I recently was a coach at a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu summer camp and I held a nutrition 101 workshop which was aimed at people that train in grappling/MMA. I got lots of questions on plenty of subjects, but one that people seemed particularly interested in was how to eat on the day of a BJJ tournament. To that extent, I decided to cover the nutritional and hydration needs during a tournament in an article, hoping to spread the answer to others who might be having the same question.
Before I go any further into the tricky world of BJJ nutrition, let me make one thing abundantly clear. This is not a weight-cutting article! I understand that many people in Jiu Jitsu decide to cut weight for tournaments, and while the advice I am about to share is not supposed to interfere with the cut itself, it should be noted that it can affect your end weight, depending on a myriad of individual factors.
My personal advice is not to cut weight at all, but rather to use a smartly constructed diet in order to be at your goal weight at all times.
Fight Day Food Choices
What should you eat on the day of a BJJ tournament? The answer to this is pretty straightforward – exactly what you are usually eating. All it takes are slight adjustments to the portion size and types of food you use.
The day of a tournament is not your typical day. Your body is in stress mode from the moment you wake up, with the anticipation for the tournament building up. As the day progresses and the physical stress of grappling joins the mental stress, the body’s energy needs tend to rise significantly. At the same time, though, the body’s ability to digest food drops as a result of said stress, which makes fight-day nutrition pretty tricky to pull off.
The best advice I can give you is to stick to high-energy food that you are already used to eating. That said, you need to be mindful of food choices in terms of glycaemic index (GI) and digestibility.
Namely, pizza might be something you eat on a regular basis, but eating a couple of slices before a BJJ tournament is not a good idea. You’ll just end up with an undigested ball of goo in your gut, which the body can’t use for energy.
Sticking to low GI foods like oat and fruits is your best option for a tournament day breakfast. It will be easy to digest, it will provide energy, and won’t clog up our intestinal tract. If you’re not used to oats, fruits, and nuts will do the trick as your first meal of the day.
Moving forward, your BJJ nutrition choices will depend on timing, which is reliant on the tournament format and requires preparation on your part.
If you’ve ever been at a BJJ tournament, you know that even despite the organizers’ best efforts, they tend to be pretty chaotic events. Nobody can accurately predict whether a match is going to end by submission in a few seconds, or go all the way, which means the time of your first match is going to change constantly.
As a general rule, you will know whether you’re fighting in the morning, afternoon, or evening, which helps you time your BJJ nutrition. That said, your match can sometimes be moved so by a couple of hours or more, so you need to be certain that you have the energy to help you in that all-important first match.
The one variable you can control is breakfast. Since you know when the tournament starts, and when your scheduled match time is, try to wake up so that you time your breakfast at least an hour before the tournament begins. Food needs about 2-6 hours to clear the stomach and small intestine, which means that you’ll be having a steady supply of energy for fighting even if you are among the first matches of the day.
If you are scheduled to compete in an afternoon slot, the breakfast timing remains the same. Since in most BJJ tournament cases, you’ll be spending the entire day at the venue with your teammates, eating breakfast an hour before the competition starts is a constant.
Sticking to the digestion times and food choices, you should not eat another big meal (like breakfast) if you’re scheduled to compete in the afternoon. Keep your nutrition light and high-energy focused, relying on dry fruits, honey, and nuts at three-hour intervals. Make sure to keep snacks small, so that your body is not busy digesting food when you need it to perform on the mats.
In the case that you need to wait for the evening for your first match, you will need another big meal in addition to the breakfast. If you eat breakfast an hour before the tournament begins, your next meal should be a light snack, followed by a bigger meal similar to breakfast.
Given that your body is woken up and already spending energy at this point, you can eat a more substantial meal that also includes protein. Personally, I’d advise a combination of eggs and a grain (like rice) or potatoes, since they digest quickly, have a high degree of bioavailability of nutrients, and you’re most likely used to eating them anyway.
A protein smoothie will do the trick as well, as long as you make sure you include some fiber in it in the form of fruits and/or veggies.
Finally, in between matches, I’d recommend that you stick to liquid meals. In fact, this is where I’d use high GI stuff like honey, maple syrup, or a simple fruit juice in combination with a protein supplement and a dose of creatine. The supplements are, of course, optional.
Food Prep for a BJJ Tournament
As you can see, simply showing up at a BJ tournament venue with just your competition gear is not a smart move. In fact, you’ll need to make sure that you can get the ingredients you need for your fight-day meals at the location of the tournament. If not, you should plan on packing, or perhaps even cooking them beforehand.
Prepping your food for the day of the competition is just as important as prepping your Gi, belt, and mouthguard. Relying on eating something local that you see for the first time in your life for breakfast is a great way to introduce even more stress and shock to your system.
Hydration, especially on tournament day, is a topic for an entire article, if not an article series. A short summary would be to understand that you need to be very hydrated, given that most of the water you have in your body will be utilized during the first match.
A great rule of thumb to follow is to drink plain water until your urine is transparent. This means you’ll be adequately hydrated for your first match.
Once that match is over, you won’t have the time to replenish your liquids simply by way of water. Stuff like the smoothie I mentioned earlier, or even electrolyte solutions, are invaluable once you win the first match and keep going through the brackets.
Since grappling with a bellyful of liquids is very uncomfortable, you’ll need to pick a hydration source that will help you replenish a lot in a short time, without burdening your digestive tract.
The Post Tournament Meal
Whether you medal or not at a BJJ tournament is of no consequence when it comes to the post-tournament team meal. They tend to be celebratory events of over-indulgence, which can result in quite a pronounced gastric discomfort.
I’ve witnessed people getting very sick on the post-tournament meal, ending up in a hospital, and running their entire experience.
This is particularly true if you’ve also been cutting weight and dieting before the tournaments. The advice here is the same as with food choices – stick to stuff your body is used to. If you were avoiding sugar during the weeks leading to a tournament, do not eat a ton of ice cream and cookies immediately after your last match. Indulge and enjoy yourself, but stick to things your body is used to digesting.
BJJ nutrition on the day of a tournament is more important than what you eat leading up to the event. The wrong food choices can greatly diminish your performance on the mats. As long as you stick to foods you’re used to eating, time your meals and snacks carefully, make sure you prepare the food you need, and consume adequate amounts of liquids, you’ll give your body every chance of performing at the highest possible level.
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.