Figuring out how to set up your diet is difficult, with all the diet options out there claiming to be the best for you. What is best for you is a diet that works and helps fuel your lifestyle as a BJJ practitioner without feeling like a chore or having you eat tasteless food.
One question that gets much deliberation without a clear answer is whether grapplers need carbs. Let’s put it to rest once and for all.
Everyone has an opinion about carbs. Opinions are good, but when they are based on a 3-minute-long YouTube video or a quote from a “fitness lifestyle” blog just because it sounds good, they are as useless as torturing yourself with a no-carb diet is.
Carbohydrates (carbs, for short) are one of three macronutrients your body cannot function without.
Carbs, as a category, include sugars of all types, starch, and cellulose (fiber).
The main role of carbs is to provide the living organism with the energy required for essential life functions. They are involved in immunity, are building blocks of certain hormones, help blood clotting, play a role in reproduction, etc.
Some of the organs in our bodies, like the brain, can only function when they receive carbs (in the case of the brain, a sugar molecule known as glucose).
So, even during “keto” diets, when the organism is deprived of carbs, the end product that the body delivers to the brain is still glucose, only it has to go a long way around and derive it from different sources, straining itself in the process.
The way we introduce carbohydrates to our bodies is via food. Not all forms of carbohydrates are readily available for use or benefit our organisms.
One division of crabs is as simple and complex carbs. Simple ones include different forms of sugar(s), and complex ones are mostly in the form of starch and cellulose. The latter is more beneficial for the body.
Can You Be A Succesful BJJ Practitioner Without Carbs?
The short answer is yes, you could function as a BJJ practitioner at a high level without carbs. A much more important question is why would you want to deprive your organism of carbs, especially when training something as demanding as Jiu Jitsu?
When ingested, carbs are transformed into glucose, a form that the cells in the body can immediately use for energy. All the excess carbohydrates we ingest and don’t immediately need get stored in the form of glycogen in the muscles and the liver.
It makes as much sense as going for the back from close guard by transitioning to 50/50 and doing a Berimbolo, when the opponent has gifted you an arm drag. Why would you choose the more difficult and potentially risky way?
The bottom line is that carbs help you perform better at BJJ, and eating them will neither make you fat nor diabetic, nor will it affect you negatively in any way.
Processed Sugar vs. Carbs
It is important to understand that there are many different forms of carbohydrates. You want to use carb sources that contain minimally processed carbohydrates, just like you’d eat lean meat over sausages and avocados over margarine.
The same goes for sugar. As a BJJ practitioner, you want complex carbs to make up most of your carb sources (oatmeal, full grains, root vegetables, fresh fruit, etc.)
These take a longer time to digest and release energy slowly and over an extended period, not spiking your insulin levels. As such, they are perfect for consumption before training and even afterward, as they help with recovery and provide energy for mat performance.
Simple carbohydrates (sugars) are still okay as long as you keep away from processed stuff. Eating honey, dried fruit, and similar simple sugars post-workout will help the protein get to your muscles faster and help the recovery.
Ingesting highly processed sugar in the form of fizzy drinks, cookies, pastries, etc., puts carbohydrates in your body that the body cannot use. Most of them go through your digestive system, wreaking havoc and exiting without much of them being absorbed and used as an energy source.
These won’t do any good to you except give you short-term mouth pleasure, so they are the ones you should be avoided completely.
How to Get Rid of Sugar Cravings
Our bodies are very smart in figuring out their preferred energy sources. In fact, they tend to lean towards the easiest energy source they can get. Carbs are easy to break down, store, and use whenever the body needs energy, so it prefers them to other sources.
The trouble is that the body does not understand processed and unprocessed carbs and similar concepts. So if you get your body hooked on simple sugars, like chocolate and ice cream, it will crave more.
Remember, the body cannot extract as much as it thinks it can from these foods, so normally, it requires more to meet the body’s energy requirements.
Some reasons why you get sugar cravings are:
- Eating food that is low in protein (it increases the feeling of satiety)
- Eating lots of artificial sweeteners (they trick the body it consumed carbs when there are none in reality)
- Consuming too much salty food (the excess sodium binds water, making the body crave carbs)
- Micronutrient deficiencies (in particular, magnesium deficiency)
Let’s face it; you will want to eat carbs when you are a BJJ practitioner. So, when you get sugar cravings, indulge them, but do so with the right type of carbohydrates.
Fixing your carb sources and increasing protein intake will go a long way in helping you deal with and completely get rid of sugar cravings.
Moreover, drinking more water, particularly when craving sugar, will help alleviate cravings and counter the effects of a diet overflowing with sodium intake.
Finally, consider supplementing. Most people are deficient in a mineral or vitamin (or five), so a multivitamin and multimineral supplement is always a good idea.
Do not make your body work three times harder to get the energy you need as a BJJ practitioner. Allow the body to use its preferred energy source – carbohydrates, but make sure you supply it with the right type of carbohydrates to make the job easy and ensure it won’t be craving the wrong type of carbs.
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.