all these articles will be, simplifications of information for regular BJJ guys.